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For more than 20 years, the facility management community fought hard to be recognized as leaders and change agents in the arena of customer service. Many facility managers pride themselves on how long they worked to achieve high customer satisfaction ratings. When facility managers had customer satisfaction as a singularly important target, they were supported by trade publication articles, stories on the internet, and “how to” presentations at conferences on strengthening customer relationships and providing leading edge facility management services. There was a wealth of information to assist facility managers in their quest. In 2019, the question has to be asked: Should customer service still be a top facility management priority?
After a long road to achieving success, some facility managers may feel that even a hint of second-guessing the prominence of customer service is slightly sacrilegious. Why question the value of a function that has been a mainstay of the profession?
There are numerous reasons why the value of customer service is up for debate. The business environment has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. For one thing, the C-suite has redirected critical success factors and key performance indicators (KPI) for facility management. It used to be that when customers reported to C-suite executives that facility management provided superior customer service, the facility management organization was certain to achieve high marks in the eyes of senior executives. Now, however, customer service is not always the most important measure of facility management success. A recent article by Elizabeth Dukes of iOffice cited compelling KPI categories for facility management as occupancy rates, real estate costs, asset management, maintenance costs, maintenance hours, and heating costs. There was no mention of customer service. Similar success measures appearing on the facility management radar most frequently include:
• Finding lowest cost for operating and maintaining facilities without jeopardizing facility integrity.
• Providing high performance facilities, while maintaining energy efficiency and effectiveness.
• Ensuring that investments to make facilities sustainable provide the largest benefit per cost.
• Strengthening relationships with sourcing partners to close or fill in-house staff skills gaps in strategic, technical, and operational functions.
• Creating safe and productive environments for all employees.
Changes in corporate demographics have also skewed the traditional customer service orientation and have a profound impact on whether or not customer service makes any difference to employees.
For starters, the workforce is unhappier than in the past. Consider two research studies: the 2019 Customer Rage Study performed by Customer Care Measurement and Consulting in collaboration with the Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State University, and a Boiling Point Report produced by the Mental Health Foundation. The Boiling Point Report found that, of the 2,000 individuals studied, more than 64 percent said they have more anger than ever. The Customer Rage study reported that more than 50 percent of the population surveyed (1,000 individuals) indicated they had regular problems with service in general and were upset most of the time. More than one-third of those with problems would air their dissatisfaction on Facebook or Twitter. People with service problems also were ten times more likely to leave a complaint on the phone than on Facebook or Twitter, even though they didn’t want to talk with a “live” person.
Another demographic change: Millennial and younger workers prefer service interactions other than telephone and email — they prefer text, chat, and artificial intelligence service interaction. A 2018 Consumer Experience Index report produced by Aspect Software shows that consumer-reported contact with customer service personnel is down more than 13 percent in the past four years. One reason is that Millennial and younger workers don’t equate self-service with customer service. They don’t expect to have their problem solved when they talk to a live person, so they think they are better off trying to solve their own problem using automated response capability.
Facility managers might not realize it, but technology has become a customer service substitute. Tim Dreyer of Customer Think has written that more than 66 percent of Millennials prefer intelligent assistance and non-human interaction when discussing problems. Almost 40 percent of all consumers indicate they feel using artificial intelligence to get a question answered will get them faster resolution and a more accurate answer than speaking to a person. According to Aspect Software, basic interaction with customer service personnel fell in the United States overall by 10 percent from 2015 to 2017, mostly because customers do not feel that they will get accurate information from an actual person.
Adding to this problem for facility managers is the interaction with customer service personnel isn’t being replaced by a single new technology or channel; it is being replaced by multiple channels, including text, Twitter, Facebook, and artificial intelligence assistants. This puts pressure on facility managers to test different modalities to see which ones their customers prefer. Not only is it expensive and time-consuming to perform these tests, but it requires investment in multiple forms of technology in order to appeal to a diverse demographic of employees.
For FM Success, Focus on New Customer Service Strategies
FM Customer Service Goal: Occupant Convenience