Techniques To Survive An Economic Storm
Nearly every day we are barraged by challenging economic news.
There are over six million unemployed people; people are being laid off; factories are downsizing or closing; and facilities managers and individual service providers are tightening their belts and hunkering down to weather the storm.
In It Together
Likewise, building service contractors (BSCs) and JanSan distributors are not only having to tighten their belts, they are also finding out that they have to work harder to gain new customers or retain old clients.
The bottom line is that it does not matter if you are an in-house service provider (ISP), a BSC or a JanSan distributor, the entire industry is facing similar challenges and fighting to survive during the current economic storm.
Overall, all sectors of the JanSan industry are feeling the pinch.
Survival for all sectors will be dependent on implementing proactive strategies today.
The key will be to remember the strategies we implemented and not to forget to apply them on a continual basis in both rough and smooth times.
Recently, we had the opportunity to conduct a literature review of the top reasons businesses fail.
Literally hundreds of reasons were cited and not all may be valid for all sectors or types of businesses.
However, there were several factors that kept repeating over and over again that could have an impact on the way that we do business — now and tomorrow — and how we survive in the future.
The following is a summary — not in any order of priority — of some of the repeating reasons for business failure:
- Poor planning
- Time management
- Failure to follow-up
- Ineffective sales performance and failure to market effectively
- Concentrating on short-term profits rather than long-term gains — one source listed this as the greed factor
- Inability to adapt to change
- Decreasing or poor customer service
- An attitude of indifference.
There are many more; however, this list provides some of the issues that we all can address today so that jointly we can survive tomorrow.
What should facilities professionals and JanSan distributors do to earn new business or retain existing business? Remember, this equally applies to in-house operations, outsourced operations and JanSan providers.
We all have a customer base to serve and the following techniques apply to all of us.
The first three reasons cited in our business failure list are: Poor planning; time management; and procrastination.
Today, we need to prepare and plan better for tomorrow and not rest on the laurels of just the good times.
The elements of time management and procrastination indicate that we need to concentrate on what is truly important — the provision of supplies and services to our stakeholders.
For instance, we may say that we are going to deliver a service like stripping floors or provide supplies such as floor stripper.
But, is it planned so the stripping process is least disruptive to the customer or when it is convenient for us?
Is the floor stripper delivered on time, to the right location and in working order?
The critical element in this whole process is planning to provide the stakeholder the level of service that he or she expects, regardless of our own paradigms of planning.
We need to put ourselves in the customer''s shoes.
Cut The Excuses
When times get tight, it seems that excuses abound.
It is when times get tight that our customers also have their backs against the wall and certainly do not want to hear excuses.
The best exercise that an ISP, BSC or distributor can demonstrate is to under-promise and over-deliver.
Analyze your resources and align the resources in such a manner that services are provided that exceed customer expectations, all of the time.
The secret to ongoing business success is the repeat customer.
Retaining customers in times of pain will reap rich dividends when the marketplace changes.
One of the greatest pitfalls for providers of facilities services and supplies is to assume that what we have planned will be completed in a timely, cost-effective and efficient manner.
The only way to find out the customer''s level of satisfaction is to ask — follow-up, follow-up and follow-up at all levels.
Case in point, a large commercial gym floor maintenance company won an award to refinish a gym floor.
This opportunity was passed down to the distributor who then sub-contracted to a local wood floor operator.
The school that requested the service expected the level of professionalism that was demonstrated from the national level.
However, on the floor, the work was far from satisfactory.
The large floor company representative never followed-up and it is more than likely they will not be given the business again.
We are all in the sales business, selling our services and products to our customers.
Too often, there is a disparity between what is in the portfolio, what is said and what is actually delivered.
Recently, an institution sought to outsource its custodial operation.
As part of that process, site visits were made to accounts of companies that had submitted proposals.
All stated that they had glowing training and quality assurance programs; however, once the site visits were conducted, there was a huge gap between the glitz in the portfolio and the gloom of poor training and quality assurance on the jobsite.
The message did not match the reality.
During tight economic times, we need to ensure that our message is consistent with our levels of service, no matter which component of the JanSan industry we represent.
Concentrate On The Long-haul
During the past several months, service companies have surfaced with aggressive marketing campaigns.
Many of the companies offer short-term deals that are usually too good to be true.
But, these companies have to understand that customers build up a loyalty with companies that will provide goods and services during the good and the bad times.
First, the key here is to understand that the provision of a service or product is relational.
Also, the bridges have to be built with people.
This takes time and effort so that the discussion of products and services can follow.
Adapt To Change
Far too many in-house providers continue to provide custodial services using the equipment and processes of the past.
This has been noted with BSCs as well.
The successful operation will utilize cutting-edge technology to provide efficient and cost-effective services.
In an environment where we are being asked to do more with less, the survivors will be the companies and organizations that change now.
Gone are the days of the traditional mop and wringer.
Sophisticated microfiber products and touchless cleaning systems are now mainstays that are advancing the industry.
It seems that too often, during tight economic times, one of the first divisions to face some cutbacks is the customer service department, closely followed by the training department.
Both of these services are critical during tight times.
Customers have limited resources and are looking for service providers that offer quality products and services.
You may notice that some large retailers'' customer service departments are shrinking, causing subsequent long lines, and interestingly, some are not enjoying success in the stock market.
If you are considering saving money by cutting your customer service department, be aware that you could be at risk.
During tight times, all segments of the industry need to empower and expect customer service departments to excel.
An attitude of indifference is probably the killer symptom.
Too often, we expect our customers to use our services or products just because they did before, without providing consistent follow-up and customer service.
We expect the business because we had it before, we''ll have it today and it will be there for us tomorrow.
Far too many K-12 school, college and university facilities management divisions are reaping the tragedies of this strategy — they have been outsourced.
Likewise, BSCs have lost accounts because of indifference.
The paradigm is changing from "what was good yesterday will be good for tomorrow," to "whatever was good yesterday is not necessarily good for tomorrow as we are expecting more for less."
What can we do to enable our customers'' success?
The answer to this question is the determinant of the success of our businesses.
The ability of our companies and organizations to survive tight economic times is very much in our hands.
Alan S. Bigger, B.S., M.A., R.E.H. and APPA Fellow, is a retired facilities manager. Linda B. Bigger, B.A., B.S., is a freelance editor. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.