Helping Building Managers and Cleaning Contractors Work Together

how to handle complaintsPart of operating any facility, whether a small office or a multitower office building, is that building managers will always be dealing with cleaning issues.*

This just comes with the territory. Sometimes, the “scope of work” detailing cleaning duties in the facility may not fit the building’s current needs. In other cases, cleaning pros are often targeted because, until recently, there was no scientific way to tell whether a facility or areas within a facility were effectively cleaned and healthy.**

Instead, opinions as to the cleanliness of a facility often are based on appearance. And calling these cleaning issues “opinions” is certainly the correct term. This is because one person’s opinion about the cleanliness of a facility can differ dramatically from someone else’s opinion.

At its worst, such situations can make a facility essentially dysfunctional. I have been called in to rectify situations where the building managers were very unhappy with the cleaning work being performed; the cleaning workers were very unhappy with the building managers, believing their criticisms were unjustified; and the cleaning workers were also unhappy with each other and their own supervisor.

This does not work, and nobody wins in such a situation, especially building users.

Because I work with both ends of the spectrum, consulting with building administrators as well as cleaning contractors, I understand both perspectives. With the goal of streamlining cleaning operations, the following are some tips on expressing and receiving complaints that I have learned along the way. These suggestions can help make the process of raising and resolving issues easier, ensure problems are addressed, eliminate dysfunction, and help keep everyone focused on the goal: keeping the facility as clean and healthy as possible.

Tips for building managers on addressing cleaning issues:

  • Be sure to investigate an issue promptly and thoroughly before bringing it up. Communicating issues allows the contractor the opportunity to investigate and develop a solution. Given a day or two, if possible, the cleaning service may be able to rectify the situation on its own and eliminate the need for further action.
  • When a complaint is justified, building managers should know that diplomacy and professionalism always work best; the goal is to remain rational and clear-headed while stating the issue clearly.
  • Further, once a problem reaches complaint status, bring it up as soon as possible. Yes, give it appropriate time to be corrected on its own, but after that, the longer it festers the more likely the issue will turn personal, and this is something you want to try to avoid. Ask the contractor when you can expect the correction to take place. Unless it is an out-of-the-ordinary problem, within 24 hours it should be corrected and a solution should be in place to prevent a reoccurrence.
  • How the problem is communicated should be described in the contractor’s proposal. If not expressly stated, a meeting should be set with the contractor to agree on the process. If at all possible, report dissatisfaction and discuss the issue by phone or in person. Words and emotions often can be misconstrued in an e-mail, which mars the diplomacy and professionalism called for and can create an us-versus-them situation, which you want to try to avoid.
  • Once the problem has been discussed, give the vendor—in this case, the cleaning contractor—adequate time to address it. If the complaint has not been addressed in what seems an appropriate amount of time, then writing a letter is the next step. If writing to a contract cleaner, it should be mailed to someone in a management position.

Tips for cleaning contractors on receiving complaints:

  • A cleaning contractor or supervisor should carefully listen to the statement of the problem. Becoming defensive or interrupting the facility manager will only make the process more difficult; the first step is to just listen.
  • The first reaction from the contractor should be to empathize with the building manager. Put yourself in his or her shoes to better understand and “feel” the situation.
  • One of the best things the cleaning contractor can do is to apologize . . . even if the situation is not his fault. Apologizing is part of the empathizing process and helps to remove a lot of the tension often created in the situation.
  • Next the cleaning contractor must indicate how she is going to deal with the situation. Unless you know the complaint is justified, thank them for bringing it to your attention—this is vital. Do not be afraid to tell the customer “Thank you for telling me about this. I will find out the reason why this happened and get back to you with a reason and a solution.” While this may not be the most comforting response for the facility manager, usually it is the correct response. This is because very often the problem is not the fault of the contract cleaner at all. (See sidebar: Case in Point.)

Whoever is at fault, meeting with the customer to provide a reason and solution is a plus. Keep in mind that your contact in most cases is on your side, but the answers and solutions enable them to respond to the occupants of the facility that may be most affected. If the investigation finds that the problem is not the vendor’s fault, this must be discussed with the facility manager in the same diplomatic and professional manner in which it was presented. However, if it is the fault of the contract cleaner, it must be addressed and corrected as soon as possible.


Ron Segura is president of Segura Associates. His company works with large cleaning contractors to help them build their businesses as well as corporate and university campuses, helping them streamline their cleaning and building operations so that they function more effectively and efficiently and realize a cost savings. He can be reached by visiting:

*Note: An issue can be addressed.

A complaint is the result of an issue not being addressed.

**One way to scientifically determine if a facility is clean and healthy is by using an ATP monitoring system. These systems detect if high levels of ATP, adenosine triphosphate, are on a surface. If so, it may indicate that potentially harmful pathogens are present, which should be removed.

Sidebar: Case in Point

A contract cleaning company received complaints that its staff was not putting trash in its customer’s dumpsters located in the building’s parking lot. Each morning, the trash was found strewn all over the parking lot, and the customer was being fined $100 by the city on a regular basis.


The contractor investigated the situation and reported back that the staff was depositing the trash properly in the dumpsters; however, the problem continued and the customer decided to deduct the $100 charges from the contractor’s fee anyway.


Another investigation followed. What was uncovered was that “street people” were opening and searching the dumpsters in the early morning hours, littering the area. A lock on the dumpster put an end to the complaint….and the problem.