Open-access content Monday 11th November 2013
In recognising that their students are customers and providing a hotel-style service aligned to the overall university vision, the facilities management team at Edge Hill University has won the 2013 BIFM 'In-house client team of the year' award for their excellent service delivery .
11 November 2013
When the Edge Hill University facilities management team received the BIFM trophy for in-house team of the year, it was not only in recognition of the high standards of service excellence displayed by the enthusiastic FM team, but the key role facilities has played in helping Edge Hill move up the higher education rankings table from 95th place to 84th in just a year.
Universities must now compete to attract choosier students, who expect to pay £9,000 a year in tuition fees. Allied to this, the Government sets universities annual student recruitment targets which must be achieved each year within very narrow margins.
The penalty for missing recruitment targets is severe, resulting in loss of Government funding not only in the current financial year, but also in subsequent years. As a result it is crucial that Edge Hill offers its 26,000 students - and 4,000 staff - an outstanding customer experience, and its 300-strong in-house facilities management team play an integral role in that strategy.
Bill Hancox, director of FM at Edge Hill, tells FM World: "Our customer market approach may seem unusual for a higher educational establishment, but within the context of Edge Hill it is not that extreme, as universities are operating in a highly competitive marketplace in an environment that is facing unprecedented economic and political challenges."
Learning to manage
Like the HE sector, Edge Hill University has made some big changes in a relatively short period. Over the past five years, the main 160-acre campus has gone through an extensive capital development programme with a range of new campus improvements, including new accommodation halls and a brand-new £13.5 million Student Hub, all of which were commissioned and handed over to FM (previously Estates) within tight timescales, ready for September occupation, for five years in succession.
Aligned with the building programme it was decided to amalgamate three separate teams: estates, campus services and student services. Hancox was recruited in 2010 from a predominately private sector background, including Otis, Nissan and Kodak, to "help harness the potential of these previously disparate groups; focus the mind to the reality of customer service and lead it all into one".
He says: "Over the last ten years [the campus] has been transformed from a reasonably good estate to an excellent estate offering a lot of brand-new buildings and new facilities; but alongside that I would add the caveat that we may all have been to excellent hotels, but if the staff aren't great it's not a good experience, so it's essential that our FM customer service is also outstanding."
The facilities management team covers six integrated service areas, which are:
- Business Support: Covering health, safety and environmental management, central administration, print room services, quality management and financial control.
- Campus Support: Including 24-hour security, access control, emergency response, CCTV, business continuity, parking, mailroom, deliveries, space management.
- Catering Services: Restaurant and vending services across eight outlets on campus including a branded coffee shop outlet, internal hospitality services, commercial conferences and events.
- Customer Services: With a 24/7 FM helpdesk, main reception, switchboard, customer liaison, conference and event management and customer information.
- Housekeeping Services: Includes cleaning (residential and non-residential), hygiene services, washroom supplies, waste management and recycling.
- Property Services: Estate and property management, planned and reactive maintenance, compliance, grounds and landscaping, construction management (refurbishment, alteration and improvement), space planning, carbon reduction and energy management.
All of these services are self-delivered, aside from the use of supplementary contract workers during peak periods of activity.
Hancox says: "We describe ourselves as an in-house resource. I can see that in some contexts outsourcing works, but you've got to do it with the right information and the right reasons, and if you invest equally as much time in the people of an in-house team, you will ultimately get the results."
Student life cycle
One of the biggest events for the FM team is "Welcome Sunday", which takes place each September, when students move in to their Halls of Residence. On that day approximately 5,000 people visit the campus - where a golf buggy and trailer shuttle service is laid on to assist students whose halls are not in close proximity to parking.
While that initiative is noted for creating a buzz, it's by no means the only major point of contact between facilities and the student body. Realising the importance of aligning facilities to the university's wider business goals, Hancox and his team have mapped the student journey through the university - looking specifically at how FM services impact on the student life cycle, before, during and after their time at the university.
Hancox says: "FM is considered an integral part of the university experience - and this is a view that's shared by the university board of governors. But what was quite sobering for us was when we decided to map out that student journey, and could see where we actually touch the student experience, and that way we can determine our spheres of influence.
"When we started to write it down we were gobsmacked at how many areas [there were where] we touched on the student experience. You wow them on open days, Welcome Sunday, Freshers' Week, you look after them during their time here and then to graduation and alumni. When we mapped it out we could see that we're not caretakers, we are the people who add value to the business, and more importantly we add value to the student experience."
The FM team's focus on customer services has also brought other, sustainability benefits. For example, by replacing LED lighting and lighting control schemes across campus, annual energy savings of £66,000 were made; the installation of additional thermostatic radiator valves in various locations have provided an annual energy saving of £4,000; and a campaign to reduce energy waste over Christmas 2012 resulted in a 5.3 per cent reduction in usage compared to 2011.
Hancox explains: "Most of our customer service improvements haven't incurred any more costs whatsoever, because they're mainly about people and behaviours. We have an informal motto that we should be able to get more for the same amount of money.
"For example, our waste management contract was a big, unwieldy contract, and it's a subject close to the students' heart, as they're very environmentally focused. We restructured and retendered the contract with the primary objective of improving the recycling rates, but this was also done in such an efficient manner that we were making greater savings of £6,000 a month.
"It's a virtuous circle. If you start changing things for the right reasons, other benefits follow."
An important part of Edge Hill facilities' continued success is in measuring feedback from customers, and although this is achieved in a number of ways, the most direct feedback comes from the students' direct 24/7 access to the FM helpdesk. Hancox argues that this differs from many other academic institutions' facilities departments, which often prefer to take an arms-length approach, by relying on hall-nominated representatives to feed back any complaints or requests from students.
Hancox says: "The fear is you'll create work - but by offering a helpdesk service, what we're doing is improving the timeliness of our approach and improving customer satisfaction."
Aside from helpdesk feedback, the FM team also conducts annual surveys, and "invites students in to tell us what they think is great, not so great and what we should be doing to improve matters".
To help ensure FM services continues to remain aligned to the core strategy of the university, a written document, FM Vision 2015, was drawn up, which sets out the ways in which "FM will be pivotal in the provision of an outstanding student experience".
The document was compiled by using feedback from the university board, staff and students, as well as intelligence from the FM team to help set the agenda and direction for the FM department. It is also embedded into every stage of each individual team member's life cycle; covering recruitment and selection, induction and probation, training and development, and performance review. This way, the FM staff can chart their individual progress within the organisation.
Hancox tells us: "It's a very simple A4 document, which captures the essence of what FM is as a whole. It includes performance objectives and it's meaningful, so that our people can measure where they are on their journey. We have a responsibility as managers to develop our successors and to develop the people who will replace us."
He adds that for the future he'd like to establish ways of ensuring wider recognition for individual [FM] team members and identifying high performers.
One of the key challenges of the FM Vision 2015 is for the in-house team to be "externally recognised for our commitment to customer service and our positive contribution to the business". The team has already achieved that goal, receiving a Customer Service Excellence (CSE) standard in November 2012 and becoming only the second university in the country to receive a Green Flag award in July of last year for maintaining an attractive and welcoming campus.
It has now added a coveted BIFM award to its successes, with the BIFM judges' recognition that the FM team at Edge Hill's "commitment to the vision strategy and executives of the university was outstanding, making them a worthy winner".