I write this as a co-founder and MD at Hammer & Mop. It has been 7 bootstrapped months since our operations started and it has been a roller coaster ride. From befuddled cleaning attendants to patient clients, from first mistakes to an amazing cleanup of a cricketer’s residence, we’ve been there done that. And the best part is yet to come, like always.
The Forgotten Corner / Disapproving Clients
When you’re delivering a service, the minute details matter. Even if you have made the entire place dust-free and sparkling clean, a single forgotten corner might become a dampener on your efforts and expectations. And that is understandable. I still find it hard to really ‘manage’ situations when a hassled customer ends up blaming the team for their lack of sincerity. One forgotten corner makes all other truly sincere efforts seem worthless. <shoulder shrugs>
Expectations from the average Employee
Hammer & Mop has a fairly unique structure, if we keep in mind the perspective with which we run this company. The conversations are very frank, very open and the layers do not act as blockades for communication to take place. Every cleaning attendant is perfectly within his right to call me up in case of a problem. Though there is discipline, there are no obvious walls between teams.
The attendants come from a modest background. Being a start-up, we cannot afford to pay them ‘enough’ (Though the term does not indicate any value. How much is enough, really?), but the focus on sincerity and mannerisms is expecting a lot from them already. They are not taught values the way we are. Their living conditions are harsh, there is ignorance in the communities and they have serious domestic problems. Illnesses and Deaths are very common. In spite of all this, my men are punctual during almost all cleanups. It is admirable.
From a modest salary, an extended family, multiple debts, recurring healthcare expenses, an odd alcoholic family member, lack of financial intelligence, little or no education, fear of the unknown, lack of water and electricity, frequent essential trips to the native place (more deaths or illnesses)- the fact that they respect us and the company and turn up for work on time, and are honest and sincere is enough for me to be satisfied at times.
Do I really expect a lot from them, at this stage? There are times when I feel guilty for having been stern on an attendant for being late or forgetting to inform an important detail. On knowing what issue caused him to be forgetful or late makes the issue seem irrelevant in his life. And there has not been a single time when any of my boys have played down the error on their part. I continue to believe that this proves we are on the right track.
“Yes, punctuality and forgotten corners have often resulted in angry clients. But then, that is always one unfortunate case among ten. We have had super-happy clients who continue to give us repeat business. There are clients who call us up and tell the office how wonderful the boys have been. Thank you, for complimenting my boys, dear folks. They deserve it.“
Awesome People, Genuine Mistakes
I remember a few disastrous clean-ups in October 2011, our first month of operations. We were lucky to have accommodating clients who gave critical feedback that helped us improve by leaps and bounds.
Dr. Raut, Mrs. Reddy, Mrs. Shah, Dr. Pai, Ms. Shah, Mrs. Dave, Ms. Vaswani, Mrs. Ghosh, Mrs. Shroff, Mr. Rajoli, Dr. Dubhashi and Mrs. Mehta- I thank you for being so kind, for trusting us and giving us a chance. Thanks to you awesome people, we’re improving every single day.
I vividly remember all the conversations I’ve had with my team back then. I remember discussing tips, manners, lies, extra-mile, the elusive perfect cleanup, levels, customer-mindset, delivery and pure joy of a customer testimonial with them. I remember answering their many questions. I remember working with them and our manager, Onkar, to make every clean-up better than the last.
We made sure that there was a consensus on every decision we took, on operating level. Implementation of new ideas was discussed & explained, not ordered. We shared our vision with the men who lived hand to mouth. We told them what is in it for them. We built a family with brotherly love, coupled with the discipline of a job. We created expressive humans out of them.
The boys showed results in 3 months flat. They are awesome, I tell you. They are trustworthy, honest and empathetic. They are tremendously hard working. My boys have started going the extra mile- for customers and the company. They willingly work on all-night clean-ups, they hunt for amenities and get the required information without giving up, they do extra chores if asked by the client.
They get a bit forgetful at times. But it is always a hidden corner that they forget. I’m sure they will be less forgetful, when they have lesser things to worry about. I’m sure they would be even more particular, when they have lesser things to worry about back at home. That is what our goal is, at Hammer & Mop.
Home Cleaning is tougher than we think.
Trust me on this. Every home is unique, every client unit has a mind of its own and there are way too many things inside a residence. So keeping a checklist is impractical. And we’ve almost figured out a solution that our clients experience regularly. And each home is dirtier, way dirtier than what the owner thinks. In India, with such humongous quantities of dust settling down on every surface, thorough cleaning takes time, resilience and deep focus. You need great men to do the job. Results are astounding. If the forgotten corners are no more forgotten, it is the next step for us.
We look forward to Create, Execute and Grow.
This post was long due. I’d like to conclude the monologue with the following-
- Expecting my boys to behave like professionals in spite of their domestic problems might be asking for too much from them because we’re not giving them ‘much’ in return, at this stage. The best way out for us is to drive ourselves to be big and when we can afford to, highly prioritize benefiting our boys in all aspects. They deserve it as much as we do.
- Managing clients is essential, and most of all- educating them. We ought to figure out and implement the right communication channels. We would really prefer critical feedback to dissatisfied grunts but then, it is our job to make it happen.
- It is time to be accountable. It is time to grow. We’re on it.
love and peace
[This post was first published on the Hammer & Mop blog]