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Thu 17 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Keeping bad company…

Imdaad’s Alan Millin says a much more thorough audit process is needed to identify true response performance, which should be part of your own regular operations.

You have won a potentially lucrative FM contract but the terms and conditions are tough. You know that you must respond to calls within a certain timeframe or risk being penalised. You receive a customer service request relating to an electrical fault. All your electricians are busy, you cannot possibly meet the performance requirements for this call; or can you..?

You have a plumber available, he’ll do won’t he? You send the plumber to the call, comply with the contractual response terms and worry about actually solving the customer’s problem later. And yes, this does happen!

But what will you really gain by acting in this way? Irate customers? Frustrated clients? What can you lose? Your staff (electrically-fried plumbers)? Your contracts? Your reputation? Your business?

Some service level agreements (SLAs) may make a provision for independent audit of response times. In isolation this unfortunately does little to ensure the intent of the client is being met. The audit will simply review response times. Even if you sent the plumber to an electrical call you may be able to maintain an acceptable compliance rate.

A much more thorough audit is necessary to identify true performance. This should not only be a burden on the client to monitor your performance, it should be part of your own regular operations. You are seeking continuous improvement aren’t you?

Then there is the ethical issue to consider. Is sending an inadequately trained person to an electrical problem really ethical? What about the health and safety of your staff or the impact on the staff member’s family in the event of an accident?

Remember too that an unskilled person may also be putting your customers at risk; or is it the person who authorises the untrained staff who endangers life? Are you aware of your legal obligations in such a situation? You could find yourself personally responsible for sending someone to attend a task that they are not qualified or trained for.

So what can we do improve our performance?

How about cross-training? And no, I don’t mean an hour in the gym every couple of days, although that’s also beneficial too.

What’s wrong with having multi-skilled technicians? Let’s go back to our plumber before we fry him. With a little training, our plumber, if he’s responsive, will be able to tackle jobs such as leaks on chilled water systems competently. Indeed, by delivering this training to the plumber you have improved your company’s capability, or human capital, and also contributed positively to the personal development of your staff. You also now have a stronger chance of performing within the requirements of your contract.

Which brings me to the people who we might normally expect to send to a chilled water system problem: the air conditioning technicians. How many are actually trained on both air and waterside? Very few from what I’ve seen.

And why shouldn’t an electrician be capable of performing basic electrical troubleshooting on air conditioning units? Again a little training will go a long way.

If your call centre takes two requests from one customer, one related to air conditioning and the other requesting replacement of a light bulb, are you really going to despatch two different tradesmen when either one should be fully capable of handling both requests?

We do, of course, have an obligation to ensure our staff receive adequate safety training in addition to technical training. Yes, there’s a cost involved, but it should be worth it.

A wise trainer once told me of a service manager in the United States that was reluctant to spend money on training and developing his staff. The manager argued that if he trained people there was a danger they would leave the company. The trainer told him that there was greater danger if he didn’t train his staff and they stayed with him…

From a business perspective, having cross-functional technical expertise enables versatility in scheduling resources, optimisation of resources and, if we get it right, better service to the client.

There is a cultural element to consider too. If we want to develop the staff we need them to want to develop too. In some cases a plumber, for example, may not want to work on chilled water systems, which he might consider to be air-conditioning work. What can you do? You hired him as a plumber after all.

Bringing about cultural change is often difficult. As facilities managers though, I’m sure that you laugh in the face of ‘difficult’. You overcome the seemingly impossible on a day-to-day basis. You work in a multi-cultural society. You are already sensitive to the differing needs of those around you. You have the skills you need to bring out the best in your team. So what’s stopping you…? Go on, make a difference!

Alan Millin is the director of consultancy at Imdaad.

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