How to appoint a cleaning company

In this article, we will address the following:

  • Problems associated with estate management
  • The process of selecting a suitable company
  • Introducing United Cleaning Services (SW) Ltd
  • What can you get for your money?
  • Dialogue with clients at all levels
  • Credentials & insurance
  • What next?

If you own an apartment or a house and have to pay maintenance charges, first, you’re not going to be too happy about it, and second, you’re going to be pretty sure you’re getting value for your money! What do maintenance charges cover? It can be a whole gamut of things from building insurances, communal utility charges and general maintenance, to saving for redecorating both inside and outside the communal areas, and legal advice and fees. Over the course of a year that can amount to substantial costs. Of course included in these charges are the need to keep the communal areas clean and tidy, windows cleaned, and the garden areas maintained and litter free. These last areas are probably the most visible to you on a week by week basis, and actually entail a lot of work. More of this later. But in this area of services can be many reasons for dissatisfaction from residents: Poor quality cleaning, lack of regularity or a proper schedule, long delays in getting small maintenance issues seen to, care for bin stores, and lack of communication. If you are looking to appoint a cleaning and maintenance company, or you have problems  in any of the aforementioned area’s, then United Cleaning Services (South West) Ltd, based in Somerset,  can really help you and your fellow residents.

Firstly though, how do you appoint a cleaning or garden maintenance contractor?  The basic process is quite straight forward. If you have a Property Management company linked to your residence, then they will likely do this on your behalf. This is done by means of a competitive tendering process, usually of at least three quotations, coupled with a recommendation of contractors whom they already use and trust.  If you are representing a private group of residents and are responsible for recommending a contractor for your site, the choice available can be bewildering.  A good source of information is of course the internet, perhaps utilising some of the well known on-line directories. These have the advantage of being able to locate a local service relatively easily.  Having got a list of some, you can contact these with a view to arranging for them to carry out a site survey, followed by a quotation to supply the services you require. You will need to specifically advise them of the following points: i) The specification of the work required, i.e. what you expect for the money you will have to pay. Bear in mind, that for gardening, as an example, the specification will be much more intense for the summer months, than for winter months. So, from April to October you may require fortnightly visits to mow lawns, trim hedges and shrubs, carry out weed control and litter pick. In winter, perhaps a monthly lower maintenance visit will be all that is needed. This again may include litter picking, edging lawns and some shrub maintenance.    ii) The frequency of the work required. With communal area cleaning for instance, this is usually fortnightly. Window cleaning can vary from monthly to quarterly.  iii) Whether you have a specific budget or not.

Having decided on your shortlist, you should ask them for a list of their clients who could provide a reference on the standard of their work, or even have a look at their websites to see if such testimonials are readily available. Once you’ve decide on your preferred contractor, you will need to put in place and annual contract between yourselves and them, but always with a probationary period built in that gives you a safety net should you not be happy with what you’re getting.

One such company in this sector that has won a reputation for high standards and good value, is United Cleaning Services (South West) Ltd. The co founder of United Cleaning Services (UCS to their customers), Richard Shelton has had many years of experience associated with the cleaning and maintenance industry. During his school holidays in the 1970’s he worked with several small but well respected companies where he learned the first rules of good cleaning and of business in general: Customer service, and, attention to detail. Following this introduction he spent many years in sales working for companies that provided cleaning supplies, consumables and solutions to the industry in general, both in the private and public sectors. This experience taught Richard other valuable lessons such as the need to have the right product for the job, the high standards expected by customers, and the need to provide value for money. In addition, over the last 20 years in particular has been the added emphasis on environmental responsibility, good working practice, and of course, Health & Safety. From all this experience, United Cleaning Services was born in February 2005. Richard identified very quickly that to be successful, his company had to be able to offer something a little different, that he and his colleagues would have to work hard, and that they would have to be adaptable, learning new skills all the time.

United Cleaning Services was started completely from scratch using just the bare essentials, but plenty of ‘elbow grease’ and determination. Their first client was Wimpey Homes where they carried out build cleans. These are tough cleaning jobs done in individual new homes after the builders have left – and we all know how messy they can be! They quickly established a good reputation for this and then moved on to cleaning and maintaining their Show Homes on various sites. This is where attention to detail and thoroughness was absolutely essential. From there they established relationships with many national and regional builders, including Barratt Homes, Persimmon, Midas and ROK. Many of their new clients came as a result of recommendation or their quickly growing reputation.

