Iain Shorthose, Director of Customer & Workplace Experience at Mitie explains why the results of a customer survey into client’s workplace requirements and strategies during 2020 will help FM providers and their clients meet their goals in 2021.
Prior to taking up the role of Director of Customer & Workplace Experience at Mitie following Interserve’s acquisition in December, Iain Shorthose held the same role with the Interserve Group, and oversaw its annual customer survey. The results for 2020, not only provide valuable feedback on how a leading FM provider performed during COVID but includes fascinating insights to the FM sector over the next six, 12, and even 18 months.
Just a snapshot of the data revealed that satisfaction rates were at a five-year high, a reflection of the contribution made by facilities management during the global crisis. Aligned to this there were strong indications that satisfaction levels were less about meeting SLAs and KPIs and more about being able to provide reassurance and flexible responses during a challenging and uncertain time.
Shorthose has over 15 years’ experience developing and delivering customer and workplace strategies across a range of sectors. The annual customer relationship survey goes out to decision makers and influencers amongst Interserve’s top 100 customers, but the methodology was changed to reflect the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic.
“We wanted to recognise that in such a challenging time, where we’d normally arrange interviews that would last 10 to 15 minutes, this time around we were respectful of the pressure people were under so we did a ‘pulse survey’ using our customer insight team. This comprised a short five to 10-minute online survey which asked a series of core questions fed into a net promoter score, covering areas such as satisfaction, trust and effort. We also wanted the data to provide some insights into how customer’s client strategy was shaping and changing so we could support them going forward.”
The results were encouraging, with customers scores at an average of nearly 9/10 for the FM provider’s response to COVID-19. One of the reasons for this, according to Shorthose, is that the pandemic has led to a narrowing of the gap between the decision makers and what happens at the operational delivery level. Because of the seriousness of the situation, where senior management are primarily concerned in keeping people safe and maintaining operations they’ve got much closer to the operational side, and this means how the way they view their FM provider has altered significantly.
Says Shorthose: “It’s changed from the main reason being; ‘we want to outsource because we can focus on what we’re good at,’ to the realisation that Interserve and other providers can come through with the support, best practice, and a level of expertise that gives the client the reassurance that when they’re in front of the headlights there are people working and collaborating with them who know what they’re doing.
“I think that this big shift from just thinking, ‘we’ve got cleaners, security, front of house’, to ‘we’re working with people who will look after our buildings and manage our risk during this pandemic’ is crucial.”
According to the data there are five key drivers:
- Improved and relevant communication at all levels – which had a threefold impact on the score.
- Focus on the customer not just tasks. By identifying the building use; e.g. in a hospital how medical staff as well as the patients are supported you establish a shared purpose that creates emotional engagement.
- Flexibility – a key element in a constantly uncertain environment where government rules can change rapidly. Demonstrate the ability to be agile and flexible in terms of service delivery.
- Collaboration and partnering. Where almost on a daily basis the FM providers and their partners discuss what their current priorities are, how they respond to those changes and what they bring to the table in terms of expertise to guide the client.
- Thought leadership, from ensuring cleaning and hygiene standards are met to planning for the reoccupation of buildings in a safe manner.
Says Shorthose: “The data shows how the drivers for client satisfaction have moved from transactional requirements such as contract/service delivery, SLA’s and KPI’s to softer and move behavioural aspects like demonstrating commitment, shared purpose, strong communications, flexibility, and bringing thought leadership.”
NOW, NEXT, LATER
FM providers are often challenged to demonstrate innovation within contracts, and the customer satisfaction survey illustrates the importance of demonstrating innovation in governance and resources, which in practice means taking resources and reengineering them to respond to changing requirements. For example, within the health sector this may mean continuing to give people the training and front-line development they need to cope with the latest infection control demands, while in the corporate office realm it might be more about how offices can be returned to safe occupation.
The survey also found priorities were changing across most sectors, with 63 per cent stating customer and workplace experience are now more important than pre-COVID-19.
“That is a very interesting stat”, says Shorthose, “and is backed up by latest Leesman data which showed that over a third of home workers (35 per cent) feel disconnected to their organisation when working from home.
“Psychological contract fulfilment describes how people feel about the organisation and their role is created around purpose, process, payoff and people. Without an understanding of how connected a person feels when working from home to their organisation it’s difficult to determine if they share a sense of purpose. In the same way a lot of processes are based on a lot of people being in an office together, and when you look at that application of process, is it set up for people working remotely?”
Within corporate real estate, he explains: “Customers are looking at how they’ll repurpose their buildings and how their operating model will look in the future. We’ve a workplace methodology and we’re repurposing that slightly using our in-house diagnostic tools and asking people how the physical environment supported them pre-COVID. I believe if we don’t know how the physical environment supported people before the pandemic hit, you can’t do it post-COVID.
