To understand efficiency in the context of commercial cleaning, we’ll need to dig deeper into the various elements of efficiency – what customers view as efficiency; what the current drivers of efficiency are; and how these drivers will evolve in the future.
Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to talk to customers about how they choose cleaning solutions. In particular, what makes them choose one cleaning service provider over another. Not surprisingly, efficiency has been a common theme in several of these customer studies. What has been surprising, however, are the different ways in which customers perceive efficiency.
As I see it, customers talk about efficiency in reference to two broad areas: product efficiency, where, efficiency refers to a specific cleaning machine or solution; and operational efficiency, where the efficiency of the entire cleaning operation is in focus.
Efficiency as an element of product quality
A few years ago, we did a study asking customers what makes for good product quality. For more than half of the respondents, a ‘good quality’ product was an efficient product — one that performs the job it’s expected to do, cleaning thoroughly and effectively.
In another study, we asked customers to list the factors that helped them choose one cleaning service provider over another. Here, participants mentioned quality of cleaning first, followed by the efficiency of the cleaning solution. For the participants in this study, these factors were even more important than the total cost of ownership and the upfront cost of buying a cleaning solution.
In a third study, we asked customers what some of the frustrations they faced with cleaning machines, in general, were. They cited factors such as difficulty of use; poor performance; and unreliability — all of which prevent a cleaning machine from doing its job properly and makes it less efficient.
When I look at these insights, it’s clear that customers define efficiency as a good quality product that does what it’s intended to do. And customers can ensure that they get ‘good quality’ by choosing the right product for the task at hand.
Operational efficiency influenced by time
When it comes to the efficiency of the entire cleaning operation, insights from our customer studies showed factors that were, to a large extent, outside customers’ control.
In a study on the problems they face in their cleaning operations, customers mentioned the following challenges: having to clean continuously; cleaning outside working hours; cleaning areas that are hard to reach; cleaning when people are around; and insufficient time to clean. All these factors prevented cleaning staff from cleaning efficiently.
Similarly, in our most recent study, we looked at the main challenges facing contract cleaners. Planning, being a time-consuming task, came up as a major challenge. Participants shared the detailed planning involved to ensure that they have everything they need to do their jobs in the smartest way, at the lowest cost. This includes planning ahead to make sure they have the right equipment; the right person for the right task; the right plans and guidelines in place; and the right supplies.
In both these studies, the time customers had to complete the actual cleaning tasks influenced how efficient they were. Here, efficiency meant making the most of time. In other words, choosing cleaning solutions that helped them perform better in a short span of time.
What drives efficiency?
Through ongoing conversations with our customers, we’ve been able to identify what efficiency means to them and how we can help them become more efficient. Let’s take a quick look at the main factors that impact efficiency, as I see them: shortage of labor; pressure to keep costs down; and a smaller cleaning window.
Shortage of labor and the pressure to keep costs down are key drivers the industry is only too familiar with. However, based on recent insights, I see the ‘cleaning window’ becoming increasingly important too. With offices and facilities staying open longer – and cleaning several times during the day becoming the norm – it’s harder for cleaning staff to find a time to clean when people are not around.
Efficiency as an outcome
Looking ahead, cost pressure, labor shortage, and a smaller cleaning window will undoubtedly continue to drive the efficiency of both cleaning solutions and operations. In addition to that, I believe the cleaning outcome will become more important than the cleaning process itself in the coming years.
This, in turn, means that the cleaning process will need to become more flexible. Let’s take the example of a facility where the entire building is currently cleaned continuously, throughout the day. In future, you will adapt your cleaning plan so that different areas within that facility are cleaned with different frequency and at different times, depending on factors such as the number of occupants; the level of traffic; and external weather conditions.
Efficiency will be evaluated based on the cleaning outcome — that is, by how clean the facilities are rather than how often and at what time they’ve been cleaned.
At Nilfisk, we’re drawing on these customer insights as we develop the cleaning solutions of tomorrow — such as connected autonomous machines and digital services that will enable customers to optimize their cleaning. We’re committed to delivering solutions that meet our customers’ expectations of efficiency and help make their business smarter.
Charlotte Vittrup is the Global Director Insights and Analytics at Nilfisk.