Client Diversity Increases Marketability
Being a residential window cleaner suits my personality well. I’m a people person. When you’re in someone’s home, you have to be adaptable to whatever that person is like. If you aren’t, it’s just awkward, and nobody likes awkward. When you make conversation, it’s good to have a wide variety of things you can talk about, and it helps to have a sense of your client’s background and interests. In my decade of window cleaning I’ve learned that whatever puts your client at ease matters just as much as the quality of your cleaning, when it comes to their likelihood of calling you back.
When I first started in this business, I worked for someone else, and my biggest mental challenge was getting used to wealthy people, and their homes. Wealth is not in my background. We never had expensive things in my house, so I had no sense of just how fragile and expensive household materials and objects could be, and I was nervous and clumsy in our most wealthy clients’ homes.
But in certain other homes where my co-workers felt awkward and strange, I felt comfortable. While these clients would frustrate, irritate, or even intimidate my boss, I found them to be endlessly fascinating. This fascination with foreign people began when I was little, and still holds true today.
When I bought the business from my boss, I was surprised to learn that – although I am a city-dweller – I actually love working in the suburbs, and that’s where the majority of my clients reside. It’s peaceful and soothing and safe. But sometimes I get weary of just how beige everything is. The houses, the décor, and the people! Diversity, to me, has always been the spice of life.
Clients who grew up in other countries can be challenging. They are more likely to haggle and argue over what you charge them. They may have accents or ways of putting things that are hard to understand. They may adhere to a religion you aren’t at all familiar with; show up late, and you may be interrupting prayer time. They may seem easily offended. Sometimes they have elder family members living in the home who don’t speak English at all. Clients may seem unfriendly, or suspicious of you. They may even follow you from room to room, watching you, and don’t we all just love that? There’s no faster way to mess something up than when someone is standing behind you, waiting for you to mess up.
I’ve experienced every one of these scenarios, and yes, it can be maddening. However, if you can be tolerant and patient and adaptable, winning the trust of foreign-born clients pays off. Why? Because many are deeply connected to a larger community that you don’t have access to, and that larger community also has windows that need cleaning. Although their trust may be harder to earn, once you earn it, the referrals will come rolling in, for years to come.
There are two reasons that motivate my fascination with foreigners. One is because of how I grew up, and the other is because I know what it’s like to be a foreigner.
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My mom was nomadic and we lived on both coasts as well as in the Midwest. I changed schools every year or two until ninth grade, so I was always the new kid. I quickly realized that it was easiest to make friends with the kids who were different. Kids who weren’t white, kids with disabilities, kids with parents who had accents – they all struggled to fit in, just like I was, and they were nice to me. Fast forward to adulthood, and I was socially well-prepared for world travel, first as a nanny to a wealthy family, then for college (thanks, student loans!) and finally to work as an English teacher in Asia.
Living and working in a country that is different than your own is hard. Everyone seems to be trying to rip you off. You don’t know what things should cost, or who is safe to trust. You don’t know the subtle signals and cues and body language of the host culture, and so you’re vulnerable to being taken advantage of by just about everyone. It’s exhausting to take care of even the most mundane tasks. Because of these difficulties, you take refuge in the small communities of other people like you, and enjoy the familiar, the reassuring and commonplace connections and recommendations of your fellow expatriates. I lived this, and I know this, and that’s why I recognize and understand this in others.
My clients from Pakistan, India, Africa, Asia, Russia and the Ukraine are often my favorite people to interact with. I have endless stories of interesting moments with them. Awkward moments like a couple arguing in front of me, in Russian, over whether to tip me or not (she said yes, he said no, and she won). Funny moments like when my Indian client’s 75 year old mother asked me if I was Mexican (that was a first) and then tipped me ten bucks right out of her wallet, saying, “good worker!” And wonderful moments when clients have given me delicious home-cooked food, told me about family back home, and insisted that I take a coffee break.
Of course, moments like these occur with my “beige” clients, too, but they seem to be more valuable when they happen with people who aren’t from here, like I’m being rewarded with a trust that I know from experience to be hard-earned. Years ago when I fumbled through my first working relationship with the intimidating Mrs. J, I had no idea that once I had earned her trust, she would give my name to every woman at her mosque who needed a reliable, respectful cleaner; one who would also have the social sensitivity to remove her shoes in a Muslim household. And when I started cleaning for the gruff and stoic Russian billionaire, Mr. K, I was not prepared for the trust he would place in me, to handle huge ladders around priceless cars, to give me his garage code, or to recommend me to other Russian property owners in his area.
If you are open-minded enough to have respect and curiosity toward other cultures, the personal and financial rewards will follow. Try your best to rise to the challenge and push through awkward moments, because the results are well worth it, and they will grow and last over many years of your business relationships.