I’ve told customers, students, and audiences thousands of times that one of the biggest problems and lost opportunities in the maintenance world is that managers and key team members rarely spend time selling themselves, their departments’ services and performance, and their value to the organization.
Many of us, including me for many of my formative years, never did any of this or even considered it. I had way too many problems and irons in the fire to spend my valuable time trying to sell my value to my customers and senior management.
Even if I had a clue how to communicate better and market the department, I still would not have taken the time to do it. For many reasons, I didn’t need to waste my time, I thought, explaining the obvious. After all, I’m an engineer. I’ve come up through the ranks as mechanic, a pipe welder. I told my wife, family and friends for 45 years that I could fix anything from a broken heart to the crack of dawn. Why do I need to market and communicate my skills and my team’s skills, performance and accomplishments?
It took many years and a few visits to the boss’s office to figure out that your customers and the management team have no idea what you and your team are doing. As a result, they develop their own assumptions about your performance. And 95 percent of the time, their opinions of maintenance organizations are not good.
They typically view maintenance workers as necessary evils who are overpaid, underworked, always causing trouble, overbearing, and incapable of fixing a problem on the first attempt. I know I paint a pretty grim picture, but I often see it in my travels.
Now that I’ve set the of stage for how bad the situation is and how much managers must do to change their perceived image and, more importantly, that of their entire team, what can managers do to change that image?
Communication is the key. If we don’t tell people, including our customers, what we are accomplishing, they will develop their own opinions of our performance. How can managers use marketing and communication strategies to solve these issues and problems? They have to find a way to close the communication gap that exists within most organizations. The major tactics and strategies for closing the loop on communication and marketing include:
Sharing the load. An accurate, up-to-date backlog of work requests is an essential tool for many reasons. The simplest reason is that the department has a complete record of everything customers have requested. It should be available to your customers without their asking for it.
The database should be available to customers in several formats — chronologically, by department, by priority compared to all work requests, and with status indicators that enable customers to easily determine the status of their requests.
If followed properly, the work-request process is an incredibly valuable tool in assisting customers and the maintenance planning team in determining the next task to work on. We don’t have time to get into the process of maintenance planning and scheduling, but this process can help departments move from being mostly reactive to primarily proactive. This process by itself will improve the perception of the department dramatically because if managers establish a process for managing workloads and follow it closely, everything else will fall into line to improve performance, quality, communication and marketing.
Checking the status. To improve communication with customers, managers also should put in place a notification process to keep customers apprised of work order status. This can be handled with e-mails or texts automatically whenever a work request progresses from one status to another.
For example, when a work request moves from the planning status and is ready for scheduling, the customer receives a notification of the change. This step allows the customer to prepare for the upcoming work, such as having contractors and maintenance employees in their area.
The notification process is critical to overall success and will be a tremendous improvement in morale and customer satisfaction. But be warned: Notifying customers about impending work but failing to show up the day and time promised is catastrophic. Once the process begins, managers must be sure the department follows through on the other pieces of the management and maintenance process puzzle with a very high compliance rate — 95 percent or higher.
Focusing on follow-up. One proven way to demonstrate to customers that you care about them is to e-mail a quality survey after completing work requests. The survey, which asks for feedback on the way the work request was processed, scheduled, performed and finalized, should be automatic, short and simple.
This is the only method managers can use to truly understand customers’ opinions of your department. Keep in mind that you might not get what you want in the beginning. Be prepared to take your lumps. Then do the hard work of fixing the problems identified in the surveys. Also remember to send the surveys to everyone that is allowed to generate a work request, not just your favorite customers.
Planning and preparing. Weekly planning, scheduling, and communication meetings are another great method for bringing order to the chaos and for communicating to the customer and management about the department’s daily, weekly, and quarterly activities and accomplishments. This process might ease some of the pressure to get everything done in a week because customers realize all the work you have on your plate. It also can be a great time to do some negotiating among customers to streamline the work scheduling process to meet everyone’s needs.
One caution: You must keep control of the meeting. If too many customers are in a room to discuss maintenance, it can quickly turn into a complaint session, and nothing constructive will be accomplished.
I have walked into meetings with 35 people in the room, turned around and walked out because I know this format will not produce anything worth listening to. Keep the meetings small, under control and short.
Charting progress. The last trick of the trade for communication and marketing your department’s performance is to use performance metrics that accurately display the day-to-day results of the maintenance and management process. The best method is to have charts and graphs automatically generated on weekly, monthly, and quarterly schedules and posted on company dashboards and information stations, as well as e-mailed to critical customers.
The charts and graphs of metrics must be simple to digest and understand, and they need to compare current performance to some sort of goal that has been established for the month, quarter, month or year. The warning here is to ensure these graphics are always accurate, always truthful, and hopefully always telling a positive story.
The keys to everything I have talked about are an accurate asset and work order management system that is maintained with discipline and a management process that is defined and followed accurately. If you can accomplish those goals and have these tasks in place and running well, your boss, your customers, your staff, and you will be happier and more successful.
Michael Cowley, CPMM, is president of CE Maintenance Solutions — www.cemaintenancesolutions.com. Cowley provides maintenance training, coaching and consulting services to facility and manufacturing organizations nationwide. He is a frequent speaker at national facilities management conferences.