Updated: Jul 27
Window cleaning, dryer vent cleaning, and gutter cleaning are tasks that many homeowners have had to tackle at some point themselves without help. So what makes a “professional” outfit generally abler than a homeowner at such tasks? The truth is, at least in some cases, we, might not be abler than our customers. However, that is exactly what the professional people in leadership at our franchise strive to accomplish. The greatest obstacle for a cleaning company is training its generally unskilled recruits. This might help account for the fact that industry-wide, repeat customers for cleaning companies is only about 50%. And since we are being honest, most of us “old-timers” had to learn to do the tasks as we went along. Studying environmental science and becoming a state-licensed Michigan builder gave me an acute advantage starting out in this business at a graduate-level decades ago. Our continuing education has included obtaining multiple certifications through the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Training Certifications. What is more Happy Window Cleaning has for the past five years had Cherie, a Juris Doctor, and Coast Guard Auxillary Officer working as our office administrator, taking charge of research and development of the franchise. Strengthening our training programs has been our top priority and we continue to work with trade organizations and my alma mater to fulfill this obligation. Finally adopting a profit-sharing business model has helped most of our employees take ownership of their jobs.
Nowadays, new cleaning technicians, working for established companies, at least, are instructed with both hands-on and training modules, ours are called; “The Happytude Series”. These training tools outline what to do in most circumstances that people will encounter on the job. Even so, there are literally thousands of different types of windows and hundreds of window manufacturers that have contributed to existing homes. There are certain types of windows that are less prevalent than others and some that haven’t been manufactured in over a hundred years! The problem is that even with all of our training, people still, process things differently, and new people whether they be Dean's list students at University or coming from other trades still require time on the job, to fully assimilate the training into their daily practices.
Over time, our retained recruits become proficient and learn how to disassemble and clean windows of many types much faster than a homeowner can. Others find or are rerouted toward a new path that better suits them.
In general, the division of labor and specialization that our organization offers benefits our customers because, given the repetitious nature of our work, we can generally “deliver value” faster than they can do the same thing for themselves. From one standpoint the “market value” of any given home service, in economic terms, is the value of a customer’s time, not the value of the window cleaner's time. Of course, oftentimes the quality of professionals (those being paid to perform a task) is better than what the homeowner can do themselves simply because we have become much more familiar with the nuances of our trade. For instance, sunlight, has a dynamic effect on one’s perception of soils and smudges on the glass, as natural light is constantly changing positions all throughout the day. Window Cleaners learn intuitively over time to “check the angles” or as Brad Carey, former owner of Brads Window Cleaning says "to do the chicken dance", to ensure that what looks good at 10 a.m. also looks right at 6 p.m. i.e., good workmanship.
Happy Window Cleaning Training teaches recruits the facts about the various kinds of surfaces they work with, such as glass is 5.5 on the Mohs hardness scale. They learn what soils are water-soluble, and the correct dilutions for cleaning agents. They also learn about anthropogenic substances like silicon, paint, and hard water stains. Using the "TACT" method of Cleaning they learn what tools work best on various surfaces and what not to use and do in certain situations.
But to really get a sense of the true nature of training recruits for window cleaning one must zoom out and take a look at the reality of our market. For those who practice the trade in cold weather climates, window cleaning is primarily a seasonal occupation. There is a great demand for our service in spring and the fall. That is about six months. But then there are deep valleys in the winter and less steep slopes in the mid-summer and early spring.
So given those circumstances every year if the window cleaning company is managing their business well, it will be growing and it will receive a higher demand for services, and therefore a greater demand for labor. There are financial constraints as well. The labor pool for window cleaners has little slack as it competes against occupations that offer over 2,000 hours of work, versus an average of 1,350 hours (for climates such as our headquarters in Michigan, which have harsh winters). This means that if a window cleaning company is growing, as it must, and (if it hopes to keep their best employees, if we aren't growing the best employees will eventually outgrow us), we must offer compensation that is attractive given the opportunity loss employees face with alternative occupations. In addition to retaining some people each year, the cleaning company must hire new employees every year to meet the increasing demand for services. Even with offering the best of compensation and profit-sharing, given that what we do is hard work, turnover is considerably higher in our trade than in most fields. At Happy Window Cleaning, we rise to this challenge.
