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In the past few years, many banks have started sending email alerts, reminding us when a payment will be made or when a bill is due. Similarly, many pharmacies now send alerts notifying us when a prescription is due for a refill or when it is awaiting pickup.

Banks never did anything like this before, and neither did pharmacies. Perhaps these types of businesses are now providing these services, very simply, because they can. Banks, pharmacies, and other organizations were simply not that Internet savvy 15 to 20 years ago.

But a shift has occurred, and this shift is affecting cleaning professionals. What was once viewed as the customer’s responsibility—to pay their bills on time or reorder and pick up prescriptions—is now a business’ responsibility. It now rests on your shoulders to send customers an “alert,” reminding them when it’s time to reorder supplies; clean carpets or refinish floors; purchase more effective matting systems as winter approaches, begin integrating green and sustainability initiatives into building operations; etc.

This is part of a significant shift in the way’s customers do business in the 21st century. For cleaning contractors specifically, they want you to take charge of their facilities. They are no longer just hiring a cleaning service to maintain their facilities; instead, customers are seeking a true partner, an advisor, a consultant, even an educator when it comes to operating their buildings in a healthier, more sustainable, and efficient manner.

This also means for contract cleaners to succeed in the 21st century, we must better understand the internal challenges today’s customers face when it comes to operating their businesses as well as their properties. This knowledge allows us to help clients with clear and credible recommendations, such as “We should do this, we should not do that,” information they now turn to us to provide

What this all means is this:

• The 21st century customer wants service providers that are proactive service providers, not reactive in their approach to maintaining their facility.
• 21st century customers want cleaning contractors that instruct them and help guide them in order to avoid the hurdles and pitfalls their predecessors in the 20th century had to grapple with all on their own.
• Excellent service now requires that cleaning contractors become a valuable, you could even say invaluable, resource for our customers.

The Change in Communications

Taking the lead in helping our clients is not the only change we see occurring with 21st century customers. Years ago, if a customer wanted something addressed in their facility, they would call, record a voice message, or just leave a note. It did not matter if this was a large multi-tenant office building or a small office on the corner. The assumption was, whatever the issue, you or your staff would call back or attend to the issue in time.

Those days are gone. Nobody calls anymore, leave notes, nor do they wait very long for a response. To engage with our 21st century customers, you must always remain connected. Customers want to work with cleaning contractors that take their problems personally. For far too long, contractors have promised to do this but now it is expected. They simply won’t deal with companies that ignore their problems or take too long to respond. What started out as email correspondence years ago has now evolved into texting, sending a message via Twitter, or messaging through other social media sites.

And, we must be there—and act fast—when that message arrives no matter how it has been delivered. Have you ever sent a friend a text message and then waited 15 to 20 minutes to get a response? It can be a bit frustrating, especially if you’re sitting by your phone waiting for a reply. If it’s your customer, it’s more than frustrating, it’s a red flag. If they must wait 15 minutes or more for a response, their trust in your business to respond to their needs, whether justified or not, has just gone down a notch or two.

Today we must stay engaged with our customers more often and faster than ever before. We live in an age where virtually everyone uses a smartphone, which must always be on for our customers to stay connected. This fixated focus on our customers and their needs not only helps build customer loyalty, but it’s also what they now expect.

What Hasn’t Changed?

Many cleaning contractors believe the entire hiring process has changed in the 21st century. After all, with the Internet, our 21st century customers have a variety of ways of investigating our services and finding out about our companies. When taking bids or considering changes, customers do use the Internet to learn about us before we even step in the door.

But they use this information to pre-qualify companies that participate in the bidding process. In other words, they use this information as a complement to, not a substitute for, meeting with or hiring a business. (See Sidebar: What the 21st Century Customer Looks for in a Cleaning Contractors Website).

While the 21st century customer is certainly different from 20th customers and certainly expects much more from us than their predecessors of years ago, what they are looking for in a cleaning contractor is what customers have always looked for: a cleaning contractor they can work with, trust, and depend on.

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

Sidebar: Tips on Working With 21st Century Customers

• Stick to what you promise.
• Be clear as to what the customer can expect from your service.
• Always be honest with your customers.
• 21st century managers change jobs more frequently. Have an action plan in place so you know what to do and what steps to take when a new manager steps in; this allows you to develop rapport quickly.
• Monitor online reviews of your service, but do not try to manage them.
• Adhere very closely to the request for proposal submitted by the prospect; 21st century managers want everything spelled out clearly, as requested.
• Follow up – quickly – after addressing issues with customers to make sure everything has been corrected.
• 21st century customers are very visual; where possible, use your smartphone and take photos to convey messages.

Sidebar: What the 21st Century Customer Looks for in a Cleaning Contractors Website

A prospect, in the course of the vetting process, will pay very close attention to the cleaning contractors’ website. What they are looking for is not the features the contractor offers – e.g. we strip floors, clean carpets, windows, etc. – but the benefits they offer such as quick response, availability, responsible, partnering, dependability, worker safety training, up-to-date on cleaning innovations, customized cleaning schedules (such as Day Cleaning), healthier, greener workspace, etc. Benefits such as these must be highlighted on the contractor’s website.

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