Context Matters, Even for Cleaning Services

I fired our cleaning company yesterday.

I don't get angry easily (seriously - I think I've been shaking angry like I was yesterday three other times in my life, maybe), but I was furious. Sadly, had the cleaning company understood the context in which I was hiring their service, they'd probably still be cleaning our house and taking my money.

Right Context, Happy Customer

Four years ago when I was single and lived alone, I had hired this same cleaning company for a long time. I was a very happy customer, and when I moved I was disappointed to learn they didn't service where I moved to.

Why was I a happy customer then? Consider my context at the time:

I was a single guy living in a very old apartment complex. I despise cleaning enough to be willing to pay someone else to do it, as long as they do a decent job. I had the disposable income, and my schedule was very flexible.

At the time, this cleaning company was a perfect fit. They did a good job in an old apartment (in other words, it wasn't exactly in pristine condition to start). The cost was reasonable. While they quoted a time at which they'd arrive, my schedule was flexible enough that occasionally missing that target wasn't a problem.

In short, I had low standards. I simply needed my apartment presentable enough not to scare guests off, and everything else was secondary. In retrospect, this cleaning company fits this context perfectly.

Wrong Context, Angry Customer

Fast forward four years. My context has now shifted considerably:

I'm married with a newborn child (our first) who was just born. We live in a reasonably nice condo with reasonably nice possessions. With a newborn around, cleanliness is very important to me. Cost is important, but time is even more important, particularly right now.

In short, my standards are much higher. I now demand a much more thorough clean. When you need to line up your day to ensure your exhausted wife and newborn daughter are ready for a cleaning crew to come through, sticking to the expected schedule is critical.

The reality of the service I received: Once left to their own devices (with no one watching over their shoulder), they took significant shortcuts with their cleaning. They never arrived at the time they said they would, even if that quoted time was only one hour from then. Then the coup de grace: Three days after returning from the hospital, they arrive at our home nearly three hours prior to their expected arrival, entered without even ringing the doorbell, and we found out they were in the house in a less-than-ideal way.

That was the end of the relationship.

Adapting to Customers' Contexts

So what went wrong?

My initial reaction was that the company's service had slipped badly. I think there is some truth to this. The shortcuts they took on a recent clean shouldn't be acceptable to any company that advertises themselves as a cleaning service. However, this is correctable. They came back the next day and re-cleaned, and the subsequent time they did what we expected. Once expectations are set, everyone is happier.

Because of this, however, there had to be more. I've realized it's that my context changed, and the company didn't adapt.

Timeliness has become a huge issue for me, and this company was unable or unwilling to keep their own schedule. Even with the re-clean they missed the time they said they'd arrive three times, and the first of those times was only an hour after I first spoke with them. With a newborn child and exhausted parents, arriving early can cause chaos. What was intended as a way to ease our burden instead added to it. 

This situation could have been averted. If the company had checked in with me to see what my priorities were, and why I was hiring them, they could have adjusted to serve me better.

Instead, they likely never even considered why I was hiring them. They are a cleaning service; all I want is my house clean. That is probably true in most cases. It wasn't in mine. That was an opportunity lost, simply because the company didn't think about why we were hiring them to clean.