Furthermore, our more advanced cleaning technicians are the ones repeat customers ask for by name. Since there are a finite number of days and hours, it is impossible for our most experienced people to be on every project. Therefore, it is very common that brand new employees will be paired with more experienced people. Even so, we must expect that new people need time to adjust to the job and despite all of our training and follow-up efforts, it is certain that those people will make some mistakes. Occasionally costly ones. Another unspoken truth is that window cleaning companies generally do not find ivy school-type candidates as recruits. In practice, window cleaning companies face the challenge of meeting people where they are, at their individual skill level, and we help them to acquire the habits and skills that will best serve our customers, the company, and themselves. All of this requires kindness, endurance, and patience. This is why I call service work a bi-vocational endeavor. We serve our employees, as much, and in some cases more than we serve our customers.
Window cleaning is not rocket science. This does not mean that the trade is easy or that thinking is not involved with the craft. What it really means, since I'm being rigorously honest, is that there is little social prestige in being a window cleaner. That plus, the job is coupled with, on occasion, very little gratitude for the hard our people perform every day. (Most people are wonderful, but not all).
These are jobs that many people simply do not want to do at all. And yet some customers offer little consideration, nor concern for the welfare of those who actually show up to do the job. Certainly, negative reinforcement magnifies a too common tendency for some to become discouraged with the job. We recently had a customer ask a 20-year-old kid, who had just a few months experience, to walk on a 1.5-inch ceiling rafter (covered in paper insulation) up in an unfinished, unoccupied, attic space, to clean the interior of an isolated window. This is activity is expressly against company policy. What is more, this customer did this without consulting the 35-year-old Crew leader who was in an adjacent room at the time! The younger man, of course, slipped, fell through the garage ceiling onto the garage door, which helped to break his fall, before tumbling further onto the cement floor. When the Crew Leader returned from bringing his helper to the hospital, this homeowner, fully knowing what had just transpired, then asked the supervisor if he would clean the aforementioned window! Thankfully, he politely declined the unsafe endeavor.
Despite such obstacles, window cleaners must find within themselves an indomitable spirit and self-motivated determination to serve others as best they can if they are to succeed in the occupation. Those who do succeed learn to take pride in our work for the simple sake that our intentions are pure and good and they typically are the type who want to be of service to others. To meet this challenge, we must remain grateful for our ability to earn an honest living, despite the fact that some fraction of our customers will continue to treat them like a mere transaction rather than fellow human beings. As an employer, we are not only responsible to our customers, but also to be good leaders for our people. So we must recognize the challenges that they face without bias nor resentment. When our people make mistakes, we do good not to shred individuals for making them. We should remember to practice grace. Also as leaders especially when facing an upset and disappointed customer, Happy Window Cleaning senior staff need not hang our heads, because our company is one that stands behind our workmanship and follows up with its staff. When mistakes are made, given the chance we will always stand behind our work. This is the purpose of our Meticulous Workmanship Guarantee. It is the people at our company that are assuming all the risks. It helps to remember that most of our projects proceed without a hitch and most of our feedback is very positive.
Sometimes this means absorbing the costs of our people’s mistakes, which generally occur with our most junior people. It helps to remember that every cleaning company out there is facing the same challenges, but not all are growing entities and able to offer advancement opportunities to their people. And as professionals, we must learn to accept complaints and yes at times, the criticism of our customers as the valuable feedback it really is. We should do this without personalizing the situation, with true humility. In practice, our leaders are versed in “Situational Leadership” where we further train someone when we find out that he or she is unable to perform a specific task. Other times we find that people subconsciously or deliberately are unwilling to perform a task to our standards. In that case, we must counsel people, according to their needs.
In sum, given the fact that there are thousands of window configurations, some screens come out from the front, some from inside. Some screens have springs, others, the window sashes must be lowered or even removed from the frame. Different settings offer unique challenges. We have one project where a fast-moving stream runs under a cantilevered section of the home and so annually we set up staging across the stream to reach the windows, but this is only possible when the stream is low enough to support the planks on its banks.
It is only natural that there will be times especially when it comes to our newest members that they will struggle to learn new mechanical skills. It is only natural that people will at times get overwhelmed by great heights they must climb, by mosquitoes, and yes sometimes unkind people. Although even with the best of training we must meet the student where he or she really is and remember that “repetition is the mother of learning”. As leaders, we always have a choice in such matters. We can foster the best in others and build on what they do have going for them, with gratitude, or we can complain and discourage people from becoming the best version of themselves. Some people who take the job are not the right fit but we must give them space to discover that for themselves, lest we "offend one of the little ones". As a Christian, and profit-sharing company, the best thing that we can always do is ask ourselves, “what would Jesus do in this situation”. That is what we must find the strength to do. Only through growth can we offer our people the chance to grow themselves. Meeting the demand increasing is our mission, but meeting the demand with grace is the dispensation of our true ownership. We are merely stewards of this vision. God is the Chairman of the Board at Happy Window Cleaning, and we do good when we remember who it is that we ultimately serve.