The importance of customer service in the FM sector
Biju Nair, head of Customer Experience & Service Strategy at Ejadah Asset Management Group, explains why providing good customer service is essential in the FM sector
There is a quote from Steve Jobs that goes, Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.
Biju Nair, head of Customer Experience & Service Strategy at Ejadah Asset Management Group, told Facilities Management Middle East, that he lives by this quote.
Customer service is something which is often overlooked, especially in the FM industry.
Nair admits that Ejadah too had not prioritised customer care back in 2016. He said: “Somewhere in 2016, customer orientation was a bit out of focus and the firm was facing challenges. That’s when, under the new management of Ejadah CEO Hussain Ali, there was the vision of introducing ‘customer centricity’ as one of the key pillars of the organisation.”
Nair, who previously worked with Vodafone in India, joined Ejadah in 2017, and took over the responsibility of building a customer-centric strategy at Ejadah. He said: “When I came to Ejadah, we only had a small contact centre, which was a helpdesk. Our entire journey involved in reframing the orientation of the organisation into becoming more customer-focused; to move closer to our clients and customers.”
Earlier, the helpdesk’s role was simply answering calls, registering service requests, handing over to operations and ensuring the requests were done. Nair and his team decided to format this particular vertical into a customer experience centre, which essentially took two years. “We transformed from a contact centre to a customer experience center,” Nair said proudly.
Ejadah is divided into three main verticals called Idama, Arkan and Shabaka. Idama is the FM arm that provides facility management services ranging from soft services to hard services. Arkan is the security arm of the firm that provides total security solutions such as manguard services, security systems, and car park management. The third vertical Shabaka is the unit services arm that is similar to Idama.
Nair’s team focuses on Idama, which is the firm’s key business. Talking about how they went about creating a customer experience centre, he says: “We introduced something called as the VOC process or voice of the customer. Initially, of the total service requests which were registered under us, only about 25% of it would be surveyed. We wanted to expand this process into a higher window. If possible, a 360 degree coverage to the entire customer base. This is what VOC is about.”
Within Idama, there is both B2B and B2C and Nair wanted to first touch base with the former. “We wanted to understand what exactly we were lacking, and how we can improve ourselves. Our process as a team was to basically drill down into this VOC process. But for me to do that I wanted to gear up my team which had around 17 agents. My first process started with sitting with them and understanding how capable they were. The agents had a tenure of more than five years. I had to sit down with them individually and understand as to what level they could be geared up to. I selected three people who could manage some verticals. We launched three verticals: one was operations which completely looks into the operational matrices; second was quality analytics; and the third was training.
“We identified the right people for these three verticals.”
Nair’s exercise was to take them along with him and build their capability so that they could work as a well-oiled machine. Rather than just answering calls, they were also trained on developing other multifaceted activities. He said: “A couple of agents became trainers, and a few of them focused on becoming client-result-oriented people. Customer centricity is something which you can drive in two ways. One is as a business strategy, where it becomes a KPI. The other is when it is driven as a culture. If you drive it as a KPI, it might stand for some time. But if you drive it as a culture, it is more effective.”
After the team was structured, it started the process of carrying out customer satisfaction surveys. Nair said: “We started having client interactions, which meant meeting up with them. There was a questionnaire sheet, which goes along with the client interviews and interactions. We started receiving certain feedbacks, which was a laundry list for us.”
The firm then launched forums to address the concerns. They formulated something called as the pain point meeting. Nair elaborated on the process: “Every month, we have pain point meetings, which is a summary feedback of operations of different sites. Whoever is responsible for that site will be present for that meeting. Then, we have something called as a scheduler. Every matter we discussed under pain point meetings, we would have a timeframe of revert, action, and closing. Now once this is done as a process, it will be reverted back to the client. The next time meet up a client, we ask them to evaluate us based on the action we have taken. We started measuring it on a metric called as NPS or Net Promoter Score, which would have a single question, Would you recommend Idama to your clients or business colleagues?”
Idama’s initial NPS score in 2017 was 54 out of 100 and it moved to 72 in 2019.
Nair pointed out that the other important aspect for good customer experience was having clear communication. Giving an example, he said: “We found a huge gap in communication between the technician and the customer, either because of language constraints or because the technician was shy. This is where training comes in handy.
“Grooming too is important for us. Soft services is about presentation; how he looks, how he does the job, how he interacts with the clients. We slowly started grooming team members right from the bottom to the top. Tarek Nizameddin, who is the Sr. executive director at Ejadah Asset Management Group, also had a vision to introduce small snippet videos. We created small videos of do’s and don’ts.
“We also started induction process right from the time people joined. We have a heavy intake of employees every month who come from different cultures.”
Nair said that the primary intention was to frame the entire customer journey. He said: “Earlier, there was only a questionnaire where satisfaction was checked. But later, we started charting the entire experience at different levels, right from bidding stage till the level when customer is active on the system. We got inputs from customers in areas where we need to improve. We started doing customer centricity workshops with the concerned department. There are certain levels at which cross functional teams also come into play. So a group workshop was done.”
All the above efforts reaped awards for Ejadah at the Gulf Customer Experience Awards.
The firm bagged two awards at the Gulf Customer Experience Awards (GCXA) 2020 ceremony held on 18 February 2020.
The first of these awards was ‘Employees at the heart of everything’ that went to Ejadah for its success in enhancing its employee experience. This stems from the firm's principle that great employee experience, which is based on employee-centricity in the workplace, leads to great customer experience; this in-turn translates to delivering outstanding bottom line.
The second award, ‘Contact Centre of the year’ was for making its contact centre highly efficient and industry leading in delivering exceptional service to customers.
Nair explained that there are was also an upgrade of systems done for the agents in-house.
Earlier, the agents only used a headphone and was toggling among multiple systems as Idama, Arkan and Shabaka were on different platforms. He said: “Every time when a call would come in, the agent would toggle between systems. In addition, it was purely voice-based. I wanted to expand the customer experience across the organisation. I wanted to empower my team members with technology as well as knowledge. We revamped the systems completely. We introduced something called as Genesis, which is an omnichannel contact centre platform. It’s a single screen and it can fetch data from anywhere and can throw to an agent.”
The firm additionally moved from voice to digital by adopting chat messaging systems. The next 2020 vision for the firm is to automate 50% of the job that the agent is currently handling. “Through automation, the agent can be productively utilised for other things. With our current implementations, the agent’s productivity improved significantly. Earlier he would attend somewhere around 30 to 40 calls per day. Today, he is able to attend to around 70 calls. Speed of answering has improved as the information is already there,” Nair said.
Importance of customer support
The Ejadah management was supportive in the entire transformation process, Nair highlighted.
He added that the FM industry in general has not factored customer experience as one of its key priorities.
Nair concluded: “FM sector is always looking at profitability and the renewal of contracts. However, in the current market scenario, there are huge fluctuations in the economy and FM industry. Just because there are buildings everywhere that does not mean that you can survive without quality. Customer experience is something which you cannot ignore. We need invest more time to understand and speak to our customers.”