If it’s true that first impressions mean everything, the work of your cleaning crew should never be overlooked. And every facility manager has, at one time or another, had problems in this area.Most often, complaints will center on the cleaning staff’s unreliability. Sometimes they show, other times not. But additional areas of concern involve high employee turnover, inconsistent workmanship, and the use of questionable chemicals.Since it’s not as difficult to find people who can adequately dust furniture and empty trashcans, most facility managers would be wise to concentrate their attention on the regular maintenance being performed on carpet. After all, any type of floorcovering represents a significant investment. Following are five steps every facility manager should follow in identifying the right maintenance crew and protecting their flooring investment.First is to locate a company that will provide consistent, high-quality service. You should meet with the cleaning crew’s management on a periodic basis to establish a mutual goal-setting process that is planned around a needs-based analysis. If the company is unwilling to spend the time to do this, you’d better begin looking for another cleaning service. Telltale signs that your maintenance crew is under-performing include dust on baseboards, cobwebs behind doorjambs, as well as paperclips or staples in the carpet.The second step to better performance is developing a customized maintenance strategy and quick response plan. Such a plan should be based on the different traffic patterns in your facility. Some areas may need frequent cleaning, while others may only require occasional service to keep carpet looking its best.Step three is making certain you’re receiving the most effective cleaning for your budget. If you can easily distinguish the primary traffic lanes in your facility just by looking at the carpet, your maintenance plan isn’t working. Un-removed dirt is highly abrasive to carpet fibers. And, should your maintenance crew use a wet cleaning method, water will only amplify the problem.Other traits of wet cleaning include heavy chemical odors, soil marks on carpet edges, and rippling or buckling. It’s actually possible to over-clean your carpet. Over frequency can lead to premature deterioration.Some companies utilize an advanced polymer-based dry cleaning technology, which clings to soil, stains, allergens, and odor sources that then are vacuumed completely away, leaving the carpet clean, dry, and odor-free.Fourth to better maintenance is completely understanding the types of treatments used by your cleaning crew and making certain they are applied properly. Every facility manager should establish an environmental benchmark. To do so, you’ll need a complete list of chemicals, where they are used, and which, if any, are volatile. You’ll also want to be assured that the cleaning crew is properly trained and continually updated on new practices.And, the final step is ensuring a healthy work environment for the facility’s workforce. Anything heavier than air will wind up in your carpet. When combined with moisture, residue can form a biological “sink” that allows microbials and related allergens to grow more rapidly.To combat this, the best weapon is daily vacuuming and scheduled maintenance. You not only want to remove unwanted microbials and allergens from your carpet, but keep them from coming back.Stephen Lewis is technical director at MilliCare Commercial Carpet Care (www.millicare.com), LaGrange, GA.