Property Managers have more responsibilities than ever before. Should janitorial quality control be one more thing they need to worry about? How can property managers ensure their buildings and tenants are getting a consistently high level of janitorial cleaning service, while optimizing their already stretched resources? This is where the role of an experienced janitorial quality assurance person becomes critical.
In conversation with Christel Pineda & Patricia Roberts, Quality Control experts, USSI.
Question: Christel & Patricia, you are the leading quality control experts in the commercial cleaning industry. Could you provide a a brief background about yourselves?
Patricia: My name is Patricia Roberts, and I am Janitorial Quality Control Manager for USSI. Before doing janitorial inspections, I was inspecting bugs of a different kind - production control in information technology.
People tell me that I am a bit of a neat freak. If you go to my house at any time, you will always find things in their place, clean and spotless! I feel that USSI needs to be represented the same way as I would my house.
I love inspecting buildings. A building represents who we are. It is like our face, like our image. If I walk into a building, and I see something dirty, sometimes property managers are a little surprised - "How did she see that?”. I simply think I have an eye for detail!
Christel: I am Christel Pineda, and I’ve been with USSI for 28 years. I have done Quality Control inspections for about ten years during this time. Currently, I am the President of GreenStar Building Services, which is an Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) and a USSI partner.
It is our commitment to provide a clean and healthy environment for the tenants of every building that we service. That is why customers hire our company because they trust that we will perform according to the standards. Those are very high standards that our company is committed to maintaining. I like to go to the buildings and make sure that everybody is happy with the service because that is what they are paying us. That's what we are committed to doing.
Question: How do you help property managers?
Patricia: One of the things that I hear from the property managers all the time is that they can't be everywhere. They can't be checking everything in the building all the time. That is where I come in. I consider myself an extra set of eyes for the property manager. They have so much going on already!
They get a complaint from a tenant, and then they are wondering, "I wonder if every floor has got the same problem.” I'm not only looking at the cleaning but also at maintenance related issues - burned light; chunks of wall missing - whatever it is, I always add it to my reports. When I walk the building and report things beyond cleaning related issues such as lights out, or broken locks, property managers appreciate that.
“Property Managers can't be everywhere, all the time. I consider myself an extra set of eyes for the property manager. They have so much going on already!”
Question: What does a clean building look like?
Christel: It starts on the outside. Usually, buildings have a day porter. The day porter is in charge of keeping the exterior clean. No debris, no cobwebs, clean exterior. No dust on the windows or the entrances, all free of fingerprints. As you come in the lobby, it has to be spotless.
First impression areas are extremely critical. That’s what tenants and building visitors observe when they walk into a building. All metal surfaces have to be shining and clean. All the common areas. Bathrooms are important. They need to be spotlessly clean, no debris, no dust, no noticeable stains. Obviously, we'll look for more detail beyond that, but that's how a clean building looks like. People are on top of every detail, as far as general cleaning.
Question: Conversely, what do dirty buildings look like?
Patricia: Dirty buildings looks awful! Debris on the outside, metal cans, cigarette butts. Fingerprints on the glass doors. You walk into the bathroom; there's no toilet paper, or there is paper all over bathrooms, or the bathrooms are clogged, and they are not flushing. You walk to a kitchen, and it's a nightmare because not only you have fingerprints and dirt, but the corners and the edges of the floor are forgotten many times, or behind the doors. That's pretty much what a dirty building looks like.
Question: Christel, you have been part of the commercial cleaning industry for 28 years. How has janitorial quality control evolved during this time?
Christel: The big change has been in the technology used to conduct janitorial inspections. In previous years, clients provided their quality assurance forms or templates of customer service surveys. I don't think we're using those now anymore because now we have a mobile and computer based systems.
Also, security requirements have changed. Earlier, it was easier just to stop by and walk into a building and talk to tenants. Now there are security considerations, and that's why we only do it where they request that service.
Question: Patricia, how do you use technology in your janitorial inspections?
Patricia: Quality assurance in janitorial services has evolved. Having the software and mobile technology is something that property managers appreciate a lot lately. Pictures speak a thousand words. And when I send our reports with pictures to property managers, they’re like, " Thank you because you're doing that, because I can see it. I can't be everywhere." They're very receptive to having the report with pictures.
We still have interaction with the tenant to get some feedback, but the property manager is the one that decides who we visit, what floors, and to what extent.
"Quality assurance in janitorial services has evolved. Having the software and mobile technology is something that property managers appreciate a lot lately."
Question: Could you walk us through how a typical inspection looks like?
Patricia: We first set the appointment to inspect the building. When I get to the building I ask the property manager about the areas of the building that he/she would like to inspect. This is completely at the property manager’s discretion. Nothing is staged.
Then we walk the building. We visit specific floors and specific areas such as the gym, the kitchens, and the bathrooms on this floor. During this time, I'm observing, taking pictures, and making my quick notes. Sometimes property managers take notes too, but they're saying, "If you're going to send us this, then I won't take notes." They usually walk with me and ask the tenant if they have any problem.
