All facility management employees are 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 marketKnow each customer type, what its needs are, and how it perceives facility management. Know and anticipate its needs.
- Know the facility management department’s strengths and weaknessesUnderstand where you do well, and where you fall short. To do this, we should identify what skills are involved in marketing, whether we perform any or all of them, and how well we perform them.
- Develop a marketing plan that serves as a road map.
- Recognize the importance of quality customer serviceEvery facility staff member must realize how every interaction with a customer can serve marketing objectives and foster a positive image of the facility management department.
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).
We must also understand that our customers are not people whose needs, motivations, and objectives are identical. Most companies have several different types of customers. From the facility manager’s perspective, each one constitutes a niche marketa particular population with certain characteristics and needs that are distinct. For example, top management has needs unlike those of administrative support units or core business units. The needs of corporate income-generating groups will be different from those that support them. Corporate marketing groups and legal staffs perform different functions than the manufacturing units, and the facility services meet the needs and expectations of each group.
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.” (This quote comes from Tim Springer’s report “Improving Productivity in the Workplace: Reports from the Field,” published by Springer Associates.)
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 researchKnow the characteristics and needs of your customers; know about the service of your competitors.
Promote servicesDevise a marketing plan that matches services with the right customers. A marketing brochure explaining facility services is a widely used tool that can be customized for different customers.
Keep customers informedTalking 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 deliveryAsk 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 websiteA website can be designed to allow users to download standards, construction schedules, standard forms such as the PRP, and to respond to surveys/questionnaires for research/ benchmarking purposes.
(These strategies are based on suggestions from Stormy Friday and David G. Cotts, two BOMI International contributors, in the book Quality Facility Management: A Marketing and Customer Service Approach, published by John Wiley & Sons.)
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, ongoing 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 employeesfrom the head of the company to the person sweeping the sidewalkas 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:
Training + Communication + Caring = Pride
The pride comes not just from being part of the organization, but from respectfully treating, and being treated like, the primary customer.
While the idea of treating everyone as a customer may seem simple, it can have an impact on profits. This approach gets everyone involved in improving the organization, and it allows people to see the real impact of what they and others do. Bottom-line impact allows facility managers to market to their customers in terms that make business sense: cost avoidance, cost savings, financial benefits, and improved performance.
Service as a Fundamental Value
Service must be the prime directive of a facility management department. A mission statement can be expressed as goals: “We must at all times provide the highest quality, value-added service to our customers to ensure their satisfaction.” It can also be stated more simply: “We all succeed or fail together.”
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.
It is also important to recognize exemplary staff performance, which in turn raises awareness of the contributions of the facility management department.