Managing your cleaning lady – an outsourcing and contract management issue?

On the train into London, Friday early evening... overheard from the seat behind, young woman on mobile phone.

- Look, I’ve never had a cleaner before. And it isn’t working out with A....  I don’t want her to clean my oven. My oven is clean enough already!  She took everything out of the bathroom cabinet and cleaned the shelves!  I just want the basics done.

(Person at other end –we couldn’t hear obviously)

- I’m not criticising her cleaning ability!  But I want the lounge hoovered, dusting, the sinks cleaned. I don’t want her getting into the detailed areas...  I work hard, I don’t make much money, I just want someone to take the pressure off a bit. But I got home last night and still had to do all the hoovering myself, she’d spend half her time doing the flaming oven!


- Well, I’ve tried to tell her, but she works for you, you explain.  It doesn’t seem to get through. I want the whole house cleaned, but only the important stuff, and 3 hours should be enough for that – it’s only a small place.

This went on for some time – my heart went out to the lady, who clearly wasn’t being unreasonable, but had failed to get the message through. I wanted to turn around and say, “write down and agree a detailed specification, with clear performance indicators and agreed review mechanisms”.  However, I got the impression that English probably wasn’t the cleaner’s first language, and of course the lady may not have been too pleased with my eavesdropping....

But it made me think about outsourcing and potential problems. Here was a real disconnect between customer and provider, and a breakdown of communication. The cleaner probably thinks she’s doing a great job.  “Look! Their oven is beautiful”.  I also suspect that the cleaning firm was trying to build up the work “you need more than 3 hours a week, we can’t do all you need in that time”.

And the client?  Well, the client didn’t want to buy a high-specification service, or to buy a greater quantity of output.  She was very happy with the basic level service, done to a reasonable standard of performance.

So what lessons can we draw from this? Well, sometimes it’s not the client pushing for “higher quality”, it can be the provider – sometimes with ulterior motives. And there’s no shame in just wanting the basic service if that meets your needs

But whatever you want, you have to find a way of communicating it clearly to the provider, or you can guarantee that distressed phone calls will ensue!

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First Voice

  1. Gary:

    With any task, I feel it is important to have agreed performance indications specified as you mention – at least both parties know what is expected of them and where they stand. Language barriers always pose problems though 🙁

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