The Workplace Management Framework – Client Relationship Management

In the previous blog we started out by talking about the Workplace Management function as a sort of business within a business, recognising clients and consumers. Well in this blog we’re going to pursue this idea further.

The Battle for Brains

As I write it’s clear that in many industries the war to retain the best employees and recruit new ones is raging. The experience people have in the workplace is turning out to be a contributing factor in whether they join, leave or stay motivated. When all’s said and done, in the end, the workplace experience is a powerful manifestation of the way in which an organisation views it’s people, and in the world of knowledge work, sentiment matters because great, motivated people can change business fortunes, demotivated people can just turn up, do their least and take the money.

So, going back to the last blog… we’re running our Workplace Management business and we’ve got consumers (the people that every day consume the workplace experience) and clients (the people at the top of the tree that pay the bill and agree the service), and of course clients are consumers also with particular needs. There are different sorts of clients too. The Finance Director will have one thing on his mind… yes you guessed it… Money. The local General Manager of a significant business unit will clearly have a broader set of issues:

  • What is our workplace saying to our clients?
  • Is it creating the image we need to aid our sales and marketing?
  • Are we located in the right place to help us develop relationships with partners and clients?
  • How well is our workplace experience working for recruitment of the right talent?

But they are all clients and often we’re having to recognise multiple clients with different interests and personalities (just like in a real business).

Understanding your Workplace ‘Consumer’ Population

Retaining consumers in real businesses (like in the retail sector for example) requires a solid understanding of the different consumer groups that shop with us (or we’d like to have shop with us), their needs and their desires; and then providing services that deliver a bit more for a bit less in line with unsatisfied needs. To do this, we’d, first, ‘segment’ the population to try to discern specific unsatisfied needs related to homogeneous clusters of people and then we’d look at what services we could provide that would satisfy those unsatisfied needs.

Segmentation is a term used in marketing a lot. It really means to find clusters of people with similar needs and we can use the same technique in the workplace. So as an example an organisation might deliberately seek to hire and retain women starting young families as a ‘segment’. They might construct flexible hours arrangements for them, allow home working, provide a creche, for the expectant mother, provide easy parking, special rest rooms and so on. The aim here would be to go out of your way to provide a great experience that would satisfy their needs, make them feel loved and make it difficult for them to leave (all other things being equal).

The more we can match the workplace experience to the individual’s needs, the more ‘delight’ we create and the more difficult it will be for other organisations to recruit them with ‘just money’. Add to this, if an organisation really ‘loves’ it’s people, then why wouldn’t they go out of their way to meet and surpass their needs and create a hassle-free delightful experience, making their lives better.

In an organisation there are lots of ‘clusters’ of people who have different interests, lifestyles and needs and aspirations. For instance, people who like to exercise, people who like to walk, people who like to drink and socialise, people of different ages, genders, lifestyle interests, food allergies and desires and needs and so on. I wonder how much you know about your workplace consumers in your own organisation? In general, I’m generally amazed at how little most organisations know about their people as people. Mostly, companies think of their people as ‘resources’… now we’ve got to respect them as people with real needs and real feelings if we are going to create workplace experiences that delight them and help us attract and retain the best talent needed to deliver our organisations business.

Knowing Clients

There is also clearly a link between clients and consumers because the decisions made by clients have an impact on consumers and the perceptions and feelings of consumers soon become very quickly known to ‘clients’!

For instance, if a senior leader (a client) decides to cut the budget on say something like catering, taking away free coffee or fruit for instance, that may have an effect on morale and what is known as ‘discretionary energy’ far greater than the cost saving it achieved. It demonstrates a lack of love, but of course ‘love’ doesn’t currently sit on any leader’s P/L or balance sheet – but it should! The best way to demoralise a workforce is to take away something like a free Xmas Lunch. But clients tend to control the purse strings and so their influence and the management of their decisions is key.

Clients are an interesting group too. They have their own personal needs of course, but they also have other business needs like governance and reporting. But they also have visibility of business changes or issues that may impact upon space, technology or Workplace Management. For instance, mergers, acquisitions, business growth, downsizing, changes in technology, process or personnel all drive potential workplace needs and changes. So, it’s pretty important that Workplace Managers develop trusting, respectful and open relationships with ‘clients’ in order to be taken into their confidence so that intelligence about strategy can be understood and the implications for headcount, workplace infrastructure and the workplace experience are understood.

The need to build those warm relationships with client’s needs to be systematically managed, not reactive based on the latest crisis. Time needs to be devoted for regular coffees, building and maintaining the relationship, creating empathy and trust and managing that on an ongoing basis. It’s helpful if you can get beyond the veneer of business talk to get to know your clients. Where do they live, where did they work before, who do they know, do they have families, what are their interests, hobbies, which football teams do they support etc.

Workplace User and Client Intelligence Database

Keeping a track on how your consumers and clients are feeling about your services and team is also pretty important if you plan to remain their preferred provider of services. To do this you need to do the usual things… regular timetabled meetings with clients, employee ‘consumer’ survey and so on. But increasingly there’s a need to create an intelligence database that takes feeds from your FM and IT helpdesks, employee opinion surveys, takes feeds from instant intelligence from supply chain partners on incidents and conversations, records your meetings with leaders, connects with survey stats and links to workplace utilisation sensors that explain how the workplace is working for the client’s people. The aim of the game is to be totally on top of what’s going on in the minds of clients and consumers, pre-empt failure and evolve services in an innovative manner that genuinely delight current and future consumers. It’s important that service providers are included in this feedback, not as individual contributors and partners in the ‘experience’ team.

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In Summary…

To sum up, in the world of Workplace management you’ve got to recognise ‘clients’ and ‘consumers’ in the same way you would if you were a real business, understand the different segments you are dealing with and create mechanisms to get to understand how they are feeling, think and what they need (almost before they do) and continually do things to innovate to enhance the experience they are having. And by the way, this doesn’t means spending lots of money. By truly understanding clients and consumers you can find ways to delight without spending a huge amount of money… In some cases where clients are ‘over-serviced’ i.e. they are being provided with things that are of low value to them, these can be swapped out. But always be careful about what new services and experiences you provide… because in bad times you may need to remove them, which can destroy morale in a way in which you’d never believe at a time when you and your organisation least need it.