House cleaning is a relationship business. Like all other good relationships, trust and respect has to flow both ways. In the working relationship between you and your customer, there are lines you should never cross.
Sometimes you may stroll over those lines because you just don’t know any better. Maybe you are new to the cleaning business or you have gotten a little too chummy with your customers over the years. Either way crossing certain lines will weaken your customers trust and cause their respect for you to take a long dive off a cliff.
The Dirty Dozen
The Dirty Dozen are 12 guaranteed ways to bring about unhappy reactions from your customers. They include:
1. Leaving doors and windows open and unlocked when you complete your work.
As the house cleaner, you are responsible for making sure you leave your customers home closed to strangers, unwanted animals or rain on the carpet. Each time you leave after cleaning, check and lock all windows and doors. It is important you lock your customers homes up tight for their protection and yours.
2. Bringing friends, relatives or children into your customer’s home.
Doing this can be a disaster waiting to happen. Your customer’s home is your work place. You can’t bring anyone with you to a regular place of employment. You also can’t bring non-working “companions” along on a cleaning job in a customers home.
If you are a parent having a childcare emergency, it is best to reschedule. Dragging your child to your work place can have unexpected consequences, like injury, breakage or the child getting into a fight with the customer or their kids. If that sounds like a nightmare that’s because it is a nightmare.
There are insurance liability issues to consider. What if your friend or relative gets hurt in the customer’s home? What if they break something or heaven forbid, steal something? You and your insurance policy take a hit.
Plus there is a good chance you will lose this customer and future referrals. If your customer is active on social media, like NextDoor, Google My Business, Yelp or Facebook, your business reputation can take an asteroid sized hit.
3. Taking anything out of your customer’s home without their permission.
This one seems cut and dried, but there are situations that can be tricky. Like items in the trash or recycling. Or jewelry, coins and dollar bills under seat cushions, sofas and beds.
One of my first customers, had a teenage daughter who stacked piles of compact music discs (cds) and books everywhere in her room. During one cleaning visit, I found five cds in the trash container.
My first thought was “wow, what a find. If she does not want them, I certainly do!” Then I took a closer look at the cd cases and noticed they were in great shape. I realized they might be in the trash by mistake. So I placed them on her night table by the bed.
The next cleaning visit, I cleaned the daughter’s room and noticed the cds were placed on a shelf. I was so glad I had not tucked them into my bag thinking they were trash. Whew! A major mistake avoided.
There have been times I spotted items I wanted in my customers “donation” bins. I simply asked customers who were home permission to take the donation item.
If the customer is not at home, I would leave a note or email asking them if they could set aside the item for me. That way nothing left their home without their permission.
The same goes for items found in your customer’s home. Every item, even those hidden under furniture or seat cushions belongs to your customer.
When you find anything in your customer’s home, whether they seem valuable to you or not, leave them out where your customer can easily find them. Your customer can then make a decision about what to do with the “found” items.
When in doubt, leave it out.
4. Making calls on your customer’s landline or cell phone.
Unless there is a safety or medical emergency—I’m talking extreme emergency here—and for some reason you can’t use your own mobile phone, leave your customer’s phone alone.
5. Using your customer’s computer for anything!
No peeking, surfing or snooping on your customers mobile phones, tablets, laptops or desktops. If it comes on while you are cleaning around it, let it go to sleep on its own.
6. Reading or “organizing” private papers.
If a customer leaves private papers out like rental agreements, check stubs or loan applications out, resist the temptation to read their information. Don’t use their carelessness as an excuse to snoop.
Other customers will have papers, books and other items scattered on tables, desks and countertops. While those papers look messy, avoid your natural urge as a house cleaner to organize the papers.
Some people have paper organizing systems you may not be aware of, so leave stacks of papers, books and magazines alone. It is best to just clean around your customers paper piles.
7. Criticizing or calling the customer names in their homes.
Cameras and listening devices (“Hello Alexa”) are in many of your customers homes. Confine your criticism of customers to your car or home.
Better yet, kick customer criticism to the curb. Treat your customers with respect even when they are out of earshot.
8. Trying on a customer’s clothing, hats, shoes or makeup.
Again cameras! Plus, do you really have time to waste when you are in your customer’s home? Time spent messing with your customer’s possessions is time not spent cleaning.
Not to mention you can spread or catch a boatload of germs when you touch personal items like lipstick or or eyeliner. “Yuck!”
9. Consuming your customers food or beverages.
No refrigerator or pantry raids for snacks. That includes candy, fruit and nuts in bowls around the home during holidays or any day. Bring your own snacks.
10. Smoking anything in your customers homes.
Absolutely no tobacco or marijuana use inside your customers homes!
11. Drinking soft drinks, coffee and tea drinks or alcoholic beverages in your customers homes.
This is included because soft drinks, coffee and tea can stain floors and furniture. Sugary drinks can leave a sticky residue if you are not careful.
The only exceptions are water or a liquid energy snack. Even with those beverages, try to avoid drinking in carpeted areas. Save the beer, wine and hard liquor for after work.
12. Consuming any illegal drugs in your customers homes—at all!
Truth And Consequences
The reactions from your customers to any of the Dirty Dozen can range from mild irritation to dropping your services and going on social media to trash your reputation. Lawsuits, losing your bonding and being arrested also some of the worst case possibilities for some of the Dozen.
It’s one thing to get a ★★ review on Yelp for a poor job of dusting. It is a far worse thing to get a review from a former customer ranting about how they had to drop you for stealing or bringing a rowdy kid into their home.
If a former customer posts a video on NextDoor of you badmouthing them in their home or rifling through their things, your business may take a hit that lasts for years.
Remember those cameras? This house cleaner in England forgot about them and got caught red-handed stealing from her customer:
The good news is you can easily avoid the Dirty Dozen with some forethought and common sense. Always be aware that when you clean professionally, you are in someone else’s home, not yours.
You are in their homes to do a clear set of tasks. You are not there to socialize or “make yourself at home”. That’s true no matter how well you get along with a particular customer.
Treat your customers homes and everything in them with care and respect. If you are unsure of something like a pile of papers, talk or write to your customer about how they want them handled.
The customer walkthrough is a great time and place to notice special things about your customers homes and ask questions. The “work fence” has two sides. Build trust with customers and remain “clean” by staying on your side of the fence.
Have you crossed or almost crossed the Dirty Dozen line in the past? How did you recover or make things right? Share your experiences in the comments below. ⬇︎