“The corporate sector are exploring the hybrid models and factoring in how they will maintain wellbeing, connectivity etc, but they first need to know how the physical environment impacted people previously. They need to review how it supported those people, how they used that space and helped them do their job, and equally, how that space influenced how they felt about their employer and their role. If you don’t know the answer to those things before you introduce the hybrid model, how do you know what to replicate?”
“The most apt phrase I use for this process is; Now, Next, Later. ‘Now’ is expertise and advice in the moment, ‘Next’ is about best practice, and what people are doing to accelerate the return to work and ‘Later’ is the thought leadership piece, how do we help you identify what that is and how to achieve your goal?”
With influencers and decision makers more cognisant than ever on what’s happening on the frontline, there is a far deeper appreciation of the role FM has played in these challenging times. According to Shorthose, COVID-19 appears to have removed the ‘white noise’ between senior client and what’s being delivered. But how can the sector leverage this to ensure it continues to play a key role in organisational strategies?
“There is a window right now to elevate how FM is perceived. If you look at the accounts that we and other providers have, there are those where it’s about purely delivering a contract and service specification and those that represents more of a strategic partnership. Where we have solid strategic client relationships is when we understand the pressures the client is under, where they are trying to get to, and are ready to bring the elements that are going to deliver what they need. FM is earning the right to play in that second spot.”
Shorthose also believes that if you continually refer to the contract when dealing with clients it suggests there is something missing in that relationship. He maintains that the really successful contracts are the ones with a level of fluidity that means they could be described as ‘output-based’ contracts.
He says: “A lot of the work I do with clients and account teams shows that when things aren’t as rewarding for both parties as they might be, there tends to be a missing element, and that is purpose. ‘Why are we all here, for what outcome?’ Once you’ve shared outcomes the collaboration piece of the jigsaw works so much better.
“We have heard phrases such as ‘race to the bottom’ and commoditise being used to describe FM contracts, but what I’ve learnt is that delivering the written agreement isn’t enough, you need to earn the right to look at the value proposition around the workplace and customer experience and where you can demonstrate above and beyond the basic competence and understand the client and their pressures, it means that in nine out of 10 times you are bringing something extra.”
LONG TERM CHANGES
We’re coming up to a year since the pandemic broke and the way in which we all work has been disrupted in a way no one could have imagined at the start of last year. The survey shows clients are reviewing workspaces and considering all options. Many of these considerations, such as reducing real-estate, repurposing buildings, and supporting agile working by introducing hybrid models are not new, but COVID-19 has accelerated this process. Nearly 70 per cent of customers confirmed their medium-term plans for building utilisation has changed and half (50 per cent) cited agile working and rationalisation as their main reason for change.
Alongside this the survey found that client’s focus on service lines and requirements have changed, with a third (33 per cent) saying their focus is now on agile working, while 22 per cent are reviewing the allocation of spaces on sites with plans for repurposing total real estate. The average score for the level of change was 6/10 but this number is as high 9/10 within the private sector.
Explains Shorthose: “Over half of clients thought there was a significant need to review their service lines and the emphasis they put on certain areas. For example, 35 per cent of clients wanted more investment in cleaning and an additional focus on health and safety which is 75 per cent more important than ever before. The language here is also changing, as health and safety is as much about mental wellbeing as physical health.”
“Our survey also found that sustainability has not been overlooked, despite the disruption to workplaces, as it is 30 per cent more important than it was before, which is very positive, given everything else going on. It still remains a priority for us to help our clients and it’s still on the radar, and that hasn’t ceased. Sustainability in this context includes social value and wellbeing which are more important than ever before.”
One of the predictions for the future of FM following the pandemic is that the use of technologies such as sensors to maintain social distance, devices to measure infection control and automated service delivery has advanced the digitisation of the workplace. Does this mean FM service providers and their clients will rely more heavily on AI and apps to measure performance?
According to Shorthose, customers see managing workplace in two ways;
- Data driven decision making and the connected workspace as a way to measure how the building is being utilised.
- Employee insights, how they want to use the space to remain productive while maintaining personal wellbeing.
Says Shorthose: “Both elements have to go hand in hand, but you can’t dismiss the technology informing that. When you put the two things together, that’s when you get operational efficiency and meeting goals. The FM provider who is successful in that space will get that balance right between investing in that technology but know how to implement it in a way that is engaging people to understand the benefits that data can bring.
“A lot of my role is in driving change, and this is no different. You have to take people along as there is an engagement piece and an education piece and to me you’ve got to have all of that together with the technology and the solution. I genuinely feel that FM providers which can bring technology together with the workplace experience on a behavioural basis will be the ones that succeed.”
First published on https://www.fmj.co.uk/shared-goals/
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