The service expectations of a client keeps changing to higher and higher levels, but the prospect of increasing budgets to meet rising costs is always met with silence. Such a scenario creates fertile ground for incorrect perceptions of service delivery, says M K Padmanabhan, CEO, Faber Sindoori Management Services Pvt Ltd.
Client’s internal discord
A client’s procurement contract department is the one responsible for entering into an agreement with the service provider; the mandate of this department is to control costs and finalise a vendor at the lowest possible price. Once the contract is signed, the operations department comes into picture; it is they who oversee our work and monitor the results. These two departments may not have coordinated and communicated with each other.
The result is that often, we find that the expectations of the operations department are much higher than the requirements listed in the SLA we signed with the procurement department. They expect a higher level of service delivery than has been put down on paper, but at the same cost.
It becomes our responsibility to match their expectations, for which we may have to overspend. But for how long can this continue? The entire FM industry is going through this struggle. We do not want to lose the business of a good client, but neither can we afford to indefinitely overspend.
When the decision-maker on the client’s side leaves and someone new comes in, they have a different thought process, while the contract is running according to the discussion we had with their predecessor. If the SLA is clearly defined, new requirements can be flagged as changes and the contract itself will then be renegotiated.
Sometimes, to adopt what they think is a cost-effective approach, a client may have their own procurement department purchase the equipment required for us to provide our services. What often happens is that they buy low-cost items that are also low-quality; we are expected to provide premium services with non-premium tools. Without the right equipment, we cannot deliver what the client expects.
During lockdowns, clients came to us and said that there was no need to provide the full strength of manpower agreed upon before the pandemic. ‘Instead’, they asked us to procure disinfection equipment and the related consumables, and carry out these activities – at the same cost. Their belief was that we would have to spend the same amount on this as on the manpower that was no longer being supplied, which was not the case.
Thorough site study
In customer-facing facilities, it is important to understand what the facility user wants and expects. Many facilities have premium clients who expect a level of service that is several notches above the rest. Hence, the facility heads do not want any regular chemicals or consumables to be used. There are certain clients who want us to use only the best, regardless of cost. When premium services are wanted, such costs need to be taken into account while designing the SLA.
We also have non-premium clients who have more modest expectations and are okay with more generic products being used, as long as they prove cost-effective for them. We have a mix of both types of clients, and must first understand the client’s approach before deciding on ours.
Protecting brand image
The level of services we provide can project and protect the client’s brand image. For example, an immaculately maintained washroom, with premium consumables and fragrancing, reflects the client’s high standards; it is our job and only our job to create this environment.
Some clients even expect us to advise them on how to design and furnish certain facility areas; they believe we are better placed than them to decide how their built environment can best match their ethos.
Before the term of an SLA comes to an end and it is time to renew our agreement, we should be able to demonstrate the difference in the facility experience, before and after we took over. Did we add value to the facility? Was there a drop in end-user complaints about cleanliness?
As service providers, we are not authorised to directly collect end-user feedback. However, our clients do collect feedback from the end-users, who are their customers, in which they also gather opinions about our services. If this data is in our favour and if the client’s customer base has increased since we started servicing the facility, we can prove that our services helped the client grow their business.
In hospitals, for example, NABL audits as well as other audits of the facility serve as feedback about our services. The client’s own data helps us prove that our work has been successful.
Clients and service providers need to meet and list down all the requirements on paper. Without this, finger-pointing is inevitable, both ways. The client, the client’s customers and even our own staff may have complaints because of some difference in opinion about the services. Documentation should always be precise.
Service levels need to be clearly demarcated before we start providing services. Proceeding without this is like driving a car with neither a map nor a direction in mind; you may or may not reach your destination.