In the home cleaning industry it is quite normal for a service provider to need a key to access the property. There's a long list of reasons that a provider may need to have the key in their possession, but before we get into that let's take a wide look at the best way to manage those keys.
A home cleaning service needing a key should not a deal-breaker. With proper trust and proper business practices in place before booking, any client should feel comfortable leaving a key with the team.
Need a key is just something to prepare for...
Being prepared for this situation can allow the service provider to deliver an even better service than planning around the client being home to avoid the need for a key.
Before we can take a look at the problems we are solving, we first need to understand why being able to efficiently and securely manage client keys is important and challenging.
Are you ready?
All right. Let's get into the action.
Let's imagine a few scenarios...
Imagine a client that needs to run a few errands once the team has shown up, but doesn't know when they will be back. How do the home cleaning team members expect to gain access?
This is a perfect time to give the home cleaning team a key to the home so that they can lock up when the booking has been completed.
Imagine when a client is not in town, but would still like their house cleaning service to be taken care of. How will the home cleaners get access to return the home to perfection while the client is gone?
Well, if they have left a key they can return to a sparkling clean home. No stress or worries. The team has taken care of everything and delivered an amazing level of service with ease.
Even imagine that the client is the ideal client that has a lot of stuff going on in their lives and simply cannot accommodate the need of being home for every home cleaning service that is scheduled.
The last thing a cleaning business should want to do is have to call them because the cleaning team does not have a way to get into their home that needs some cleaning.
Before you even consider... No, asking the client to leave the home unlocked is not okay. If they suggest it themselves then it is okay, but it is never okay to ask a client to risk their home, family, and belongings.
That is possibly the worst thing that could be done in the substitution of a proper home key management procedure.
A home is a place that your clients make their memories and feel the safest. Being the person to compromise that would be a fatal mistake to the businesses and client relationship.
So, we need a solution, but just asking the clients for a key isn't enough. A proper Key Management Procedure needs to be in place.
When collecting keys from clients a key inevitably gets lost along the way. And that probability only increases as your home cleaning client list continues to grow. Hopping onto that pile you also increase the odds of a lost key as you add more team members. And those chances raise exponentially when you have multiple different teams servicing a location that forces the teams to pass the key back and forth regularly. Even if it is not lost, it is bound to be forgotten one of these days.
Managing key is not one of the things that is immediately a lost battle though. The chance of losing a key can be kept very low with just a preparation, effort and honesty.
A key management procedure is vital to making sure that no key ever goes lost and when it does you at least have a frame of reference for where the key is currently located.
Managing client keys is not something that you will be able or should be able to only half-do.
This is going to require 100% perfection in the procedure being followed. Anything else and you will be left with a mess on your hands.
Before getting into building our procedure we must discuss the idea of putting a little effort in and moving on.
Managing your business and client keys is not something that can be done on paper. Doing so is going to create so many issues I cannot even list them all for you...
Real quick let me give you a few examples of what you would be cleaning up: Never knowing where each key is for a fact. Having to confirm the location of keys. Risking a paper getting lost. Wondering if the paper designating the location of the key is up to date. There are so many bad issues that can be easily avoided by ducking your head down now and putting in the work to protect you and your local cleaning team members.
You're going to need to build a real system that all of your team members follow. This is most definitely an area of the team management that comes down to "You are only as strong as your weakest link." and having even one team member that does not follow the key procedure can result in lost keys and upset clients.
We all want to avoid that don't we?
So, why don't most local cleaning companies have something in place that is preventing the losses?
Because the solution can be confusing and introducing this process adds a few additional steps to making sure that a team member is ready for their upcoming day of bookings.
The time and effort invested are worth it though.
Let me explain...
When I first began the journey to find the best solution to key management I was met with quite a bit of pushback from team members, potential clients, and even other business owners.
It started with my team members. My team members had grown used to being trusted with their clients' keys and not needing to do anything extra. But allowing my teams to operate like this created some major issues that were not easily rectified.
