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'Survive & Thrive'

Survive and Thrive :

Customer Relationship Management for University FM departments

What is CRM ?

As part of a broader Quality Review recently carried out by the FM department of a university, the FM Director engaged an external facilitator to chair a number of focus group meetings attended by senior Faculty academics, senior Faculty administrators and heads of academic and non-academic support departments. The aim of the meetings was to elicit feedback from customers regarding the quality of services delivered by FM. One of the recurring themes was the old chestnut of the perceived remoteness of FM, and that FM failed to pro-actively engage with customers. Mindful of the widespread frustration amongst FM managers that it is the customers themselves who are unwilling to engage, the facilitator put the question to all the focus groups : “If the Director of the FM department were to offer you one hour per Quarter for a high-level meeting in which to collectively manage the relationship between your department and FM, would you take him up on it ?” Without exception, the managers said that they would eagerly accept. Why ? Because they knew that they would be saving themselves many more hours of fire-fighting, misunderstandings, mess-ups, and joyless conversations with answering machines by doing so.

The message was loud and clear. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is not exclusively a commercial instrument used by sales organisations to expand turnover and generate repeat business. Serious customers, including those in an internal market such as a university, want and expect to be actively ‘relationship-managed’. What then is the essence of CRM ?

Relationship management is much like the maintenance of your car or your central-heating system. Both of these are subject to wear-and-tear, ageing and break-down, and thus require regular updating and maintenance. Similarly, relationships need the same degree of preventative and corrective attention if we are to gain the full benefits out the relationship, and to ensure that we do so in the future. At the level of the individual manager, CRM is about listening to, informing, and negotiating with customers and key stakeholders. Within the FM organisation, this information needs to be shared, both vertically and horizontally.

When listening to the customer, we must elicit information regarding the levels of customer satisfaction including complaints, problems, irritations, and compliments ; we elicit information concerning what is happening in the customer’s world such as trends, developments, plans, ambitions, expectations, and changes ; we collect information about people, networks, budgets, and suggestions for improvements.

When informing the customer, we are giving the customer a full idea of ‘who we are and what we do’ as an FM department ; we are providing the customer with advice (technical, procedural, organisational) and innovation ; we are anticipating the customer’s questions and problems, and pro-actively providing answers and solutions.

When negotiating with the customer we are, amongst other things, endeavouring to reach agreement when setting service levels, when the customer feels that he has received a level of service that falls short of his expectations, or when the FM department feels that the customer is trying to get ‘something for nothing’, ie a level of service in excess of contract / SLA.

The Three Dimensions of CRM

To make sense of the complexity of university organisations, we must understand three main dimensions when considering which CRM model to apply : customer levels, customer dialogue, and customer configurations.

The Facilities Manager wanting to embrace CRM is faced with the question : who do I engage with, who is my customer ? In the irregular landscape of a university organisation, the FM department has to make a distinction between a diversity of customers at four different customer levels.

The Strategic Customer is represented by the Senior Executive Management Team, the small group of people around the Vice Chancellor who determine the strategic future of the university, secure funding, define the market positioning and manage the everyday affairs of the institution. Of all the people in the FM department, the Director is probably the only one who will sit at the same table as the strategic customer. As the ‘ultimate paymaster’ of the FM department, the strategic customer is extremely powerful and may ultimately exert the greatest demands.

The Tactical Customer is represented by the senior figures in the academic units (Colleges, Faculties, Schools, Departments) such as senior academics and senior administrators, as well as the heads of academic support units such as Registry, Library, Admissions, Student Services and non-academic support services such as HR, IT, and Finance. These people are powerful through their position and their influence, and in many universities they wield even more power because they are the holders of (partially) devolved budgets.

The Operational Customer is the consumer of FM services, the professor, the lecturer, the lab technician, the student, the visitor, the conference guest : all those who use FM services on a day to day basis. These are the literally thousands of people who expect to breathe clean air, walk on clean carpets, use well-maintained lifts, receive mail, book rooms, eat good sandwiches, live in smart residences and feel safe and secure 24 hours a day on campus. Where the relationship between FM and the tactical customer is a ‘business-to-business’ relationship, the contact with the operational customer is clearly ‘business-to-consumer’, and must therefore be managed in a different way.

