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Customer Service and the Art of Grooming Your Building

29 August 2014 | Updated 01 January 1970

Sam Hockman, Managing Director of Real Estate and Facilities Management at Serco, suggests that one of the best ways facilities managers can deliver on customer service is by listening to their clients.

There are probably two sorts of customer who really focus on the crucial link between FM and customer service: those that really care about their reputation, image, recruitment and client retention; and those with critical operations where property is part of their operational infrastructure, e.g. pharmaceutical and manufacturing clients.

Having a property is a bit like attending a job interview – if you’re untidy and dirty (or too flashy) then there is a risk that some people might make assumptions about you. So if you’re trying to project your reputation and image, surely your property needs to be well-groomed too?

Perhaps one of the greatest influencers on the workplace is the FM team and the facilities it manages – providing great customer service can help increase satisfaction and productivity, but get it wrong and you might have some tough conversations with your client.

Our experience from past projects illustrates how, if we had really understood a client’s requirements and the required satisfaction levels, we would have delivered our FM service in a very different way.

Something as simple as soap can have a huge impact! On a high-end corporate office contract we believed the key driver was cost and installed lower quality soap and dispensers in the bathrooms. But senior client staff noticed this change and we saw a real downturn in satisfaction. They believed the quality of service they had bought had been compromised and started to call into question the rest of the service, even though there had been no other changes made.

When designing a trading floor, no one considered the heat emissions from the many computers. The area became incredibly hot and stifled the morale and productivity of the traders working in the area. This led to the call volume to our FM helpdesk going through the roof and our costs racking up. It didn’t pay to not consider our customers when designing the floor layout.

We had a contract containing very detailed SLAs and KPIs. We thought we were doing a great job because we were hitting all of our contractual performance statistics, but customer feedback was very different. KPIs mean nothing if they are measuring the wrong thing; what’s often most important is the customer experience of our service.

In an ongoing project, we are working with a client who doesn’t see the need for a full-on secure frontage as the service was originally designed. They actually want a concierge-type service because its visitors don’t need to feel secure; they want to feel welcome.

Unfortunately, in some instances, relatively short procurement processes mean we often don’t have the opportunity to truly get to know a customer as well as we would like, nor them us. I appreciate that engagement from both service providers and customers costs time and money, but we must be ready to make this investment if we want a service that truly meets the needs of building users.

Our experience tells us that listening to a customer’s problems can help build a relationship. Many will have similar challenges, e.g. service quality, brand, reputation, property quality, costs, transparency and management information, but all will have their own nuances.

I offer these ideas of how to implement a customer service-focused approach to FM delivery.

Proactively listen and engage. Analyse the data available and try to spend time with your customers. By understanding their business requirements, not just their property and FM needs, you’ll start to comprehend what will deliver a great customer experience.

Think about playing back ideas and solutions to your customers. For example, we had an idea on a security contract to use iPad auditing. But after discussing this with the client, we found that the technology we thought was going to deliver a great experience wasn’t functional because of their security requirements. Don’t let this stifle innovation, as we worked with the customer to find a workaround and eventually deliver the solution; but something ‘out of the box’ might not be right first time.

Consider ways that your workforce can become an extension of your client’s team, not just its FM provider. Our mantra is ‘If you walk by it, you accept it’. FM suppliers often have one of the largest labour teams in a client’s operations, e.g. cleaners, who can identify problems with M&E equipment if they are supported to do so.

Regularly seek feedback to measure the perception and experience of your service. If you don’t baseline and measure, how can you can tell if you’re improving?

Think through how your services can be flexed to meet your customer’s needs. Have standard ways of delivering your services but the magic happens when you tailor them to match the experience your client is looking for.

Consider a programmatic approach to service, i.e. develop a three- or five-year programme with specific milestones. Then, rather like a project manager, you can help transform a customer’s environment, rather than just slowly fighting fires and making small steps until service quality improves.

I suggest that FM suppliers must focus on service optimisation and achieving the right balance of cost and quality in dialogue with our customers. There is no easy way to create a partnership but having constructive conversations and listening to your customer about their business will allow you to bring the technical expertise they are looking for to the table.

If we can try to interact more with our clients and better understand their business, surely we can help to transform the perception of FM as a service and the value that facilities bring?

Article written by Sam Hockman | Published 29 August 2014


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