Having been in and around the cleaning business for over 30 years, I continually see the challenges that building service contractors (BSCs) and facility managers face with requests for proposal (RFPs). They chew up time and money, and if you’re on the losing end, it can be confusing and frustrating. The main complaint from the cleaning side of the table is that documents aren’t written by people who understand cleaning. Whoever creates specifications and cleaning plans should be an expert at cleaning, according to Randy Burke, founder of DCS Global, an international custodial advisory company specialising in servicing property and facility management in RFPs, auditing, and cleaning for health.

In many cases RFPs are poorly written, lack key details, don’t reflect current requirements, or are too legalistic. This can lead to bids which are equally confusing, add unnecessary costs and deliver unacceptable cleaning quality. It doesn’t have to be like this. Here Burke offers three steps to consider while describing details about driving value through an effective cleaning RFP process and what facility managers need to know so they benefit from services they contract.

1. Be precise and clear in your requirements

The better the operational specifics in your RFP, the better the quality of bids you will receive. Ensure that cleaners understand the what, when, where and how of cleaning your facility.
• Update your contract to ensure that bidders have supply-chain contingencies and emergency-preparedness plans.
• Make cleaning specifications as clear as possible. Keep key performance indicators – or KPIs – at a reasonable level and spell out quality control requirements, minimum performance levels, penalties and bonuses.
• Consider generic specifications for chemicals and equipment. More and more facility managers are conducting a separate RFP for consumables.
• Ensure the contractor has up-to-date building blueprints, including cleanable square metres by area type. Conduct a virtual or on-site building tour with the bidders, followed by a Q&A session.

2. Understand what has changed

Going to RFP is a good time to step back and re-examine the current cleaning needs of your facility. Although this sounds obvious, all too often people recycle proposals from years past because they just don’t have the time to update them.
• What has changed? This can include post-pandemic concerns; new tenants; reconfigured space for a fitness centre, day-care, or other amenities; and the latest technological advances.
• Is your current cleaning plan optimised for variable occupancy? Do you still need the extra day-staff brought in for the pandemic?
• Does cleaning support your organisation’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals?
• Is your building too clean? An odd question, but I often see visual cleaning quality off-the-charts, which costs money and is unnecessary.
• Have you considered implementing a cleaning-for-health regime? This can demonstrate care and concern for building occupants and help reduce absenteeism. GBAC STAR™ Facility Accreditation from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council™ (GBAC), a Division of ISSA, and DCS Global’s CLEAN + SAFE©Janitorial System are good starting points.

3. Underpaying is as bad as overpaying

The final step is to carefully risk-assess the bids. It takes work and a lot of finesse, but understanding the amount of labour, workable wage rates and additional considerations required to clean your facility will help you decide which bids are realistic. Does the price provide the contractor a reasonable profit margin? If not, they won’t have the resources to do the job, possibly leading to performance issues.

Remember to give unsuccessful bidders a quick call to thank them for participating and answer questions. It is good business and good manners. And finally, if you are happy with your existing contractor and cleaning quality, consider a current contract analysis and renegotiation, supported by a market survey on prices and updated work loading.

Going to RFP or updating an existing contract is time consuming and stressful. Therefore, Burke recommends reaching out to an independent expert. It will save you time, drive value, lower risk and is good governance.