How Engagement Improves Customer Service in Facility Management – a Lesson from Libraries by Chris Payne

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

Customer Service Lessons From LibrariesIn the late nineteen-nineties, an English town library was faced with declining demand. Like so many other library facilities, an increasing proportion of users were choosing to buy books cheaply from discounters, online booksellers and supermarkets. Early Internet users were also obtaining more content online; a trend that would later evolve into a flourishing market for electronic books and the proliferation of the electronic reader. Budget cuts were also taking their toll. Reduced funding from the local authority meant that there was less investment in new books and on expanding services into new areas such as video and DVD lending. The limited investment that was available would have to be spent wisely, in the correct areas to return the maximum benefit to the community it serviced. But where would these investment areas be? To find out, the library organised an experiment. They would arrange for survey-takers to stand outside the library and capture the opinion of people leaving the library. The survey was designed to cover things such as the range of books available, the layout of the library, cleanliness, lighting, noise levels and customer service. Users were asked to rate each of these areas on a scale of one to five, with one being the lowest. Unbeknown to users, library staff were also briefed to behave in a particular way while the surveys were being collected. In the first half of the experiment library staff were asked to have minimal contact with users. They would be polite, but would not establish eye contact or engage in small talk. During this time, the survey results indicated that the physical library facilities were average or below average. The range of books was generally poor, the environmental conditions inadequate and the layout difficult to understand. Customer service was also marked as average. During the second half of the experiment, library staff were instructed to behave differently. They would establish eye-contact with users and smile at them. They would ask them if they enjoyed their book or make recommendations to them based on choices made. Where appropriate, they would refer to the users by name and use a touch on the elbow or forearm to establish physical contact. On leaving, users were again asked to complete a survey. This time, even though no changes had been made to the physical environment, ratings were higher, with results showing average or above average marks for the environmental conditions. The range of books was considered better, the layout and lighting too were marked higher. Interestingly, the mark for customer service was only marginally higher. A large amount of investment in the library was then channeled into training and informational services focused around the library user. This extended impact of customer service is something known as the ‘halo’ effect; the influence of perception on particular attributes as a result of exposure to another, separate one. Other examples of the ‘halo’ effect may be in the classroom, where an attentive and well-behaved student may be evaluated more positively than their peers or where a well turned-out candidate is more likely to get the job. It’s also a concept widely used in marketing and branding. Take for example the ‘Virgin’ brand, or ‘Apple’. Either of these organisations routinely launch new business ventures or products on the basis of their past reputation and the ‘halo’ effect. For facilities management, the concept influences opinion in many ways. Staff who are smartly dressed, well-presented and courteous tend to project an overarching air of competency and efficiency to users. Articulate engineers instil confidence that the facilities they look after are well maintained. And, clean cleaners clean better (sorry). These may seem illogical and outrageous statements, but the impact of the ‘halo’ effect influences our bias and impressions subconsciously. Investing in uniforms, communication and customer service training does make a difference. Sadly, many customers and providers have cut back in these areas, choosing instead to focus on core activities to reduce cost. An example is the UK budget airline ‘Ryanair’. As an organization, the airline chose to reduce cost as much as possible by excluding all thrills from their airfares. Additional fees were sought constantly at every stage of customer engagement. Want to check baggage? There’s a charge for that. Skip to the head of the boarding queue? Additional cost. Food and beverages? Additional cost. Pay by credit card? There’s a cost for that too. This ‘Ryanair’ approach gets the job done, but often at the sacrifice of user and occupant satisfaction as well as the positive perception of associated brands. Interestingly, according to the UK’s “Which?” magazine, Ryanair was voted recently as having the worst customer service out of Britain’s 100 biggest brands. There have also been significant concerns voiced about passenger safety based upon media coverage of the way they treat their pilots. A real example of the ‘halo’ effect in action? When reviewing your facilities services, consider the impact that your FM personnel is having on building occupants and identify where service can be improved through better engagement. From our experience, we always see an increase in customer satisfaction levels all-round where engagement improves.

Chris Payne

Chris Payne, CSS Consultancy & FMCC STAG Member as Social Media Coordinator

Chris works in a consulting capacity to help facilities management providers embed more efficient ways of working within their delivery contracts. With a strong focus on innovation, he contributes to improvement activities through the development of frameworks, software systems and technology to capture and incorporate new ways of working that saves cost and enhances operations.
With over 25 years of experience working on the built environment, Chris has comprehensive insight into the construction and maintenance of facilities within a number of industry sectors, including: social housing, critical environments, defence estates, food processing and commercial office space. In recent years, through the successful delivery of consultancy projects, he has helped clients secure more profitable work by moving beyond standard delivery approaches to find new ways of adding value to facility end-users and occupants.
Based near Glasgow in Scotland, he travels extensively to support an international client base.

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