Every facility management employee is in a position to market facility services in their contact and conduct with customers. In this respect, customer service is vital. The terms “marketing” and “customer service” are not synonymous, however. While customer service provides opportunities to reinforce positive images of a facility management department, marketing involves first researching who your customers are and then selling and promoting facility services to them. The main responsibility falls on the shoulders of the facility management department leader.
All facility managers should understand the following basic concepts of marketing:
- Know the market
- Know the facility management department’s strengths and weaknesses
- Develop a marketing plan that serves as a road map
- Recognize the importance of quality customer service
Know the Market
If a facility management department is one of the administrative services supporting the core business departments, it is unlikely that much thought has been given to marketing the facility management department. Instead, your market was guaranteed: corporate customers had to get facility services through the department. Today, many facility management customers are given the option to go elsewhere for facility services. Facility managers now compete with contracting firms that have developed considerable marketing skills.
In recent years, facility management customers have become quite sophisticated. They are smarter, better informed, and far more cost conscious. Many have substantial experience in marketing their own products and services and expect others to similarly market their goods and services. They may know as much as we do about some topics (indoor air quality, accessibility for the disabled, or CAD systems, for example).
Know the Facility Management Department’s Strengths and Weaknesses
To develop a marketing plan, it is important to identify the marketing elements you already have in place. Your greatest asset is the range and magnitude of customer contact. There is a fundamental maxim of customer service that applies particularly well to facilities marketing: “If you’re not serving the customer, you’d better be serving someone who is.”
Facility managers should know the skills of their staff. Every staff member makes an impression on a customer in every transaction, whether it is by telephone, in person, or in a report. For marketing purposes, every worker should understand the customer. Mechanics, custodians, and housekeepers who make contact with customers may exert more influence on them than higher-ranking facility management employees who are seldom seen.
Facility staff who feel connected to the department’s mission will see value in their contribution. American Airlines found that by communicating to their cargo handlers that profits would increase by $100 million if they could put one more piece of cargo on every flight, the employees understood that they were carrying their customers’ business.
Develop a Marketing Plan
First and foremost, there must be a marketing plan, and that plan can be organized around the following basic steps.
- Conduct market research—Know the characteristics and needs of your customers; know about the service of your competitors.
- Promote services—evise a marketing plan that matches services with the right customers. A marketing brochure explaining facility services is a tool now widely used, and it can be customized for different customers.
- Keep customers informed—Talking to customers directly provides an opportunity to inform them of upcoming developments that may affect them, such as new regulations. This enables you to apply another basic marketing maxim: Prepare the market for change. By eliminating surprises, you help your customer and become an ally.
- Evaluate service delivery—Ask customers for feedback on service delivery. In doing so, you can diffuse potentially damaging misunderstandings about facility services, especially on sensitive issues such as indoor air quality.
- Create a website—The Web allows users to download standards, post construction schedules, standards forms such as the PRP, and to post surveys/questionnaires for research/ benchmarking purposes.
To implement the steps mentioned above, an overall marketing strategy is needed. This strategy incorporates several key elements that form the backbone of an effective marketing plan.
Recognize the Importance of Quality Customer Service
As the struggles for market share intensify, workers in all companies have been besieged with entreaties from their leaders to be sensitive to their customers. This issue has particular urgency for facility managers, whose customers have become increasingly aware that they have choices of where and how to obtain facility services. In many companies, executives openly permit departments to shop for facility services, putting corporate facility management departments in direct competition with outsourced providers.
Excellent customer service is essential to maintaining a strong, on-going relationship between a facility management department and its customers. If the bond is strong, the customers are more likely to feel that the facility management department knows them and their needs so well that they don’t want to change relationships. Following are some strategies that will help keep the relationship between the customer and your facility management department strong.
Staff as a Selling Tool
One strategy is to see your staff as a selling tool. The Walt Disney Company refers to all their employees-from the head of the company to the person sweeping the sidewalk-as cast members. Disney believes that cast members should treat each other as guests and insists that everyone behave accordingly. The magic at Disney flows throughout the organization directly to its paying guests. Disney calls their approach “spreading ‘pixie dust.'” The formula is simple:
The pride comes not just from being part of the organization but from respectfully treating, and being treated like, the primary customer.
Although few people know intuitively how to provide the best service possible, rarely do companies invest in training their employees in customer service. An exception is the Marriott hotel chain, which has trained 70,000 employees to better serve the needs of their customers. Proper training in how to serve fosters creative and imaginative solutions. Employees begin to see how the customer views them, the service they provide, and the unit they represent. Spending time in the customer’s shoes is one of the best ways to understand how to serve the customer best.
Two maxims readily apply to the area of tracking, or monitoring: “Manage what you measure” and “Don’t expect what you don’t inspect.” Rewarding good performance reinforces appropriate behavior and communicates to the organization that customer service is important. This may sound simple, but it is surprising how many organizations do not have a method of assessing the impact of what they do. Measures of success should be expressed in monetary value to the company. When corporate management wants to know how the facility management department contributes to the corporate bottom line, provide data that document successful project completions and customer satisfaction.
This article was excerpted from BOMI Institute’s Fundamentals of Facilities Management textbook required in the Facilities Management Administrator (FMA) designation. For information on this course or additional courses offered from BOMI, please call us at 800-235-2664 or visit www.bomi-edu.org.