A culture of continuous improvement

29 April 2019

How do cleaning organisations differentiate themselves in a crowded market? Mike Boxall, MD of Sitemark, explains the power of best practice benchmarking for the cleaning industry

A central tenet of good business is the ability to constantly improve. To evolve and keep ahead of emerging trends and changes, while also maintaining a healthy bottom line. The cleaning industry is no exception this, with service providers constantly looking for ways to separate themselves in what has become a highly commoditised space.

This is where best practice benchmarking comes into its own. It allows a cleaning company to assess itself against both industry standards and its contemporaries, the results of which can then be used to differentiate on basis other than cost.   

What is best practice benchmarking? 

Benchmarking is essentially a process of comparison, be it between teams, divisions, products, methods of working or even entire organisations. So long as the reference point has been clearly defined, you can benchmark virtually anything. 

While there are many areas of a cleaning contract where benchmark comparisons must be made on a strict ‘like for like’ basis, for example when comparing the costs or standards of cleaning at one school with another school, operational best practices can also be learnt from other sectors. The skills required to manage a large team of cleaners on a retail site, for example, are largely the same as those required to manage a large team of cleaners on a commercial site. Staff engagement, management reporting, environmental and social impact are all areas where the best practices of one sector may be transferable to another.  

How does the cleaning industry benefit? 

Aside from operational efficiency benefits, independent best practice benchmarking helps to manage client expectations by providing transparent options over cost savings and performance levels. Where clients are looking for service providers to absorb a never-ending raft of mandatory employment cost increases – including minimum and living wage increases, auto-enrolment costs and the apprenticeship levy – benchmarking can demonstrate the unsustainable nature of funding them without an increase in contract cost or a reduction in service levels.

Being able to demonstrate a ‘best in class’ service provision also helps extend existing contracts and can save clients time and money by avoiding a costly, and potentially risky, change of provider. Looking at service delivery holistically, e.g. considering areas of responsibility of both client and service providers, fosters a true partnership approach, encouraging longer term contracts that, in turn, reduces contractors’ sales costs and delivers better value to clients. 

Revisit the process

Frequency is key to successful best practice benchmarking for cleaning. While a one-off exercise will uncover plenty of detail and indicate where things can improve, more profound insight can be derived when the process is revisited on a six- to eight-month cycle. This regularity drives a culture of continuous improvement and provides a tangible way to quantify cleaning services.  

A benchmarking exercise will help to demonstrate that not all cleaning hours are equal and that increased employment terms for cleaners, innovative equipment provision and ongoing training delivers greater efficiency from every hour deployed. This moves the conversation away from lowest cost per-hour to highest value which ultimately benefits all parties involved.

Caution should be taken, however, when discussing benchmarking. Businesses cannot simply collect information and expect to derive value from it without the right means to interpret it. As such, the best benchmarking service will only collect useful, relevant and applicable data that can be easily compared and consistently applied. It’s impossible to assume future cleaning performance based on past outcomes, though benchmarking will give both customers and service providers their best shot.