The Internal Customer is your counterpart inside the FM department. In many cases, the success of one FM section is dependent on the quality of the service of a colleague FM section. The success of the Conferencing section will depend on the quality of the A/V section, the Security section and the Catering section. The quality of M& E Maintenance is dependent on the quality of the original design by the Projects Office. If you are head of Cleaning, your conversation with the heads of Catering, Maintenance, and Security will be about how we integrate the FM services in a coherent and co-ordinated way (see ‘Believers & Cynics’, 2006).

Having made a differentiation between the four customer levels, we need to gauge what the subject matter or the customer dialogue will be. We can define three levels of customer dialogue.

The macro dialogue will be a discussion about the broader, more strategic picture. The macro dialogue with the strategic customer may concern long-term Estates strategy or a root-and-branch review of the university security arrangements. With the tactical customer, the macro dialogue would cover Faculty building projects, the setting up of a SLA for campus services, or a relocation. There is no macro dialogue with the operational customer.

The intermediate dialogue relates to more day-to-day matters, but does not go into technical detail. This conversation may be about the implementation of minor works, the planning of an event, and the tailoring of FM services. The intermediate dialogue can be applied at all three customer levels.

The micro dialogue is by definition operational, and concerns the (often technical) detail of the daily service provision. Individuals ranging from the Vice Chancellor to Departmental clerical staff may wish to engage FM about undelivered post, the absence of toilet rolls, the ineffective CCTV equipment, the clamped car, the icy temperature.

Clearly it is essential to tailor the FM representation to the type of dialogue required. It would be inappropriate to send an operational FM manager, such as the Head of one the halls of residence, to a meeting at high level to discuss the capital development of a Faculty or School. By the same token, the Assistant Director of Facilities is not the right person to co-ordinate the replacement of three fire doors in the International Office.

Depending on the combination of the customer level and the nature of the customer dialogue, the FM department has to ensure that the appropriate representative of FM speaks with the customer. From the point of view of an integrated FM department or indeed an Estates or Campus Services department, we need to offer customers a single point-of-contact with whom they can engage, or at least with a minimum of points-of-contact. However, having established the dimensions of which level we wish to access the customer and in what dialogue, we need now examine the third dimension, namely the customer configuration. There are essentially are four possibilities.

Single location / single occupancy refers to the most simple configuration where for example the Faculty of Medicine is housed in the Louis Pasteur Building. This Faculty shares the building with nobody. The Louis Pasteur Building is their only site. On the FM side, we can establish contacts with ‘key accounts’ at Departmental and Faculty level, and we will make a choice as to who will represent FM, depending on whether the discussion will focus on strategic or technical matters.

Multi location / single occupancy is where the Business School occupies the Wentworth Building, the Keynes Annex, plus 26 Weston Terrace for the admin team. Nobody but the Business School uses these buildings.

Single location / multi occupancy covers the situation where the Prince Regent Building is occupied by the Faculty of Life Sciences, the Registry and HR.

Multi location / multi occupancy is the rather more messy situation where the Old Main Building is occupied by the Departments of History and Modern Languages (both part of the School of Humanities, who also occupy the first 2 floors of 129 High Road and the beautifully restored Grenville Court out in Poddington Magna), the Department of Psychology (School of Social Sciences, who also have a facility in the New Building), as well as Finance, IT, Corporate Affairs and the Staff Restaurant.

CRM models

Once we have made sense of the dimensions of customer level, customer dialogue and customer configuration, we can look at the various ways of getting closer to the customer. In order to provide a single point-of-contact for the customer, we can choose from the following CRM models, each depending on which customer we are dealing with and what sort of issue is being discussed. These four roles are not mutually exclusive, and in many cases we will find a combination of two or more of them.

