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Is it time to give up on customer service? Not at all. While there are changes to the way facility management organizations should approach customer service in the current business climate, the bottom line is that outstanding customer service remains viable. To update their customer service efforts, facility management organizations need to:
1. Consider the customer perspective as a first priority. Facility professionals are so consumed by daily problem solving they tend to forget that their customers are people too — people who sometimes make it difficult for the facility staffer to remember these customers are feeling and caring human beings. If people are handling customer service interaction, it is important to remind them frequently that, when they are talking with a customer, they need to put the customer’s perspective in the forefront of the discussion, rather than how it will affect the facility management service system. With the customer perspective in the forefront, it is easier for staff to cross-reference customer needs with the facility management organization’s ability to satisfy those needs. Saying “I know how you must be feeling,” and “We are here to help you with your problem,” go a long way to cement a positive customer relationship.
Abigael Donahue, an editor at HubSpot, cites an accepted prediction that by 2020 85 percent of customer support inquiries will be handled without benefit of a human representative. But she stresses that even autobot response mechanisms (chatbots) need to be humanized to maintain a customer perspective during their interactions. For facility management organizations that rely heavily on automated customer service attendants, it is more important than ever for those attendants to take on human qualities. Instead of having an autobot say, “Thank you for contacting facility management customer support,” experts suggest giving the bot a name that customers can relate to and have the bot ask how it can be helpful. An excellent way to structure an automated customer service response mechanism is to try to parallel the way actual face-to-face conversation would be handled.
2. Replace “customer service” with “customer success strategy.” At times customers may think all facility management staff have answers to all facility management questions and ask the wrong staff member about a problem. As an illustration, an employee might encounter facility management staff in a restroom and bring to their attention the fact that the paper towel dispenser isn’t working properly. If the staff member replies that he or she is the wrong person to ask, or that another unit within facility management handles cleaning, the employee leaves the situation without a feeling of “customer success.” It is significant for facility management staff to understand that customer success is everyone’s business. When a staff member doesn’t know the answer to a question or isn’t the right person to provide the answer, it still is his or her responsibility to take charge of helping the customer find the appropriate solution, thereby solidifying success in the mind of the customer.
3. Focus on hospitality rather than service. In the past few years, TED Talks have provided a wealth of information from speakers on the new term of art in the customer service world: hospitality. There are lessons about hospitality that facility management organizations can learn from the hotel and restaurant industries. Jim Sullivan, author of multiple books on customer service, has a masterful way of describing the difference between service and hospitality: Service fulfills a need; hospitality fulfills people. He and others have gone further to explain that customers can get service from automation, but they can only get hospitality from people. Facility management organizations that utilize the team concept may want to think about creating a hospitality center for new company employees in the physical facility management space, rather than having facility management staff sit in cubicles or in their offices. At a hospitality center, a customer would come to the team for a host of facility management services related to onboarding. This service approach is a more friendly way of introducing a new company employee to the facility management organization.
4. Develop a marketing model strategy to emphasize the facility management brand; focus on the facility management value proposition. This is one area of customer service that hasn’t changed dramatically for facility managers. It is critical for facility management to develop a marketing model for services that outlines strategies for interaction with all customers up the “marketing chain” — from staff of other departments to senior management and leadership in the C-suite. Customer interaction can include weekly blogs or chats, presentations, “lunch and learn” seminars, e-newsletters, website articles, even one-on-one meetings with senior-level facility managers.
The marketing strategy needs to constantly reinforce the facility management value proposition, which states why customers should do business with the organization. It needs to define what facility management does and how it adds value to its customers. For example, a facility management organization might state as its value proposition that it “provides mission-driven service that has been rated number one in customer satisfaction out of all the other service components in the company.” If this is a true value proposition, it must be backed up by testimonials and case studies to give customers proof of the accuracy of the service statement. Facility managers should stop and consider how they can add value to their customers in a unique and unexpected way and craft a value proposition statement to support it.
5. Make interaction with facility management a memorable experience and identify customer touch points. A touch point is any time a customer or potential customer comes in contact with the facility management brand — before, during, or after they interact with the organization. Since we know customers are looking for memorable experiences when they work with facility management, we want them to leave with that positive feeling when they finish an interaction and to maintain the feeling long into the future.
6. Use customer satisfaction data instead of just gathering it. If a facility management organization does not intend to do anything with the customer feedback data it collects, then it shouldn’t waste a customer’s precious time collecting the information. If customers feel connected enough to the facility management organization to provide data on customer satisfaction, then the organization shouldn’t betray that connection by failing to share feedback information with them or to take action to correct issues that they address. The customer service expert Shep Hyken emphatically states, “It’s not about the metric you are using to acquire and measure feedback. The measurement means nothing unless you do something with it.”
There is no need to abandon a facility management focus on the customer service aspect of service delivery. It is still a beneficial goal. To quote Mark Twain, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” The concept of superior customer service in facility management is alive and well.
Stormy Friday (firstname.lastname@example.org) is founder and president of The Friday Group, an international facilities services consulting firm. She is a member of the ProFMI Commission, a governance body that serves as an advisory committee for the Professional Facility Management Institute’s (ProFMI) activities.
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