Now I would have home cleaners show up that didn't have the key. On top of that, the cleaner would not even have a way of determining who did have the key.
Even more so, when a cleaner left the Homeer team we would have to track down every key and make sure that we have received everything back from that employee.
Then, we considered adding fees that the cleaner has to pay when they lose a key.
Simply put, charging employees fees for lost items is very scummy.
This was a horrible idea and I cannot believe this was found in our Employee Handbook for so wrong. If you have this as a fee in your handbook keep reading. You will soon see why that is horrible to your team members
Not being able to come up with a solution off the top of my head I began the research process. Hopping onto Google I began the search and quickly found some wonderful insight.
As shared on Workplace StackExchange here, Jared pitched into the conversation with:
"You have the moral and legal right to decline the liability for this key. They have the legal (but not so moral) right to determine that this is required for your job and terminate you, so don't be a jerk about this conversation with them!
I suggest you have a conversation with your manager and say: - I am not willing to accept this personal liability (and thus this key).
I do want to provide the same high-level of work/service that I have in the past, so here are other options:
I could work from home on weekends, etc.
I could ask people to come let me in when necessary
The company could invest in a keycard system, I've heard they're much more secure because individual keycards can be instantly deactivated, etc.
The company could agree to limit my liability (i.e. $100 max or something)
Ultimately if none of these options work, I'll be forced to curtail my working hours to times when I have access.
It's best to go to your boss with solutions, and not just problems."
Jared just perfectly summed up the issues I had with charging a fee for re-keying. It was not right and I wish I had the chance of reading Jareds perspective years ago.
Although none of the solutions that Jared listed can be utilized in the home cleaning industry, his perspective did form our opinion on what direction Homeer should take with our Key Management Procedure.
Adding to the list of unique things applying to Homeer, we also have to consider the loss of client keys. It was clear something needed to be done and that we aren't in the position to deduct fees from employees at the time a business or client key is lost.
One perspective is never enough when creating a business procedure. You have to form your real opinion before you can implement any form of procedure that will result in the outcome you are hoping for.
So, moving forward to research the best way for a home cleaning company to manage client keys I found another great view-point.
I came across another opinion still relating to business keys being lost...
"If a lost key is such a security issue that they would need to re-key all of those locks, then it seems to me that the potential for keys being copied would be of a similar risk level.
That said, do they plan on re-keying all the locks every time an employee quits or is terminated? Because having this agreement in place ensures that most, if not all, employees are going to have copies of their keys made just in case they lose one.
If I was intent on working there that's the very first thing I'd do. Then I'd leave the original at my house and keep the copy on me.
I think pointing out things like this to management prior to signing such an agreement would encourage them to just pop for the electronic locks."
Then reading this opinion the situation became much more serious to me. Never before had we considered that our employees could and may make copies of our clients' keys. This is of course not okay and I was suddenly determined to cover this as part of my solution.
Just adding to the list of requirements for our Key Management Procedure I continued the process of research. I wasn't willing to risk missing any helpful opinions about this topic. I was not an expert in this area yet and I was determined to become one.
Finding the aforementioned perspective inspired me to continue searching. It wasn't long before I found another post that was great of amazing comments.
The first comment that stood out to be was left by TailoredMaids. Looking at the companies perspective TailoredMaid says:
"You need to rekey the entire home at the cost of the company. Unless you have a signed statement from the cleaner stating they understand they are responsible for the cost of rekeying a home if a key is lost, you have no grounds to make the cleaner reimburse you."
Although I feel this owner was wrong in the idea that a business can morally have an employee sign a contract that states they have to pay re-keying... She does go on to share her contract which does include a wonderful piece of information and/or procedure note:
"Loss of keys OR obtaining key duplicates without written consent from Employer may result in disciplinary action, including immediate termination. Employee agrees to report any lost keys to [the] Employer or Employer's Supervisor immediately."
Immediately I was confident that implementing the policy regarding duplications was the way to go. Everything else could be taken care of by our procedure. At this point in the research phase I didn't think there was a need to write down the management system in our Employee Handbook at this time. I knew I would be building a better management system.
