Customer service is a tricky thing. Excellent customer service is even trickier. The facilities management (FM) function is complex and multi-dimensional, and can encompass both external and internal parties impacted by or using the facilities. Expectations from different customers can vary greatly. For example, the requirements of vendors or suppliers who may occasionally visit a facility are not the same as those of employees working in the facility every day. Both are “customers” for the FM team, yet their expectations are very different.
Customer expectations—these two words should be at the forefront of everything an FM team does. Why so? Because customers can “take a walk” if they are dissatisfied with the given facilities. Poor customer service can be very costly, with studies showing that it costs American companies $75 billion annually. Therefore, an FM team will do well to consider different ways of improving work outputs so that customer expectations are met. This article will provide five steps that can be used to attain better customer service in the context of facilities.
Five Steps to Improve FM for Customer Service
1. Know Your Customers
Keep it simple: Knowing your customers well means being able to meet their needs. That is why every management team dealing with facilities needs to answer three simple questions from the outset:
1. Who constitutes our customer base?
2. What are their specific facilities-related needs?
3. To what extent are we meeting those needs—or not?
Having the information enables effective customer management. There is no “standard” approach or process that ensures improved customer service, of course. However, knowing what each of your customers truly wants is an important step. That cannot be achieved if the customer is not respected, which is why handling customer feedback is so important. Even a difficult or demanding customer is worth appeasing when you consider that it costs six to seven times more to get a new one.
2. Respect Facilities Employees
An FM team is only as good as the technicians/operators/employees that comprise it. The modern facilities team needs to operate in a collegiate environment in which communication lines are open, with ideas, opinions, and even gripes respected. After all, it’s the facilities employees who are at the front-line of arising issues and, therefore, can provide invaluable insight into how systems, such as maintenance or security, can be improved.
Coupled with this openness in communications is the need for training that is not only technical, but also encompasses important “soft skills,” such as customer service. Every facility employee needs to understand the principles of customer service and how to provide it.
3. Be Asset-Savvy
As each and every customer should be familiar and well-understood, the same should be applied to every asset within an organization. Facilities managers must realize that their teams are de facto “asset guardians.” Assets can range from purely physical and technical, such as equipment and machinery, to human or customer-related, such as the safety, security, and comfort of everyone using a building, as well as buildings and infrastructure, of course. They all need to be properly managed or protected.
It is indeed a huge responsibility, which is why everything that needs to be known about the assets should be properly accounted for by facilities managers. Not doing so is, frankly, a dereliction of their duty of care.
4. Think Systems
The absence of a system in any business undertaking is a recipe for failure. For everything from financial management to the management of health and safety, logistics, and facilities, a systemic approach ensures that all tasks are properly planned, executed, checked, corrected, and reviewed. The well-known Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Cycle enables not only a systemic approach but, even more importantly, a continuous improvement which is central to the cycle.
Facilities management does not exist in a vacuum. It is fundamentally tied to various other management systems, including those relating to the “human” element of a business, such as customer management and health, safety, and security management. Therefore, all tasks undertaken by the FM team, including planned maintenance schedules or handling customer complaints regarding facilities, need to be undertaken within the context of other relevant management systems.
5. Harness Data
Today, data drives the management of facilities. Building security, access control, planned maintenance, optimized office space usage—these are just a few of the facilities-related issues that are digitized, whether using hardware such as sensors, or relevant software. Digital data should result in smarter facilities as facilities managers make use of derived analytics—such as the tracking of key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics that form a part of the prevailing facility management system.
The value of harnessing digital data for the purpose of customer service cannot be underestimated. For example, more proactive maintenance practices will ensure that machinery and equipment are maintained or even fixed prior to them becoming defective. A customer that enjoys well-maintained assets can only derive benefit from such service. Likewise, there are bound to be productivity gains from employees in offices or work areas that are intelligently allotted through office usage sensors and management software—not to mention buildings that are safe, secure, and well-maintained.
The role of the facilities manager is no doubt a complex one, and customer service is a critical aspect. Customer satisfaction could be considered the ultimate assessment of whether or not facilities-related systems are effective. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. The great American automotive pioneer Henry Ford put it best: “It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.” Every facilities manager would do well to remember that.
Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.