The Saudi Experience: How important is facilities management to customer happiness?
Facilities management is the best well-kept secret to great customer experience. That was, until the pandemic hit last year.
Think of the customer experience of any facility, a mall, an office building, or attending a nation-wide event such as Riyadh Season, as taking place on two stages much like a theatre performance: –Front stage, the bit you see and interact with – like the receptionist at the office building, a visitor ambassador at an event or even the physical spaces you move through. Backstage – the things you usually don’t see, or engage directly with, but have a big impact on how good your experience is.
As COVID-19 swept across the globe, the services delivered by facilities management teams in every building, train station, mall, airport, etc. suddenly became highly noticeable.
From continuously sanitising facilities, to ensuring that people are following safety procedures such as social distancing and always wearing masks, facilities service providers played a key role. We all started caring about seeing these services in action. They made us feel safe. And if we never spent much time thinking about them before, we’re more likely than ever to notice if they are not there.
The impact of many FM services on customer experience often goes unacknowledged – until something goes wrong. The AC is not working, now visitors and staff alike complain about the heat. Spaces are untidy or dirty – cue more complaints. A water pump breaks down and needs costly repairs because routine maintenance has not been carried out when it needed to – now the business must find money for emergency repairs. Good facilities management goes mostly unnoticed because the goal is to prevent emergencies and anticipate needs before they arise.
So how can a provider deliver facilities management services that will lead to a smooth experience and customer happiness?
First impressions matter
When you have various service providers and contractors operating at once, such as Riyadh Season, or at the FIFA World Cup, it’s very important for the teams to work closely together and ensure that operations behind the scenes are running smoothly to deliver the best customer experience possible. It should feel like one team, not separate entities concerned only with ‘their individual responsibilities.’
Right people, in the right place, at the right time with the right information. It starts with a trinity of people, process, and technology. First, you need the right people in place – whether it’s the people assessing needs, developing processes and operational plans, or the people carrying out the tasks set by those plans – they need to have the right qualifications, experience the right mindset and training. Clear processes and operating procedures need to be put in place, that everyone involved need to be familiar with, understand the mission and the part they play. Finally, it’s all enabled by technology and data.
Technology plays an increasingly important role in managing facilities and ultimately in the experience facility users have. Sometimes the technology is simple – like having sensors in bathrooms to measure how many people have used it to trigger a cleaning request – or a QR code for people to report issues in a certain spot. Other times it’s more advanced like AI using cameras to monitor crowds and identify hot spots, the busiest times of the day, recurring issues such as long queues, missing signs, or even the crowd’s flow throughout the day etc. or even monitor for security threats. Such data is vital not just for the FM team, but also for the events team as it enables them to resolve any issues and ensure that visitors are comfortable and are having the best experience wherever they go.
Good facilities management takes advantage of analytics, automation, machine learning, AI, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to track and apply the data they collect to improve the customer experience.
Since everything is about providing the best experience, modern technologies can reduce the burden of going through data for insights and deliver the right solutions.
Guests walk in and expect everything to work. They don’t notice the work that goes on behind the scenes, but they do notice whether they’re getting the services they need- and expect.
Ensuring seamless journeys
Ease of access is also another major factor when it comes to facilities management. How easy is it to get to your destination? Does public transportation reach the area? Are there close parking lots for visitors? What’s the first thing guests see when they arrive? Are there wayfinding signs that help guide visitors at the location?
Good experience starts before you get there, for example being able to access information online, through websites and applications and availing all correct information and much more. This will allow guests to plan their day ahead of time, such as the places to visit, places to eat, list of special activities happening on that day, location map and much more.Wayfinding is key aspect of user experience at any facility. We can all relate to the frustration of not knowing where to go next, or where to find services or facilities. Good FM plays a role in ensuring the signage and even the space itself helps guide people in the right direction.
Keeping the user’s perspective in mind, especially at grand events such as Riyadh Season or MDLBeast Soundstorm or any other physically large festivals, directions, and signage is key to delivering an experience that is memorable for all the right reasons.
Hospitality teams that greet you, are approachable, proactive, and knowledgeable is key to ensuring world class experiences and can help recover most situations where experiences don’t go to plan. Actively looking for people who might need assistance and proactively seeking to help, instead of standing back and waiting for you to approach. To enable this, hiring the right people with the right mindset, training them on what it means to create great customer experiences through their own actions and empowering them to act is key. If you are attending Riyadh Season, which is a nation-wide festival hosting tens of different events and hundreds of thousands of visitors from Saudi and the region, notice how the guest experience teams engage visitors in a welcoming, proactive manner. Ask them a question and it’s clear they are truly knowledgeable about the festival and what’s available. A great example of how frontline teams are part of shaping great experiences and add to it even when you don’t need their help.
And never forget that last impressions are as important as first. Just think of the stress of trying to pay at a restaurant when you’re in a hurry to leave, but the waiter has lost interest in your table as your meal is done.
Even amazing experiences can be ruined at the last moment. Just think of the last time you sat in a restaurant trying in vain to get the attention of the waiter so you can pay for your meal, only to get ignored for ages. How did you feel about the restaurant at that point?
Delivering efficiency & reducing costs
Taking a step back, it’s important to note that outsourcing facilities management from the private sector delivers both efficiency and cost saving since private companies have the capability of scaling up and down, depending on the size of the project and resources required.
As the Saudi government adapts to the new economic realities of emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, outsourcing in the public sector services is only becoming more relevant and vital. It offers both cost efficiencies & improved, more flexible services to the public, so at a time when governments need to tighten spending, it is a critical moment for the country to drive forward with outsourcing projects.
KSA Country Director & Senior Design Strategy Consultant at ExperienceLab KSA Mona Althagafi & Nawara Al Osaimi
Mona Althagafi brings over 20+ years of local KSA experience. Her appointment to this role follows her previous position at the Ministry of Communications and Technology in Riyadh where she succesfully led the planning of the Smart Government Strategy as well as the planning and execution of the e-government programm strategy, in line with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030.
Nawara utilises her background in user experience design to enhance the overall citizen experience in alignment with the Kingdom’s 2030 vision, focusing on tourism, experience and enhancing the entertainment sector, with KSA witnessing vast transformation.