At Homeer we separate all issues into two areas. - The procedure (the steps that we always repeat) - The system (the tools that we use to easily repeat these steps)
At Homeer we knew we needed to build a Key Management Procedure and Key Management System and it would all be focused around the idea that we do not need duplicates because it should be easy to track a key down at any time.
Still to this day I know this is the perfect way to handle this for Homeer and all of our local home cleaners. No longer were we risking it with the safety of our amazing Texan clients. We were close to being ready to build the system of our dreams.
Deciding to build our procedure and system from the ground up we were granted the ability to implement features that we otherwise would not have access to.
These features going as follows: - Picture
Show who last had the key
Show who added the key to the system
Show when the key was created/updated
Show on booking and client pages when a key is associated with the object.
Allow for duplication in the system to track our business key duplicates and manage them better.
So with these features, even in the case that we do have to make a key duplicate. It is documented and we can always find where that duplicate went and when and where it was used.
It was at the time of building our list of features that I was struggling to believe that there was no existing piece of software available that allowed for efficient tracking of keys for all of our home cleaning services.
With Homeer adding more services each month our needs from the key system are updating so you can always check back to this post to see how we solve the issues that we run into in the future!
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Up to this point I had mostly considered the employees perspective, but I needed to consider our clients and other business owners' perspectives before going any further.
So, while on the search I found PressurePros join the party with: "The longer you are in business, the longer your contracts will become."
Which is undoubtedly true, but displays a much larger acceptance of problems.
Seeing this I wanted to see if there was anyone that had ever talked about asking the client to leave a key instead of asking to keep a key.
This comes with a major downside though.
As outlined by TailoredMaids, asking the client to leave a key isn't safe. They said:
"I wouldn't accept responsibility for hidden keys. If a client suggests it, I refuse that arrangement. The reason? Who else knows where that hiding spot is? I don't want the liability of having a key laying around, no matter how hidden it may be. What if someone found it and got access to the home to steal something? How many neighbors know about it, and then throughout the grapevine others hear about it, or what about a witness being around when the hiding spot is being revealed?
If I cannot control the access to the client's home, I won't do it. It's my responsibility to keep the key secured. I will not accept responsibility for every Tom, Dick, and Jane who has access to it too!"
It's a fair point.
So far into this research I was not yet able to determine how I truly fall on this debate...
Looking from a clients perspective again though, I found one client in Washington D.C. that said:
"Our cleaning lady lost our house key. She is recommended from a trusted source and I have no reason to believe that it is in the wrong hands, but I don't know what my next steps should be. I asked her to tell me when she finds it but it has been two weeks, she can not locate it, and it is clearly gone for good. Should I have my locks changed? It's just the knob, not the deadbolt. Not sure what my next steps should be, if any."
When reading this I could imagine many of our "first-time" clients feeling this way if we happened to lose their key.
They had handed over their homes keys to their new cleaning lady...
Of course it's tough. After spending so many years in the home cleaning industry I've come to cherish that the term "cleaning lady" is generally used endearingly.
The innocence. I can just imagine it... It sucks...They had faith a great service would be delivered without issues...
They didn't want to cause issues but they were let down. That is not the type of service Homeer aims to deliver so I focused on making sure we avoided this situation at all costs.
Keeping this in mind I kept reading the answers following that question.
The responses to the posters question were very ranged with:
"Did the key have an address attached to it? If no, I suspect you are okay. Chances are it got misplaced. If it does have an address on the keychain, then I would be more concerned about changing the lock."
With another mother tossing in:
'I would change the locks."
Another commenter saying:
"Change the locks. She [the cleaning lady] may be honest, but it's also possible people she knows are not and took it without her knowledge."
The worry in the comments was creating some concern inside me.
Were we trying to win a losing battle?
Was there nothing that we could do to completely erase the concerns of needing to change the locks in case of a lost key?