So what exactly do United Cleaning Services do, and how can they help you?  By far the majority of their work is now in the area of cleaning and maintenance of apartment blocks and their surrounding grounds, and as such they already work with several property management companies such as Labyrinth Properties and the TMS Group. In fact this has now become their ‘specialist’ area of expertise.

Let’s start with cleaning. What can residents expect of typical cleaners? At the very least, the communal areas should be dusted and the internal glass should have marks removed. Added to that is a good vacuum through of the flooring.  At United Cleaning Services, they believe in doing a job well, and will go above and beyond the call of duty on occasions, as they realise this will both reflect well on them, but also represents good service and that ‘something extra’ that is so appealing to customers. So the service that United Cleaning Services offer includes dusting of all skirtings, architraves, window frames and sills, radiators, light fittings, wall fittings, balustrades and gloss painted surfaces. In addition if sticky or dirty marks have been left on such surfaces, these will be properly wiped and removed. Things that are often missed by cleaning companies, and to which attention is paid to are metal finger plates on doors, glass panels in internal doors, and the outside of external communal doors, security lights and wall mounted entry systems. Carpets are thoroughly vacuumed, and this means getting into corners, lifting door mats and cleaning under these, and getting into that difficult crease between stair treads and the riser to the next step.  If the area has a hard floor, this will also be mopped.  Other items that are scheduled in on a rotational basis include cleaning down stair nosings, high reach cobweb removal and the removal of scuff marks on the walls. They also have a reach & wash window cleaning system so that they can be easily and safely done at intervals agreed with customers. One little known fact about the reach & wash system is that the water used (either, or a combination of, a ‘Reverse Osmosis’ and ‘De-ionising process) is that it keeps the windows cleaner for longer, thus helping to reduce costs to the customer.

Earlier, mention was made about adding in additional skills and services, and so United Cleaning Services have added to their portfolio, the regular checking and replacement of light bulbs, something that in the dark winter months is essential to maintaining safety and security.  In addition they can carry out small or routine maintenance jobs such as adjusting locks, door closers, trade button times and small repair jobs. If they can’t directly do some of the maintenance jobs due to required legislation or certification, they usually know ‘a man who can’.  Outside the building they can also have a regular cleaning and maintenance programme of bin stores and car park areas. Of much demand in the last 12 months has been the gritting of paved and parking areas during severe icy weather. This too has now been added to their services.

Not long after starting in the Contract Cleaning industry, they were getting asked about other services that they might provide. The most common request was concerning Grounds Maintenance and landscaping. Already being a ‘born again gardener’,  Richard considered what would be required. He concluded that the same fundamental ethos the he applied to contract cleaning should also apply to grounds maintenance.  Initially starting with second hand lawn mowers, the company now boasts a modern range of 5 different mowers to cater for most types of jobs, from small intricate grassed areas, to large meadow sized areas. Their favourite machine is their commercial Etesia ride on mower which they all fight over!  Other equipment includes strimmers, leaf blowers and vacuums, hedge cutters and trimmers, and telescopic lopping shears.  This means that the scope of their work covers lawn mowing, hedge trimming, small tree maintenance and pruning, weed control, car park tidying and litter picking.

A very new service offered by UCS is that of removing bio-hazardous waste and clinical waste. This involves the removal of ‘sharps’ such as syringes and drug paraphanalia. All are aware of just how potentially hazardous this can be, so it is essential to have the right training and equipment. Additionally this work includes the removal other potentially hazardous wastes, such as both human and animal body fluids and faeces. UCS can also arrange the removal of clinical and pharmaceutical waste from vetinanary practices and the like. What has all this got do with you if you live in an apartment block? “You’d be surprised” says Richard, “I have received many calls over the recent months to remove syringes or body fluids and faeces in particular. Residents very wisely steer well clear of them and call someone like us who know how to handle such things properly and safely from their site”.

