I spent five years working as a janitor for a school district. During those five years I learned invaluable customer service skills. Not too many people associate janitorial work with customer service. But, after doing it for five years, I would argue that customer service is at the heart of being a good janitor.

Here are three things I learned about customer service working as a janitor.

There’s a mess on the floor…again.

I can’t tell you how many times a day I would get called to come clean something off of the floor. Without a doubt it was a daily occurrence. Most days I would get the same call several times. I always cringed when I heard those words, “There’s a mess on the floor.”

But here’s the truth; it was my job to answer the calls and take care of the mess. I would drop whatever I was doing to immediately clean up. Within a few minutes, the floor was clean and class could resume without students going crazy. Teachers were always thankful for a quick response.

Answer questions quickly without grumbling about it and customers will absolutely love you for it.

When can you fix this?

Teachers would regularly let me know if something was broke and needed fixed. Sometimes I couldn’t fix the broken thing…at least not immediately. Sometimes I needed tools. Sometimes I needed parts. Sometimes I needed a second set of hands. Sometimes I needed to call in a professional. It was a bummer not being to fix something immediately. When I first started as a custodian, I took on every project. I genuinely wanted to fix problems and fix them immediately, but it wasn’t realistic.

I quickly realized something. The teachers didn’t care if I fixed the problem immediately and they didn’t care if I had a timeline. The most important thing was that I listened to their request, communicated about what I was going to do, and then followed through when I had the tools, parts, or help I needed. Some fixes took a few hours and others took more than a week. As long as I communicated what was happening everyone was usually happy.

In customer service you can’t always fix the customer’s problem immediately.But you can communicate often and let them know what’s going on and how things are progressing and most customers will thrilled that you’re taking action even if it means they have to wait.

There’s a caveat here; don’t tell someone you’re working on something if you’re not or if you can’t. If you can’t work on something let them know right away. Don’t let it hang over your head. Most people will appreciate if you are honest from the beginning instead of giving them false hope. If their request has to wait until later, tell them. They’ll probably be disappointed, but this is better than making them angry because you didn’t manage their expectations from the beginning.

Be honest in your communication. Manage expectations and don’t over-promise what and when you can deliver.

I hit something on the way to school…can you help?

One morning as I was in the middle of my normal routine for opening up the school I got a call from a teacher and those were here exact words to me. She was upset. It was pouring rain and, if I’m honest, car repair wasn’t a part of my job description.

I met the teacher in the parking lot.

I looked under her car and fortuntely all I found was that the cars plastic under-shield had come loose. I grabbed a few zip ties and a piece of cardboard to lay on. I got on the ground in the pouring rain and strapped the shield back onto the car.

I let the teacher know everything was good to go with her car and went about my day. The next day there was a card and gift card on my desk. I didn’t want or expect anything in return, but she was so thankful that she felt she needed to do something.

Going above and beyond always pays dividends.

What customer service skills have you learned from jobs that people don’t associate with customer service?