I had learned my lesson from months before though. When things get tough that means you are about to crack the code. In a matter of minutes I was going to be able to jump the hurdles that had been stopping me. But to get there I had to keep moving.
Determined to find a wonderful solution for every part of the process I just kept reading. Dory kind of saved me here. You know the saying...
I imagine your search has gone very similar to mine. Knowing you've made it this far into the blog post means you must be looking for the best way to manage your key.
So, if you haven't got the picture yet let me remind you.
Just keep moving. You will find the answer that is best for you. To do that you have to keep moving though. So with Dory supporting me in my head and managed to keep making progress on my journey of searching.
And then this post sealed the deal for me.
In this post I found a group of women that had been saying what I was hoping to hear this whole time.
Could I be wrong to stop searching for answers as soon as I found the answers I was looking for? Perhaps...
But I remembered something while reading these comments. Our clients know we are people too. They aren't expecting us to be perfect.
With this realization we moved forward with adding duplication policy to the cleaning service Employee Handbook, adding duplication ability to the website, and remove the deduction for rekeying that we previously said would be passed on to our employees.
There is only so much that we can plan. There will still be mistakes and a few things will always slip through the cracks. What reflects on Homeer is not the plan we created that failed halfway through the process of needing it. It is how we stand back up after falling to correct/prevent these issues in the future.
Finally, I was ready to build our Key Management Procedure and Key Managing System.
We were closing Google and getting to work. It was time we started adding the real words to our papers to form the procedure.
Starting I am the one in charge of keeping our website up to date. The one you are browsing right now...
With that, I went ahead and booted up my development environment as I was about to get to work on coding our solution into the website.
I started by building our a quick Key object in our database. It is not complex by any means, but it gets the job done and allows our local cleaning team members to know where the key is at a moment's notice.
With the database ready to accept new information I was ready to build the page on the Homeer website.
Before doing that though I had my team members approve the fields that we had added to our Key object. I didn't want to have to go back in a few months and update the way keys worked to meet our current needs. We were building a system for and of the future.
The approval came quickly though and I moved onto implementing the keys for our website.
Notes: Moving forward all website screenshots are using placeholder data as to not share any private or secure information.
To get started on building the front end we need a way to create keys. So I started by creating a form that would allow for just that. It's not pretty, but it works and that is all that matters right now.
... and on submission of our form we now have a key in the database!
But we have no way of being able to view that data. So, let's get that added now...
And just give me a few minutes...
There we go!
And just like that we had a page to view our keys.
Being able to add keys I needed a way to see a list of all of the keys that we had in the database.
With every team member using this system we would soon end up with a long list of keys that we would still have to keep track of.
But if we could make our website make that list for us we could save a whole lot of time and frustration while keeping things much safer.
So, that's what I focused on next. It wasn't too hard as we had already created this template for our booking page. It was mostly just a Frankenstein-ed page as I assembled each piece to fill the spot we needed.
Suddenly though, we had a key list page that would more than suffice.
Being able to build a list for our keys in a short amount of time I was almost ready to publish our new system. But before doing that I needed to write up the procedure in the Employee Handbook and make sure that all of our team members knew of Homeer and our Key Management Procedure.
And before moving on from the website I wanted to make sure that none of our team members would ever miss the times that they needed the keys. Also with that, we need to fix the issue of a different team member cleaning the home than the time before and not knowing where the key is.
Well would it not be super nice if all the team members had to do was click "View Key" and they would be taken to the page with all of the relevant information?
Yes it would.
So next I added that.
With this system there is no single person that has all of the answers about the location to keys. This prevents the issue of a single person ever leaving with all of the answers. As well as this prevents any team member knowing the location of a key they do not need to know about. We value our clients' privacy because our homes are one of the most sacred places in our lives. No one should risk jeopardizing that.
Finally with the website ready it was time we got to Employee Handbook.
Notes: I am not a lawyer. With that, this is not legal advice. When creating a form of the legal document always consult the proper persons.