One of the most vital areas to maintaining good services, such as the above, to your site, is that of communication. This may sound obvious, but Richard believes it is a fundamental failing on many sites. This can lead to misunderstandings and friction that can frustrate all involved in the partnership. You might feel that ‘I have set out the clear specification and I have paid them, so why should I need to communicate further? Why can’t they just get on with the job?’. While that viewpoint is completely understandable, confusion can arise where several parties are involved in the set up of a service contract. That is because it is impossible to cover all eventualities in a written document, and, as the relationships grow, so the service expectation can evolve.  A real example of confusion, for instance, can lie in what areas exactly the contractor is responsible for. In one instance, the contractor, the property management company who employed them, and the residents, all had a site plan which clearly showed who had responsibility for what. Unfortunately the residents had an earlier version of the plan (as supplied by the site builders) than either the contractor or the property management company. On the earlier version, a pathway was shown that ran along the back of several houses. It seemed to indicate that this area should be litter picked and the weeds treated by the contractor. If you were one of those house owners, it would have been important to you that the area was maintained. Neither the contractor or the property management company had this version of the plan and so it got neglected. There then ensued a barrage of angry e-mails from the residents to the property management company, and also a member of the contractors staff got a good dressing down by a resident for missing the area while he was on site. When he checked his plan, of course this pathway was not on it… well, you get the picture. Good ongoing communication and meetings could have alleviated all of this.  Another example is the replacement of light bulbs.  In one apartment block a resident was annoyed that the outside security light had not been working ‘for months’ and represented a clear safety risk. He took the cleaning contractors to task over this while they were carrying out their duties one day.  Firstly, was this the cleaning contractors job? Was he insured for such work?  Secondly, if he was responsible, as he was never there during the hours of darkness, how would he know that it was not working?  Thirdly, who was responsible for reporting it?  Fourthly, was the contractor authorised by the property management company to carry out the work?  Regular communication can make all these queries go away and avoid the very real frustrations for all concerned.

Also, close communication that is constructive and amiable can often result in contractors doing favours for their clients, such as removing items from bin stores that have been illegally dumped, or clearing a blocked gutter while windows are being cleaned, or removing a carpet stain. These are add on services that could otherwise involve substantial costs. When a good relationship exists there is also a desire to please the customer, and an excellent mutual understanding develops. So, be sure to schedule regular ongoing meetings between the residents (or their representatives), the contractors and the property management company.

What other credentials and insurances exist that would give you, the customer, peace of mind?  Other than what you can find out from other customers as mentioned earlier, much can be ascertained from the appearance of staff and their vehicles. If staff and vehicles are professionally branded this often can tell a lot about how a company views their reputation, and how they want to be perceived by their customers. So if they turn up in a tatty, rusty old van and their clothes look like they’re well past their sell by date, and they smell like they could curdle milk at 20 yards, then you may wish to think twice! Poor appearance often translates into poor performance. On the other hand, what does a professionally sign written van tell you? That they’re proud of their reputation and they are happy to be identified with their company.  Equally if they are well turned out in branded clothing that’s in good repair, then they are happy to be ambassadors for their firm and the standards that it claims to aspire to. Of course, if they’re hardworking, they may not always look pristine! The very nature of their job means they will get dirty. However you will instinctively know whether they are simply just plain slovenly, or they do their best to be the best that they can.

All contractors, by law, must carry Public Indemnity insurance and likely Employee Insurance. In some industries, such as commercial cleaning and gardening, this does not come cheap. Why is it important to you? Imagine while working on your premises, the contractor accidentally damages something. Such insurances will cover them for damage repairs or replacements. This gives you peace of mind, and could potentially avoid costly and time consuming court cases. So, ask to see their insurance.

It’s fair to say, that what UCS has set out to do, is to keep learning. This has enabled them to add many strings to their bow. This in turn gives them the opportunity to almost be a ‘one stop shop’ when it comes to the majority of services that you will require on a regular basis on your site. This saves you time having to contact several contractors, as opposed to just one. It further saves administrative time in collating and paying invoices. Finally it is so much easier to develop a good relationship with just one contractor, that to do so for half a dozen. And if a service hasn’t been mentioned here, why not ask them.

If you would like to know more, why not visit their website at  www.united-cleaning.co.uk. If  you want a no obligation site survey and quotation, you can contact them in any of the following ways:

Office: 01749 606668 Mobile: 07968 500130 e-mail: enquiries@united-cleaning.co.uk