Taking Your Custodial Services From Better to Best

Last fall, Binghamton University’s (BU) Professional Employee’s Council (PEC) presented one of two Distinguished Service Awards to Stephen Gowe. How fitting, considering that, because Gowe is assistant director of Maintenance and Operations at the New York-based public university, service runs through his veins as certainly as the University boasts 12,000+ undergraduate students.

According to an article in Pipe Dream, BU’s student-run newspaper, Gowe was integral in organizing
campus flood relief efforts in 2011, including loading a helicopter with food and cleaning around the event center. The PEC selected him for the award because of his dedication and work ethic.

With 13 years service to BU, Gowe, who oversees grounds and custodial operations, was honored to be chosen for the award, especially considering all the other service-minded employees with whom he has the privilege of working. Behind the humility is a confident employee who knows how to get the job done and keep customers satisfied.

At the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando, Brian H. Wormwood, associate director of Facilities Operations, keeps custodial services running smoothly. It’s a challenging job considering that this public academic and research university has the second-largest student population in the country. “We’ve experienced budget cuts and restrictions in the last five years, and we’ve made it through very, very well,” he indicates. “We’re always looking at new efficiencies and new ways of doing things.”

Well-Oiled Machines

So, what do these two experts do that works well? To begin, BU does 75 percent of its cleaning at night, including classrooms and offices. “We’re always looking to do better, including researching new methods and equipment,” Gowe explains. “We’re not resting on our laurels.”

Wormwood shares similar thoughts, noting that custodial services are done
on second shift. “When housekeeping was done at night, our customers didn’t see the person behind the labor,” he observes. “It not only helps to have our customers see us, it also helps us to see our customers.” One great benefit to second shift custodial services is the ability to police restrooms and public areas before the evening’s round of academic classes.

Getting a Little Help

BU recently contracted with a firm to evaluate its efficiency and effectiveness in terms of methods and equipment. The firm produced run sheets that indicate such items as how many employees and repetitions are needed based on square footage. It has helped with finances, hiring, and putting new buildings online. “We work in the state system where money is tight,” Gowe explains. “We need to justify money and jobs. By using a professional to tell us on paper exactly what we need to do and how many people we need to do it, we’re justifying what we do.”

Justifying what you do also helps in staving off the outside competition that is more than willing to do your job for you. “We’re always fighting against that,” says Wormwood. “If it happened, I don’t think the ownership would be present. So we work to provide a service the University can be proud of and is worth the value provided.”

BU’s consultant is assisting the Maintenance and Operations department to implement Smart Inspect System, which is a quick spot check of specific areas, such as main entrances, that are done weekly or monthly. The inspection information is logged in from an iPad or iPhone. “In effect, we’re grading ourselves,” says Gowe. “Soon we’ll have an app so our customers can grade us as well.”

Speaking of Grading Yourself

Not resting on your laurels, operating efficiently, getting help when needed, and evaluating yourself are excellent tools. Still, how can Gowe and Wormwood be sure the job is well done and the customer is satisfied? Well, for starters, Gowe understands that BU isn’t the consultant’s only client, so he relies on the consultant to tell him where the department is and where it should be compared to national averages. Clearly, statistics offer some comfort. Also, both men ask their customers to grade them. “We ask them to lay it on the line for us,” says Gowe. “We learn from those who are harshest on us, and we try to accommodate everyone.”

My Advice to You

With education and experience on their sides, both managers have advice for other custodial managers trying to get the job done and satisfy customers.

In terms of getting the job done, Wormwood suggests having a good sense of custodial staffing standards: “I’m a firm believer that using APPA custodial standards to design housekeeping assignments for maximum efficiency. If you don’t have an assignment that is well designed and adhere to it, then housekeepers create their own work flow, and that doesn’t always equate to doing a really good job.”

Wormwood also recommends investing in your staff by hiring capable, energetic people. “Often, these folks have not done housekeeping before, so training is important,” he observes. “If we don’t provide training, they’ll clean the way they know, and that’s not always the best way in that it makes it difficult to provide excellent customer service.”

Gowe suggests always trying to go above and beyond. “It’s hard to please everyone,” he notes, “but never, never, never give up.” Similarly, it’s about dedication. “This is not a 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. job for management,” he says. “It’s a seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year job.”

In terms of satisfying customers, Wormwood advocates developing relationships with building managers. “We’re depending on people telling us what to do,” he says, “so we have to invest in our customers.” He similarly stresses communication. “If customer service recovery is required,” he says, “we need to communicate quickly and effectively.” That includes taking responsibility for the service and placing the responsibility on the front-line staff.

Gowe indicates that your staff is your best defense for satisfying customers. “The most important advice I can share is that you win with people,” he says. “You can have all the greatest plans and equipment but, if you don’t have the people, you’re not going to get the job done.”

Spoken like a winner — an award winner, that is. 

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