Edge Hill University has followed up its 2013 BIFM award for in-house client team by winning the 2014 BIFM Excellence in Customer Service award for its Welcome Sunday initiative, and it's all down to its highly motivated, customer-centric FM team, says Sara Bean.
17 November 2014
When Edge Hill University won a BIFM award for the second year running, Bill Hancox, the director of FM at Edge Hill University first thought was about the effect another win would have on the FM team.
"I thought we'd have some momentum after winning last year, but what surprised me was how long it went on for and how often last year's win was spoken about," he explains. "So when it [the latest win] was announced, the first thing that went through my head was how much more motivated our people would be."
Based in the North-West and close to Liverpool and Manchester, Edge Hill is a 160-acre campus university with around 26,000 students studying a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.
Facilities management at the university is provided by a professional in-house team of more than 300 permanent members of staff delivering customer support services within seven integrated operational service teams. These comprise: business support, campus support, catering, customer service, property services, housekeeping and a new department, Edge Hill Sport. This was incorporated into FM services in April 2014 to manage the university's sports facilities, which were expanded this year to include a new £30 million sports complex.
Although the 2013 win was in recognition of Edge Hill's commitment to high standards of service excellence in the very competitive higher education sector, this year the BIFM awards judges were impressed by a key initiative known as 'Welcome Sunday.'
Described as probably the biggest day of the year for the FM team, this event not only reflects the efforts made to ensure that students and their families are given the best possible introduction to university life, but illustrates the pivotal role FM plays in the overall success of the university, which has been voted the top university in the North-West in terms of student satisfaction for a second year running.
Taking place on the last Sunday of September each year, Welcome Sunday aims to welcome the new influx of residential students into their halls of residence, complete their course enrolment and settle them in for the year ahead. In 2014 this involved some 1,950 new residents, with a further 3,950 friends and relatives visiting the campus in just one day. The initiative focuses on three key areas: residential accommodation preparation, event planning and event operations on the day itself. Unsurprisingly, it's a complex and challenging process, which Hancox says is six months in the planning and involves both the FM teams and other non-FM departments.
"One of the facilities management department's responsibilities is to coordinate other non-FM teams such as academic registry, student services, finance and IT, so we have a further coordination role. Because of the nature of FM we are very good at managing events, which is why we take the lead role with those other areas that don't report in to us."
At the first planning meeting held in April, feedback from the previous year - with comments and suggestions from staff who experienced the event 'on the ground' - are collated as 'Learning Outcomes' and recommendations for improvement are produced and discussed.
Says Hancox: "During this process all the key stakeholders come together and start to map out what the day is going to look and feel like and when we get closer to the day we put those FM leaders in charge. This means the day is treated in a very formal project management way, but still retains that 'touchy feely' flexibility because ultimately the day is not about constructing a building, but dealing with people."
Preparation does, of course, involve managing the estate, so apart from reactive maintenance and repairs, work to prepare the student accommodation begins in May each year as many of the residential students begin to vacate their accommodation, with contracts formally coming to an end in June.
Following feedback from previous years, students are requested to be present for an end-of-contract room inspection to discuss the findings and to explain the damage deposit process. To streamline the process an online booking facility has been created and since involving the students in this way the university has seen a marked reduction in student queries and complaints regarding charges against their damage deposits.
Hancox says: "Inspection is as much to protect the students in terms of the damage limitation process with deposit returns. When you've got over 2,000 bed spaces it isn't uncommon to have a room without the right chair or task light. One of the positives of the inspection is that we can help make sure that what we have said is in there, is actually there and meets the needs of the individual."
The streamlining of the inspection process also helps to ensure that the FM team can concentrate on the next part of the process, the maintenance, decoration and repairs programme, which must be completed over the summer in time for the September intake - despite many of the rooms still being occupied by conference guests and international students.
In order to make sure that everything runs smoothly, the FM team has devised a large-scale event plan that begins with understanding the requirements of the day and the movement of visitors - from arrival through enrolment to moving in.
All this comes together on the day itself when several core teams within FM work together, some of whom work in areas that are not their substantive roles, to manage everything from temporary signage to traffic flow and transport links. And by mapping the 'customer journey' and analysing feedback from students, their families and Edge Hill staff, the FM team have been able to identify a variety of ways to improve customer satisfaction.
This includes improved traffic flow and signage, welcome points and a buggy shuttle service with the provision of radios to all the staff that are monitored and coordinated from a Radio Control room to ensure that assistance is provided where needed. Other improvements include a greater range of hospitality for families within the residential accommodation areas and additional safe luggage stores scattered around the campus instead of in just one central place.
The FM team is also responding to the requests of the digital generation. Hancox explains: "Although the information that is provided to students is in hard copy format, and they've told us they find the settling in and induction packs really helpful, what they've asked for next year is for a digital post in the halls that would take them to a link for the key documentation."
Feedback from students and their parents on the event has been incredibly positive. One parent told Hancox that she'd encourage her younger two children to join their older sister at the university on the strength of the welcome they'd received there.
More official recognition on the level of customer case has included the student satisfaction accolade as well as a Customer Service Excellence (CSE) Award.
The event also makes great business sense, with the total cost to run (including staffing and resources) equating to circa £25,000 - a spend equivalent to less than £15 for each student. Accounting for the average total annual spend of £13,000 for each student (tuition fees and rental), this equates to a cost of only 0.1 per cent - an incredible return on investment in terms of customer experience.
Hancox says: "The board of governors recognise that the estates infrastructure is part of the Edge Hill experience and we've got the evidence that when people set foot on the campus they feel safe, secure and that it's like home. My senior management team know that this is part of the recruitment and retention strategy to have a fantastic campus with fantastic facilities."
He adds: "In too many organisations FM is seen as the caretaker, not seen or heard but just to get things done - here it is part of a marketing package."
The success of Welcome Sunday is due entirely to the commitment of the FM team who are in turn motivated and empowered throughout the year by the objectives set out in the FM Vision 2015, which aligns the development and delivery of a dynamic and responsible FM service to the core business of Edge Hill University. The document has been compiled using feedback from a variety of stakeholders, not least, the people at the 'front line'.
Hancox says: "The most exciting part is when we dig into the values - the team have exploded these into a working document called 'The FM way,' which is positive and supportive and about the values we live with every day."
But with yet another major award under its belt, the FM team at Edge Hill is not being complacent. According to Hancox, the development of its people is of key importance.
He says: "I want the people on the front line to feel as if they've got the potential to be the next director of FM, as I want us to be known for developing our people while demonstrating how we can make FM count at a strategic level."
As for winning a prestigious BIFM award for the second year running, Hancox says: "Facilities management is fundamentally about people and when you've got to try and motivate, encourage and develop 300 people, it's no mean feat.
"So this latest win is absolutely amazing and I think you can appreciate that we are absolutely delighted."