Scarborough Merry Maids…Are Terrible at Making Mistakes. Are You, Too?

Sep 2, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development  //  2 Comments

This post is a summer repeat of our May, 2009 original post.

I once made such a stupid mistake for a client that it almost cost the client well into the million dollars range.  It was early in my career and I was working for a consulting firm that had a client in litigation.  Their was a large volume of test data that needed to be entered into a database, then about 3,000 graphs needed to be plotted.  It took a long time, but only because there was a great deal of data entry to be done.  Easy as cake!

Except that I didn’t really check my work that carefully, and the graphs all ended up having a duplicate data point at the end.  Every single one of them had an extra data point.  Even those of you without an inner Matlock can see that these graphs weren’t going to work in court.  But I didn’t find the mistake, my boss did.  And he couldn’t find me (this was before cellphones), so he had to track down another programmer from another company to reproduce the graphs based on the data.

So I ponied up the money to pay for the impromptu programmer, swallowed my pride (not that there was any left), apologized, and wrote up a test plan procedure that included external reviews of test data long before the next court date.  When I ran into my former boss years later, I mentioned that I was still embarrassed by that mistake.  Either he was being very kind to me or he was the forgiving type, because he said he didn’t remember it at all.

I’m walking down memory lane because a cleaning service owner is going to show up at our home tonight.  My having to go through the time it takes to tell someone what we require, then training their staff on what we want is just a pain.  But we have to do it because we fired Merry Maids.

I just can’t help thinking how this must be how managers feel when they have to fire an employee that isn’t working out.  He knows he has to do it, but it takes longer to fire someone and hire a new person that it does to keep picking up the slack of the…slacker.  So on and on it goes, with the manager getting more and more frustrated trying to mentor the worker into doing the right thing and the slacker getting worse and worse at his job because he’s being asked to do something he isn’t capable of doing.  I’m betting that for most managers of a poorly performing workers, a person who is bad at making mistakes is the one that will get fired first.

So while I am looking forward to having a cleaning service again, I’m dreading the whole process of finding one that fits, then managing the staff while they are here.  It’s hard for me to clean, though, when I’m on the road so much, so hiring in it is.

Our last cleaners, Merry Maids of Scarborough, started out nice enough, but it went down hill from there, fast.  We gave both the owner of the franchise and her staff written instructions.  Included in the instructions were large print, bolded warnings about how our flooring would be damaged by contact with any water.  (Previous owners installed the maintenance nightmare, not us). So the first team we had kept water away from the sensitive item.  However, just like an outsourced development team, turnover on the cleaning team was high.  Not long into our contract, staff started changing on a weekly basis, so I had to jump in to do training…then I had to keep an eye on the team because I found that they were leaving water all over the floor.  I had a short meeting “No water, at all on this.  Do not put any water on this.  If you accidentally put water on it, dry it up immediately.  Carry a towel so that you can.”  Nods of agreement, and on with the work.

But the next week the team was new again, and I had to repeat my dire warnings. And yet a newer team the following week.  I felt as if I was stuck in a wash, rinse, repeat cycle.  I called the owner to tell her that she was letting her staff damage our items.  I had noticed that in addition to the water issue, their use of a specialized device was leaving large chunks of paint and drywall out of our walls.  Large, one inch dents and chunks in our walls.    All at exactly the height of this device, which just happened to have square corners, right at the same level of the chunks missing from our walls.

In addition, I found that the cleaning agent used on our furniture was removing the finish on our furniture and then being transferred to all of our mirrors as new, under-trained staff was mixing rag use on all kinds of surfaces.

So I’d had enough and called the owner of Scarborough Merry Maids.  Her husband took the call and I shared my frustrations.  He was very understanding and knew exactly what caused the perfect triangle shaped holes in our walls, what cleaning agent the staff were using incorrectly, and what was causing furniture finish to end up on our mirrors and windows.  He arranged to come visit to take photos for his insurance company…and I was happy.

Well, I thought I was happy.  Mr. Merry Maid did not come out — he sent one of the same cleaning staff people who had damaged the home.  After the staff person looked at the perfectly shaped triangles spotting our walls, the perfectly concentric circles of water damage from a wet bucket left for hours where it shouldn’t have been, splashes of water left too long on our flooring, and the hardened swirls of cleaning agent and furniture finishing on our expensive mirrors, she declared that all was damage from… our cat.


If our cat could may perfectly circular, concentric circles in a wooden finish, I’d be putting her on show.  If she could punch perfectly triangular holes in our walls, I’d rent her out for art shows.  If she could some how work with furniture finish, I’d work her day and night refinishing our floors.

Yes, it turns out that the teams of untrained staff at Merry Maids Scarborough were incapable of doing any of this damage, but some how, our cat was.

So we fired Merry Maids.  Not because they damaged our walls, our furniture, our mirrors, our floors, but because they didn’t know how to deal with their making a mistake — they weren’t good at making mistakes.

Sure, we all make them…me, I’ve made some real doozies.  Some of them were even pretty darn stupid mistakes.  Some where unforgivable.  Some make for a good story and not much else.

When my team members make a mistake, I want them to do it well.  I want them to:

  • Find out that they made a mistake long before I do
  • Figure out how to fix it
  • Fix it, even if it means staying late, missing dinner, or missing a movie
  • Make a checklist, tool, or process that will keep them from making the same or similar mistakes in the future.
  • Ask others how to keep from making the same mistake again
  • Say they are sorry they made a mistake (not “I’m sorry you are mad” or “I’m sorry that guy told you about my mistake” or “Your cat did it, not me”.)

How could I trust a company like Scarborough Merry Maids to send staff to my home if they had no clue what caused the damage and had no interest in fixing it, and then wanted to blame it on the cat?  And just how stupid did they think I was when they said my cat had all these wonderful talents?  How could they let their staff tell me that “I don’t have to follow any thing you put in writing”.?  How could they send the person who caused the damage to assess whether they did the damage?  Trust them? They don’t know for trust.

And not only did I not trust them any longer, now perhaps you don’t, either. I’ve worked with lots of bad service firms over the years, and the only ones I can remember the names of where people who didn’t know how to fully fix their mistakes.  Maybe you’ll remember that Merry Maids of Scarborough thinks our cat is a wizard of some sort, but probably you’ll remember that they didn’t want to fix their mistakes.

If you’ve made a mistake, the first things you must do it admit it, fix it, keep it from happening again, and say you are sorry.  If you do that, nearly everyone you work with will either forget that the mistake happened at all or who did it.  And some time a few years in the future, you’ll be sitting around in a pub, telling others about this great story and how well it ended.

Trust me.


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