The Key Account Manager (KAM) model is where the FM department allocates a single man or woman to represent all things FM with a particular organisational unit, eg a School, a Faculty or a Department. It is helpful if the customer organisation also allocates a single person to engage the FM department, thereby enabling a structured and periodic interface between these two individuals. For the strategic customer (SMT), the Director of FM fulfils by definition the KAM role. In a School, the conversation partner may be a senior administrator ; in FM we may appoint one of the senior team for this role. The challenge for both parties at the table is to listen to key figures in their own organisations prior to the meeting, and to communicate the outcomes to those people subsequent to the meeting. The essence of KAM is that FM focuses on an organisational presence.

Fundamental to the Local Facilities Manager (LFM) model is that FM focuses instead on a physical presence, namely a ‘location’ (campus, building, cluster of buildings, open area). In this way of ‘getting closer to the customer’, the FM department will appoint a Building or Location Manager who acts as the point of contact for all occupants of that location. The LFM will engage with representatives of user-groups as well as with individual consumers. User groups may be a representation of specific areas, such as the 3rd and 4th Floor, or of specific organisational groups who occupy that building, such as the Corporate Affairs department. A variant on this theme is the Service Desk, where a member of FM staff is located at a local service desk in a prominent position in the building.

The Project Manager (PM) model is equally useful, and is the most effective way of co-ordinating services and managing the customer relationship for the duration of specific projects, be it a 2-year long construction project or the organisation of a big annual event such as Congregation.

The last model is that of the Helpdesk, a manned and IT-supported system of logging, tracking and signing off jobs and requests ranging from the repair of dripping pipes to the organisation of a black-tie dinner. This is the natural home of the micro dialogue, and this conversation with the user or consumer of a service will generally have a day-to-day nature.

Getting CRM running

Taking the three dimensions of customer level, customer dialogue, and customer configuration together, and linking this to the different CRM models, we can begin to address the ‘who-needs-to-be-talking-about-what-to-whom-at-what-level-in-what-part-of-the-organisation-in-what-location?’ question. Because of this complexity, the FM department of a university is faced with installing a CRM framework that will fit it’s diverse customer base. No size fits all, because no two universities are the same. Broadly, this framework will have an organisational component and a human component.

When a university is very large in terms of estates, staff and students, but also spread over a wide and fragmented geographical area, the FM department will be obliged to structure the way it manages customer relationships according to the prevailing customer configuration or combination of configurations. They may find that they need to establish a matrix structure whereby different configurations, dialogues and levels of customers will require different CRM models. It may be more effective to apply KAM to the Business School, LFM to the Kennedy Building, PM to all those Faculties involved in the City South re-development scheme, and the Helpdesk to everybody. In this structure, individuals have to be nominated by the FM department to the KAM role or the LFM role, but being careful to make the distinction between who has what dialogue at what level.

Having put a structure in place on paper and nominated the key people on the FM side, we then have to approach the customer organisation (eg Faculty / School) to elicit their commitment to engaging in this way, to establish who will represent the customer organisation in the CRM meetings, to agree a frequency and duration of those meetings, and to agree what sort of issues do belong in those meetings and which issues emphatically do not. It is so easy for a customer to lose sight of the bigger FM picture if his feet are cold or that flaming door keeps banging.

Last, but certainly not least, is the human component. Once the FM department has established the CRM structure and which individuals will participate in it, the success or failure will now rest on the commitment of those individuals to CRM and on their competence and confidence in managing these relationships. In most cases, the FM people involved in CRM will have a technical background such as engineering, catering or security. There is therefore a need to adequately equip the people chosen for the task by providing them with training so that they not only have an understanding of the CRM system and how it works, but can also develop a broad range of relationship management competencies, such as listening skills, influencing skills, and negotiating skills.

For FM managers in universities, CRM is an active way of engaging with our paymasters, our customers, our users. If we listen, understand and respond to our customers, we assist them in achieving their goals, namely to survive and thrive by providing academic or support excellence for their customers. In a world where the provision of FM services in public sector organisations is increasingly up for grabs, by implementing a structured CRM we implicitly strengthen our own position as an FM organisation to survive and thrive.