Benchmarking Tips and Considerations

Benchmarking has become an oft-used buzzword in the cleaning industry. Many proponents believe that benchmarking — identifying the highest standards of excellence, and adapting and applying them to an operation — will improve performance.

But the most important step in using any improvement tool is to first know what cleaning staff are doing now. Understanding facility data, methods, staffing, and the company’s goals are critical in comparing and improving building service contractors operations. Many BSCs fail to review all of this information prior to making assumptions between customer accounts or between their operations and another contractor’s. This is where they can unintentionally hurt service quality.

Attempts to benchmark cleaning solely for the purpose of reducing cost while increasing efficiency also can be misguided. For example, one customer’s facility could cost $0.75 per-gross-square-foot-per-year while another, similar facility is $0.85. Some contractors might try to bring the second facility’s costs down in comparison, without considering the many possible differences in buildings, access, practices, procedures, productivity and quality — most of which could show that the lower cost realistically cannot be met.

Addressing Common Mistakes

The process of benchmarking typically involves seven steps, each of which must be completely finished prior to moving to the next. If something is not completed before moving on, or is incorrect, supervisors could be working with incomplete data, making incorrect assumptions or demanding more of their staffs than possible.

These steps are:

  1. Determine what functions to benchmark (cleaning).
  2. Define appropriate metrics (typically, cost per square foot, per year). Identify best practice companies (high-margin accounts, or even competitors). Measure own and best practice performance.
  3. Estimate performance gaps and set goals. Implement improvement plan.

Monitor Results

To complete these steps, BSCs must consider multiple functions, varying levels of frequency, geographic differences, a variety of floor finishes, traffic factors, age of facilities and people components. It is unreasonable to expect to compare cleaning as a function unless all of these areas are equal, which they seldom are. Further, the amounts and type of carpeting, resilient tile, concrete and other types of flooring will impact method, frequency and cleaning costs i.e. labor and materials. Number, size and placement of janitor closets along with entrance configuration and amount of walk-off space also must be compared.

Next, contractors must consider the type and number of people utilizing the building— whether they carry food and drink with them; what activities they perform; and when and how long they are in the building. Additionally, BSCs must think about their employees: whether they are properly trained; whether they are part time or full time; if they are productive; and what they are paid in wages (including overtime) and benefits. Projects done every few years, such as cleaning light fixtures, windows or draperies, also need to factor into costs. Once all these factors are accounted for, the next step in benchmarking is looking at the subjectivity of rating cleaning quality levels.

The best set quality levels that BSCs can use consistently are those set by industry organizations. For instance, carpet cleaning can use the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) appearance retention grading scales for various types of carpeting. This will establish quality and set the metric of cost-per-square-foot-per-year.

Best practices could then be determined and performance could be measured by examining cleaning method, labor, frequency, and equipment and chemical selection. Within these parameters, benchmarking should be accurate.

An Alternative

Unfortunately, it is not always possible in cleaning to separate functions in terms of costs or quality for comparison. For BSCs unable to do so, benchmarking may not be their best tool for improvement. A better choice for many contractors might be a more focused process-improvement tool, which involves understanding all aspects of a single process staff frequently complete and introducing changes to achieve quality improvement or cost reduction in that isolated instance.

General comparisons of cost-per-gross-square-foot can be used as a loose springboard into more specific process improvements. The steps involved are: Process analysis Improvement identification Process change introduction Training on the changes Fine-tuning the change. Process analysis is the in-depth study and understanding of facility data, staffing, methods, frequency, chemicals and equipment.

Facility Data

This includes specific square footage of floor coverings, number of restrooms, number of fixtures, number and square footage of offices, conference rooms and break areas. Staffing is not only the number of cleaning workers in the building, but the population of the building, hours of operation and types of activity. Methods encompass choices such as use of area cleaning, team cleaning, daytime cleaning, and dry or wet cleaning of carpet. Frequency is affected by the quality level chosen; the higher the quality standard, the higher the frequency of cleaning. Chemicals have dilution ratios, coverage data, hazards, application specifics, drying times and performance limits. Equipment data includes productivity information, maintenance requirements, performance expectations, replacement and initial cost.

Once this is gathered, areas of improvement must be identified. The changes necessary may be in any of or a combination of several cleaning aspects. Process changes then need to be introduced in a pilot area or areas to develop procedures and training. This allows time for evaluation and modification of application and training procedures. Next, all personnel receive training on a planned schedule, utilizing either specialized training personnel or the pilot participants. The final step is monitoring the change and fine-tuning as needed. Monitoring for quality should be done as part of the existing quality control program schedule.

Monitoring cost can be incorporated into monthly review of expenses and annual budgeting processes. Both general benchmarking and focused process improvement can yield undesired results, if not used properly by a trained technician in the appropriate situations. Most often, BSCs will see positive results if they remember to consider all the necessary factors and variables.

Ron Segura is president of Segura Associates. His company works with large organizations to streamline their cleaning and building operations as well as promote sustainability and healthier cleaning strategies so that facilities function more effectively and efficiently and realize a cost savings. He can be reached through his company website at