The means-end theory maintains that the way buyers relate to products can be represented by a hierarchy of connected levels of value – (1) product or service attributes, (2) functional and physiological consequences of use, and (3) desired end states. 

In other words, product or service attributes are simply a means to accomplishing an end, with the “end” being product or service use consequences, and ultimately, higher emotional value derived from the product or service. Consider the following Starbucks example:

The above “value chain” answers the question – “Why would anyone pay twice as much for a cup of coffee at Starbucks?” Because drinking a $0.50 cup of coffee from a gas station just doesn’t look “cool”! In all seriousness, the means-end theory suggest that buyers of products and services are ultimately motivated by something deeper – a desired end state.


Attributes & Consequences Chatter

Unfortunately, as it relates to janitorial services, we spend the bulk of our time “chattering” about service attributes and consequences. Here are a few standard attributes that are typically discussed:

  • “All our employees are background checked and drug screened”
  • “We have a quality assurance program”
  • “All our employees receive specific hands-on training”
  • “You will have a dedicated Manager assigned to your custodial program”
  • “We use environmentally safe products”
  • “We have “XYZ” certification

And furthermore, all these great attributes lead to the following service consequences (results) – I’ll bet you’ve heard these as well:

  • “Proactive, ongoing communication”
  • “Responsive resolution of service issues”
  • “Consistent, high quality work”
  • “Partnership relationship”

Can you see the means-end theory at work here? Make no mistake, employee training, background checks, dedicated managers, and proactive communication are important to a successful janitorial program. But, focusing on attributes and consequences can lead to unmet goals for your janitorial program.


Change the Conversation

We consistently hear comments like these when talking with prospective customers:

  • “I’ve got more important things to do than answering emails and telephone calls because there’s not enough toilet paper and hand soap in the restrooms”
  • “Our management team meets every morning in this conference room, and I’m tired of getting my rear end chewed out because it wasn’t cleaned the night before”
  • “When I leave at the end of the day, I don’t want to have to worry whether the cleaning team is taking care of our building”

These statements hint at what people really want from their janitorial program. We believe the following are the desired end states for most people purchasing janitorial services:

  • To increase my value to the organization by focusing on other tasks that bring more value to the organization
  • To be acknowledged by my peers and supervisors for keeping the facility in good order, and for making a good decision(s).
  • To have peace of mind knowing the custodial team is going to consistently perform.

If the above statements are the real motivators, then our conversations need to change. Asking about training programs and background checks just won’t cut it. Rather, try asking these questions instead:

  • “I need to spend more time working on other things. How will your company reduce the number of distractions I have related to janitorial issues?”
  • “It is very important to me that my coworkers and supervisors are pleased with the cleanliness of our facility. How can you assure me that choosing your company will be good for our organization?
  • “When I leave work each day, I want to know that I can count on your team. How do you plan to gain my confidence?”

Answers to these questions will reveal a great deal about a company’s ability to meet your desired end state.



In conclusion, the next time you are considering a change in your custodial program, ask the questions above and you might find what you are really looking for. Then, you can stop by Starbucks, grab a cup of coffee, and feel good (and cool) about your decision!