My role is to observe and report, not to make judgements about what is clean and what is not. Because my perception of good might not be the same perception that somebody else has. I can't tell somebody, "Oh, that's ugly," or "bad," or, "That's great," because whatever is great for me might look dirty in your eyes.
On average, an inspection takes about two to four hours.
Question: Once the inspection is done, what happens then?
Patricia: I create a report, and the report is sent to the property manager, to USSI’s Operations Manager, and to the supervisor, with copies to our Senior Vice President, Operations and any other people who may be involved. The supervisor of the building then takes that report and shares it with their staff and says, "OK, we are failing here. We're doing this bad. We need to replace this. We need to change that."
Once all the outstanding tasks are completed, I then send an email or contact the property manager saying, "Hey, I understand that all the issues were fixed, that you were satisfied with whatever we found. Is there anything else I can do for you, or is there anything we're missing? Did we miss anything?"
If everything is OK, I close that cycle and that inspection is done.
Question: Talk to me a little more about the quality assurance report that you send out to property managers. What is in the report?
Patricia: They get a detailed report of what we observed during the inspection. These include cleaning related and maintenance issues. For example, light bulb burnt out on the sixth floor, Suite 200, or that the elevator has a bad panel, or the second floor's men's room has a clogged toilet.
The report would break down issues by specific areas in the building – for example, common areas, elevators, bathrooms, stairwells and specific suite numbers. For each item that I find, I take a picture, and then I describe in two or three words, "dust in corners," or, "spilled coffee on the back wall," of whatever room I'm inspecting. That's the report they get for each floor that we do.
They get a snapshot of what happened that day.
Question: Can you talk about the challenges that you face in your role?
Patricia: Since I am independent entity reporting directly to the CEO, sometimes, there are disagreements with our Operations team on what is considered clean and what is not. We eventually work through these challenges and make sure we resolve any problems for property managers.
Christel: The main challenge is that often there are cleaning issues in a building which are not covered as part of the regular contract. Sometimes, frequencies for tasks are not clearly defined. Then there are issues about the definition of a certain term. To give you an example, a spot on the carpet. The contract says that we are supposed to spot clean quarter sized spots. When the carpet gets so dirty that there're spots everywhere, that's not daily cleaning. That is a periodic cleaning and there's an extra charge.
Those are challenging because the property manager and the tenant would like that done immediately, but it's not part of the contract. That has to be explained, and it has to be scheduled.
Those things are very difficult when you come back, and you tell an operations manager, "Well, you've got to clean that." You want to put that pressure on them, and it has to be done, but there's procedure and extra charges for those.
Those are my main challenges.
Question: What part of the QA role do you enjoy the most?
Patricia: I'm a people person, so I love going out and meeting the property managers and solving their problems. For me, when I find that her floors are so clean that you can almost eat off the floor, I'm in heaven! Because we're doing what, we were hired to do. Give me a clean building with a great supervisor and I am the happiest.
Christel: What I enjoy is the opportunity to meet with the property managers, tenants, to show them our commitment, that we care, to find it together, partnering with them, and resolving the issues, and then seeing that they're satisfied and that everything is working out perfectly the way it should be.
That gives me a lot of satisfaction to know that we found issues, which we took care of them, and they're happy, and they appreciate us. It's building up a good relationship. There are always going to be issues, for any company. Every company. There is no such thing as no cleaning issues.
How you approach those and how you resolve them to their satisfaction is critical. When we learn to do that well, and we gain their trust, it feels awesome. To know that they trust you, and they want you in their buildings because you know that when you're there, things are going to be taken care of. People tell me, "Christel, I love it when you’re in my building because when you're here, everything works out perfectly. Things get done. Thank you." That fulfills me and makes me want to do it more.
Question: If you had one thing to say to the property managers, what would you tell them about cleaning?
Christel: Transparent communication is the key. If property managers are able to share candidly the challenges they are facing, everything becomes easy. When they tell us, "This is what I want," and then you have the opportunity to say, "Yes, we can do it," and have those conversations, then you can progress to having a good relationship and have good, clean building.
If they communicate that, and we tell the property manager, then that issue is gone. If we say, "This is what your tenant wants, but this is not what you asked. Do you want us to do that nightly? Then it will cost you this additional much." Things like that.
Patricia: I would tell the property manager, "We're here to help you. Communication is 100 percent success. If you have an issue, I can help you solve it." The key to me is, "I'm here to help, whatever you need, I will make sure I pass it on so that it can be done." If property managers communicate and they tell you, right up front, what they need or what they expect, then I'm here to help you. I will do the best I can to help you get it done.
"We're here to help you. If you have an issue, I can help you solve it."
Question: Thank you very much, both of you. I appreciate your time and your insights.