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Service industry in 2021: What lies ahead

While its leaders project a modern outlook, much of the Indian facility management sector is still traditional in its attitude towards digital FM. While some companies had begun to integrate digitisation and contactless technology into their work systems, change has been slow and there was a reluctance to upgrade from old-fashioned pen and paper systems, which were transferred almost as is onto mobile phones, without taking much advantage of an entirely new medium.

The way we live and work has undergone fundamental change; service processes will have to respond accordingly. Over the past year, we at the Clean India Journal have been speaking to numerous FM providers about the ways in which their work has changed, and will have to change. Some of the most prescient insights came from conversations with Anthony Poppe, Assistant Director-Sales, Knowcross, whose company is a leader in service management software. Looking into a crystal ball, we found three relatively new aspects that we feel confident will make their mark in the service industry in 2021 – digitisation, Artificial Intelligence and touchless technology.

The pandemic will change what years of advocacy could not. Post – Covid, there has been a sudden, massive increase among service professionals in the desire and readiness to implement digital solutions. It is now beyond doubt that not only will this increase efficiency, but will also ensure compliance, help implement proper contact tracing for staff and customers and provide a sense of safety, security & well-being among everyone.

Digitisation and customer experience Keeping guests and customers informed helps a facility head show that a business cares. said, “There has been a lot of talk about ‘cleaning theatre’; we may say something is cleaned ‘X’ times a day, however, having the ability to automate the process of letting everyone know at each stage puts words into action. We have also been at work building new features to accommodate these changes, such as a new feature that allows guests or tenants to be informed of the cleaning progress at every stage in the process.”

Digitisation will also help improve the enduser experience by giving businesses the ability to track data and to be able to personalise the experience, since everyone has access to data at the same time. With proper analysis, trends can be spotted and service becomes very proactive instead of reactive, giving customers what they want before they even ask for it. Customer wishes that once needed to be voiced or were intuitively discerned by service professionals can now be fulfilled even before the customer has thought of it.

Staff and workflow

Digitisation will also improve the working experience of staff. A good service management software will enable staff to focus on the task at hand and shave off time spent on unnecessary admin work. This in turn allows more time to produce better quality results, which will lead to an improved customer/guest experience. Installing something like a work-flow management tool allows you to use less staff for each department since you no longer have to have phone calls. SOPs can be displayed for each task and the relevant information is always at hand. You can also set escalation levels to alert supervisors and managers when a task has not yet been completed and this can even be different for customer/guest vs staff reported tasks.

According to Poppe, digitising the work process can help businesses streamline processes and automate procedures so paperwork and calls can be avoided and the best possible sequence and method of working can be achieved. He gave an example: “Previously, if the co-ordinator was off duty, there would be chaos since we still use manual record keeping in multiple places. With digitalisation, there is no longer a requirement to have dedicated coordinators for facilities anymore, since supervisors can have access to information on a mobile device, allowing better rostering and multitasking.”

He laid out an example: “We have customers who have several hotels in a resort with a call center that is offsite; some staff work in one property and others in multiple. By using a system, they can ensure the right job goes to the right person at the right time — automatically, with no human intervention. It is managed from a central location and this gives much greater control and again, greater cost savings.” Digitalisation will also help to ensure machinery that is kept in top condition with accurate reporting to highlight when maintenance is required, summoning the manpower required to do so without the need to generate a ticket. Regular servicing can be done or delayed according to usage, whose patterns can be deduced from data.

The role of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The role of AI in FM is still nascent, however, since the pandemic, Poppe said there has been an influx in businesses implementing solutions that use some form of AI, such as messaging platforms or chatbots that will make recommendations for hotel guests when ordering, and integrate replies into workflow management platforms. There is no need to have an extra operator or co-ordinator anymore; they can be deployed into other areas and ensure the quality of work improves instead of doing admin tasks.

