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17 January 2019
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The end user becomes the customer

3 June 2014  

We had an interesting conversation when our four regular diarists came calling recently.

As well as unearthing a few significant contrasts between how FM is delivered in local authority, healthcare and education environments, our discussion was perhaps more notable for the many common trends that we were able to highlight across those verticals: Clearer, centralised procurement structures; the combining and rationalising of the FM service with other like-minded local organisations sharing similar goals; and the value of more autonomous working for mid-level FM professionals. 

These were far from the only areas of commonality, and we left our discussion with a sense that there was plenty of positive change for FMs to feel good about. You can read more of what they had to say in our feature.

One aspect stayed with me in particular, and that’s the impact on FM of a working environment in which the end customer has a personal and financially measurable interest in the facilities services that they receive. 

Simon Francis of the University of the Arts London pointed out how his organisation’s focus on the student experience now colours all of the university’s decision-making.

“Everything we do is gauged on its impact on the student,” he told us, “particularly now that students are paying their £9,000 a year. The students really do see themselves as the customers now. It’s all changed rapidly in the past few years.”

Like many similar educational establishments, the University of the Arts is now taking as much control as it possibly can over the FM service (and indeed the facilities themselves – it intends to build its own halls of residence rather than pay others to provide them). FM is obviously far from the only component in those £9,000 a year fees, but it is most certainly an important one, and students have clearly become increasingly aware of it.

Would that every end-user customer had a directly measurable connection between the facilities service they receive and the cost of its provision. Perhaps that’s where we’re headed? Imagine if individual office workers had a personalised annual figure on the service that they individually contribute towards printed on their salary slips – they might just take a more personalised interest in what that service comprises, and indeed those who provide the service to them.

It may get messy at first – Simon Francis talks about a “more militant” student population – but the prize would be FM’s elevation to the highest level of management when, as with universities, boards begin to react as end-user customers flex their muscles over ‘ownership’ of the FM service.

Of course, there’s another positive byproduct from what’s happening in universities; young minds (and old) are not just coming back with degrees, they’re then entering the workplace with a more mature appreciation of what good FM provision should be and the part it plays in their productivity.

It’s all a far cry from the 1980s, when adequate facilities provision in universities came down to a kettle for the pot noodles and, if you were really lucky, a futon.

Martin Read is managing editor at FM World