Facilities management (FM), as a concept, continues to be relatively new and evolving in the region. For the relationship to be rewarding for FM customers, as well as eventual FM end users, knowing customer needs and pain points is as essential as educating them.
Globally, customer satisfaction principles are being turned on their head, as companies adopt an outside-in approach to product and service development and delivery, i.e. creating what customers want versus the historical method of pushing what has been created. And the FM industry is no different. A proactive, rather than reactive, approach is being recommended as a best practice going forward. But what does this mean in reality?
Knowing your customers, what they need, what makes them happy and what is good for them can drive greater customer satisfaction. “Knowing your customers provides critical client knowledge, ensuring that we can meet their needs,” says Alex Davies, managing director of Emrill. “You need to understand as explicitly as possible their key drivers at that given moment. For instance, are they focused on cost, quality or experience? How can we assist them in meeting these requirements immediately and into the future?”
Ahmad Al Matrooshi, managing director of Emaar Properties, agrees that understanding customer aspirations is the key to FM best practices. “It is important that, to offer the most relevant service, the FM companies must understand what customers want,” says Al Matrooshi.
Educating customers is central to buy-in
A key issue most FMs face when implementing changes and upgrades in communities is resistance from end users and owners. Involving and engaging customers and end users in the FM discussion is, therefore, becoming critical to high-quality and seamless FM operations.
“As FM companies adopt innovative approaches, communicating our strategic shifts is key to secure the buy-in of the customers and ensure seamless provision of services,” says Al Matrooshi. “It is important that we communicate what we do and why we do it to our customers.”
However, educating people can be a sensitive matter, as communicating the technicalities of the trade can complicate matters, according to Davies. He suggests talking about value and focusing on simplified content. “For end users, we need to educate them on matters such as safe practices and the importance of maintenance to prevent future asset failures,” he says. “For business clients we need to advise them on legislation changes, future capital investment requirements and industry development and innovation.”
People are central
The customary view of FM has oft ignored the soft skills necessary for dealing with the people side of the business. Whether an owner or tenant, interaction with FM staff on-site is what usually drives the perception of a company, and sometimes even the industry in general.
“Ultimately, FM is not about state-of-the-art technology; it is about people and how we connect to the needs of residents,” explains Al Matrooshi. “While we are committed to meeting the demands of our customers, the first point of contact — the human interface — can make a significant difference. Genuine appreciation of the customer’s problem and a genuine effort to address it helps gain and build trust.”
Alex adds, “In any service-led business you represent people, and this is even more so in facilities management. The key is staff training and education and understanding that facilities managers are there to create experiences that make great places to live, work or visit. Often when visiting a facility, be it a mall, residential building or airport, we interact mostly with FM staff, such as the security guard, cleaner or concierge, so these people really are the face of our customers’ brand.”
Experts agree that transparency can be a great tool to build lasting trust and enable customer satisfaction. But Davies says that keeping things simple for the ease of understanding is equally important. “Transparency is key, but so is simplicity,” he says. “Energy usage is a classic example where technical professionals can over complicate the situation. Calculating the expected energy usage requires measuring outside temperatures, external humidity, building occupation and user behaviour as all these drive the result. So if you share this level of transparency with end users, they can sometimes become lost in the data. If you don’t share this information, then you don’t gain trust. By using the simplification process, it ensures that all stakeholders in a value chain can understand the factors involved and this is critical to gaining trust.”
This brings us to another critical area in the transparency arena. With sustainability and energy-saving initiatives taking hold everywhere, FM companies often adjust common area temperatures in buildings to improve energy management, reduce energy costs and most importantly reduce consumption and CO2 emissions. However, customers might assume it’s a lapse on the part of the FM company or building owner, or worse suspect the temperatures are reduced so that companies add more cash into their till. Davies believes that in such situations, education with a combination of transparency can help.
“Educating customers on such matters as energy management schemes and behavioural requests for building safety is an ongoing mission,” he says. “One of the key challenges we face is that by adjusting temperatures for example we impact on the way someone feels, as they may feel too hot or too cold at certain times, and this may spark an emotionally driven response to the situation. In my opinion, as an industry we need to do more to promote the FM industry and the work we do.”