AI and expenses
The pandemic has highlighted the need for businesses to be even more prudent with their costs and with manpower being the largest cost of any business, digitalisation will certainly assist with this to streamline processes. Poppe continues to foresee outsourced cleaning companies including technology solutions in their contract tenders to not only make the operation more efficient, but also to provide valuable data and enable greater teamwork across departments. He said: “I am certain that contracts will be won only if a company is using technology. There is greater transparency; data does not lie!” AI will also assist with budgeting for preventive maintenance, with systems that integrate to each other. Budgets can be made to allow for preventive maintenance tasks according to usage figures and not simply for a calendar year, further enhancing the cost benefit.

Cost vs benefit
A study done by Cornell University some years ago reported that a 1% in reputation score led to a 1.42% in Revenue Per Available Room (RevPAR). Digitalisation not only helps businesses be more efficient, it also helps them understand their patrons, giving customers the safety, security and peace of mind they desire, as well as personalised service. “In my view”, said Poppe, “That can only lead to a better guest satisfaction report and therefore a higher ADR, more repeat business and more revenue.”

Contactless technology
According to a survey conducted among service professionals in the US at the height of the pandemic, more than 75% of facility managers who responded said that health and safety was a major operational concern. Said Poppe: “Safety and security are fast becoming a top reason why guests stay/work at a particular brand for example, and contactless technology helps achieve this.” Across the world, contactless technology is being encouraged. Said Poppe: “In Singapore, for example, there are government grants for companies to install technology to digitalise the workforce. Solutions are spread across three categories: front-end such as guest/customer applications with direct ordering; hardware, for example static electric sprayers and robots; and processes like housekeeping software.”

Touchless access control
These systems grant facility visitors a secure entrance method that doesn’t require interaction with numerous staff and contact with high-touch check-in surfaces. The ability to manage such a system remotely makes it possible for visitors to be granted access after authorization from a safe distance. Visitors can even pre-register, allowing them to receive important announcements or directions and complete a health check and declaration prior to arrival. Touchless technology typically relies on the cloud as opposed to network systems. This will eliminate bulky hardware at the door and at the backend, which is logistically more convenient as well as visually appealing. The alternatives to touchless tech — such as key cards — bring significant overhead costs to facilities. Access tokens are often lost, forgotten, or stolen. It takes time to replace and distribute new cards as well. Access control that uses mobile credentials and/or biometric characteristics for access can solve these issues.

Contactless visitor management systems
Traditionally, facility visitors required contact with staff for check-in or registration. Visitor management systems offer building residents and guests an efficient way to check-in or register without the added risk of contracting a virus through human contact. Hopefully, we will soon the last of the days of taking copies of identity cards, or even having to take photos of them. Will every document available in digital lockers, users can upload them on an app and have them authenticated instantly.

Introducing touchless tech in existing facilities
Automated technologies are easy to retrofit into a current space, offering quick and easy hands-free alternatives to improve hygiene and mininise the number of surfaces people come into contact with. For example, some facility managers are adding motion sensor dependent paper towel dispensers, placed near the doors, if possible. Facility managers can go the extra mile by placing waste bins and hand-sanitizer stations outside washroom doors to allow people to toss used paper towels or to quickly disinfect, without touching any device or surface.

The hands-free, foot-operated sanitiser dispensers we see everywhere may reduce the risk of transmission, but they aren’t user-friendly. A foot pedal requires people to balance on one foot while pressing the pedal with the other, a potentially awkward and dangerous situation for the elderly, or if someone suddenly
brushes past and knocks the user of balance, especially if someone suddenly enters or exits and knocks you off balance.

Before the pandemic, digitisation and going touchless were good-to-have choices. During the pandemic (and even after), they will be the norm rather than the exception. Many of the solutions that are now being hankered after were available even before the pandemic; inertia, short-sightedness and an emphasis on costs rather than benefits had slowed down their uptake, but no more. The pandemic has forced us to learn new ways to live and work together, and it is the service industry that will have to step and create an environment in which all this is possible.


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