What is a house cleaning emergency?
A house cleaning emergency is when a client calls and requests help other than their regularly scheduled routine cleaning. It could be for a variety of reasons such as a surprise (fill in the blank, birthday party, baby shower, wedding shower, retirement party, graduation party,) they have agreed to host at their house.
Here’s what you need to know so you won’t be caught off guard when you get a call from one of your best clients.
A house cleaning emergency could be for reasons that nobody saw coming such as a house break-in, where everything has been rummaged through and is broken and scattered. Your client is freaked out, and they are looking to you to help put Dumpty back together again.
It could be that in-laws have arrived without notice and need rooms prepared, or the relatives may have already gone home and left the place trashed.
I have a client who calls a house cleaning emergency every time her daughter decides to clean her room. Instead of having a methodical approach, she yanks all the clothes out of the closets, dumps all the drawers on the bed, pulls everything out from every nook and cranny and makes a ginormous pile of stuff that’s so overwhelming that the daughter sinks into depression, and never finishes the cleaning. So the mom insists on a house cleaning emergency that has to be scheduled in addition to their routine cleaning.
Another house cleaning emergency came in the form of a DIY guy who built some cabinets for his bathroom, but due to bad weather and inability to use his electric skill saw to cut the wood outside, he did it in his dining room – leaving a fine film of sawdust all over the house. His wife was furious.
Whatever the emergency – your job is to restore the balance in the home, or put everything back how it’s supposed to be.
Should you drop what you’re doing to help a client who has a house cleaning emergency?
It entirely depends on your schedule and your availability.
If you have extra help and can spare a person or two for the job, then absolutely. In the name of customer service, do everything in your power to accommodate your client.
If you are a solo house cleaner and your schedule is stacked to the max, you may have to negotiate terms that will work for both you and the client.
You might agree to put the client on a wait list, and then call them with first priority when you have a cancellation.
You might have to rearrange some of the routine tasks you do, during a normal cleaning to accommodate the house cleaning emergency.
Or you might have to add time to a routine cleaning.
I have a client who agreed to let her teenage daughter have a party at their house one weekend and when the party was over, you guessed it, there was a house cleaning emergency in the biggest sense of the word. Mary’s normal cleaning is on Monday so we simply added an extra two hours onto her regular cleaning to put the house back together, clean up food and drink spills, put the sunroom/patio furniture back where it belongs, take out rented folding chairs and tables etc.
Should you set “Rules” for house cleaning emergencies?
You can mention it in your initial walk-through with the client – about how you might treat a house cleaning emergency, and request that they give you as much notice as possible in trying to deal with one – but it’s called a house cleaning emergency because it usually unexpected, and causes panic when it happens.
Should you charge more for a house cleaning emergency?
If you are simply adding hours onto an existing cleaning job, and you charge by the hour, then yes, you charge whatever your hourly rate would be.
If you charge by the job, you may need to bid the job separately from your routine cleaning, and factor in the time needed, money or shopping involved for odd or extra supplies, equipment rentals, and time required to finish the job.
If the house cleaning emergency is for a friend of a client, you may want to honor the same hourly rates you charge your client – It makes recommending you easy because people can guesstimate the cost of your help.
Thomas was a regular bi-weekly house cleaning client of mine. He had a co-worker whose teenager committed suicide. His co-worker’s family was so distraught that they “let their house go” for the month that followed. They didn’t do any dishes, laundry, pick up any clothes etc. Thomas went to visit his friend, and declared a house cleaning emergency. He paid for us to go in and help them till they got back on their feet. We added the house cleaning emergency to our schedule for 4-6 cleanings at the same hourly rate Thomas was paying for his house.
What do you do if a house cleaning emergency falls outside your expertise?
It depends entirely on the type of house cleaning emergency. Can you use all of your smarts to figure it out?
I had a client (we will call her Amy) whose kitchen caught on fire due to the over heating of a self-cleaning oven. When the fire department left, the house was trashed. The firemen ripped the ovens out of the kitchen, they’d taken crowbars to the wall behind the stove, they’d torn cupboards away from the wall. They’d emptied cupboards while following the heat, and they left pots and pans scattered everywhere. When they were done, there was a film of whatever is in the fire extinguishers along with ash and soot over everything in the house.
We spent a whole afternoon cleaning up the debris and determined that Amy still needed to hire a fire restoration company – who could remove the smell of smoke from the fabric in the furniture and carpets, clean the oil paintings in the home, and remove the soot from the walls and ceilings. Some of the those chores were in fact outside our area of expertise. We weren’t going to be able to give her the quality cleaning she really needed following the fire.
And there’s no shame in admitting that you’ve gone as far as you can go. Don’t over promise if you can’t deliver.
Amy’s home owner’s insurance covered a fire restoration company, to come clean everything up. And since it was a house cleaning emergency she hired me to come oversee the clean-up crew because she wouldn’t be at home, and she trusted me in her house with her belongings. I accepted the job as a way of providing excellent customer service, and I knew what it was going to take to put her house back together like she wanted.
It was super awkward when both cleaning companies showed up at the same time to work, and for a minute I felt outside my comfort zone.
Here’s what happened: I recognized that Amy had placed a vote of confidence in me by hiring me to work alongside the other cleaning company. I took the owner of the other company aside and explained that normal circumstances wouldn’t bring us both together like this. And due to Amy’s house cleaning emergency, we both were being paid to put Amy’s household back together as soon as possible.
We both wanted the same things, we wanted to help Amy, and get paid.
And we both feared the same things, we didn’t want the other cleaning company to steal our amazing workers.
By addressing the concerns upfront, we were able to diffuse any weird energy, and come to some working agreements about how to best work together.
If you feel strange about a house cleaning emergency – be honest, is this really out of your league? If it is, please turn the job down. If you can’t meet the expectations of the client, be honest and let them know so they can hire somebody else.
And the big thing to remember about a house cleaning emergency is that the client called you – because they know and trust you. They believe that you are the perfect person to handle the job. You are the calm in their storm.
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Photo credits: Savvy Cleaner
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