The first thing to do in our Home Cleaning Employee Handbook was to remove the key deduction fees. At Homeer we do not charge any fees to our clients and I did not want to be the business that was known to pass those fees on to our employees. That is not right by me.
After that we needed to make sure that we discussed the duplication of business and client keys. Under no circumstances was a duplication okay unless the owning party has given consent, but in the case, that duplication is made; it can be set as such in the database.
Homeer also added a section discussing the retrieval of the keys in the case that an employee leaves our team.
At this time I also added a section to talk about lost or stolen keys. Making sure to outline that in the case a key gets lost or stolen an employee does not need to worry. There will be absolutely no cost associated with the incident. However, it is of utmost importance that the management teams of Homeer are aware of the incident so that future procedures can address this issue. Only in the case that this is a repeated scenario with underlying circumstances is this cause of immediate termination. Any other situation and the management team will talk to the team member to determine what went wrong and what more we can do to protect from future events like this one.
Coming with these updates we also opened up the options that we can utilize for accessing a location.
Introducing "Staff Comments" to our booking system we can now tell our cleaners' persistent notes about the home cleaning booking.
With recurring bookings the notes are duplicated so that we never lose the information that is needed.
Using this we can keep track of:
Now getting our local professional team members into the home for a cleaning is a very easy task. There is no difficulty when it comes to key management because all of our team members are trained on each method of access.
Before technology had caught up to the way that Texans live it was quite a challenge to guarantee a service team had access to a location at the time needed. A lot of things happen in Texas and with that often comes quite a hectic schedule.
As you can see, Homeer is here to fix that as we utilize technology to make the process easier when we can.
Now, even with all of these systems in place no one is ever exempt from accidents.
Things do happen every now and then. And really...
The chance of that happening only increases the more team members that are added to the team.
So, in the case that we do lose a key I always make sure to be very prompt with talking to the client. This is not something that I let simmer. As you know, everything simmers before it boils and boiling water is much more painful than water than is slightly warm. So, being prompt here cannot be taken lightly.
I always feel horrible knowing bad news and waiting to pass it on. As soon as I hear from my team members that a key has been lost or stolen, I get in touch with the client. Again, the key is likely to the clients' home and we are not in the business to play with their safety. Safety is our number one priority and nothing could ever change that. Not even when things get tough, do we consider changing that. At Homeer we will always follow the proper procedures because we value our clients and their lives.
This is not a task that I pass on to the manager or the team member. As an owner this is part of the responsibility that comes with being in charge.
As the great saying goes "As a business owner you get none of the credit and take all of the blame."
That's okay and coming with that is being the person that notifies your clients when something happens to go wrong. Ideally you've been honest about the procedures and systems you have in place. If you have, your client will likely be very understanding and you will be able to correct the issue swiftly and respectfully. You cannot piddle-paddle here. The more prompt you are about this the more likely that the client is to be understanding.
To have an experience that doesn't come with incredible financial stress there are a few final things that one can do while making this call.
Never forget to stress to the client that the address is never shown or stored anywhere near or on the key. The only way someone would know where the key belongs is if they had access to our website.
Remind the client "all of our team members have a pre-employment background check." We take the security of all clients' safety very seriously.
Put yourself in the shoes of the client. How would you be feeling if you were the one receiving this call? Go ahead and plan responses to the questions/qualms you would raise. It's likely the client being called will have very similar requests and concerns.
It's a bad situation regardless of the procedures you have in place, but again you can make it much easier by being honest and upfront.
In the end, you will never be able to solve every single area of this problem. Managing keys is inherently an issue when you have multiple team members that could need a key while also trying to prevent the need for key duplicates.
It's a tough challenge and one that does grow as your business does. But as you can see...
With the proper research, procedure and system implementation, and stellar correction methods things become much easier and less stressful.
At Homeer we believe we have fixed this issue to the best of our ability not having lost a single clean all of 2020. Let's see if we can keep it that way!
With our current process and incoming new policy we are in my opinion, protected as we could morally be.
Do you agree?
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