4 November 2014
It's not just a potato - it's an experience!"
Thus spoke BBC Apprentice candidate Steven Ugoalah before his entirely predictable elimination from "the process" this year. In an excruciatingly risible scene, Ugoalah attempted to justify the price of an expensive sack of spuds in front of catering professionals. He was doomed from that point, of course. But then, what do you do with someone who says "If I went to Mars right now, I'd find a way to be excellent"?
To be fair to Ugoalah, a potato is technically an 'experience' in the way that everything from initial to terminal breath is an experience. But when we're speaking about what an 'experience' means in terms of a business relationship, the key element is surely the end product - what the end-user actually experiences of the service, and how they feel about it. (Not long ago this would have been bracketed under the measurement of 'outcomes' rather than 'outputs'.)
And now, step forward Sodexo's Neil Murray and ITV's Ian Jones, two people who have clearly given the subject of stakeholder and customer 'experience' in FM a lot of thought over recent weeks. Responding to Murray's use of the term at a recent networking event, Jones has written a passionate appeal for service level agreements to be replaced by 'experience level agreements'. (I wouldn't normally do this from the middle of the comment column, but you may wish to turn to No 2 Days (p.46, FM World 6 November issue) straight away to read his letter)
When you distil it, Jones's case is that SLAs - and their evil minions, KPIs - have the corrosive effect of preventing others from suggesting radical new ways of supplying facilities services. SLAs and KPIs make the measurement of contractual relationships a series of stultifying tick-box exercises. The opinion that they can be restrictive and stifling is one with which plenty of FM professionals already agree.
By contrast, an experience level agreement - ELA - is about agreeing "what you are going to feel and how it's going to make you feel". And it's not just in terms of the client's perception of the service, suggests Jones. Thinking ELA rather than SLA changes how facilities team members view and value the work they do. "If you start to talk to your people in terms of the experience they are creating for their customers, it becomes dynamic. Being 'experience providers' rather than 'service providers' can potentially be genuinely uplifting in terms of esteem."
That the measurement of a facilities service 'experience' would be undoubtedly more subjective when compared with the (theoretically) more empirical world of KPIs is clearly an issue here. But the link to the end-user's broader appreciation of the cleanliness, timeliness, security, tastiness, warmth, comfort or, indeed, any other factor relating to their productivity or general happiness within a given facility is surely a good one. It suggests a more rounded appreciation of the service provided, allowing any radical ideas for a change in service provision to be measured in a less onerous, complicated fashion.
Could a switch to experience-led measurement lead to dramatic change in how clients and service providers alike assess their roles? It's an interesting debate, and we'd very much welcome your views ([email protected]).
Martin Read is managing editor at FM World