Monitoring Quality Assurance
Evaluating the quality of exterior service across a national portfolio
For companies with numerous locations in a regional or national footprint, monitoring consistency and quality assurance across sites can be a daunting task. In some circumstances, exterior maintenance is left up to the district or regional facility manager who then typically places service responsibility in the hands of an in-house team or a local contractor. This scenario causes a challenge for the national company, not only in attempting to create a uniform brand across locations, but also in the sheer volume of work orders, invoices, insurance documents, and contracts that are generated by potentially hundreds of local service providers contracted by individual stores within the national portfolio.
Consolidation of services under a national Exterior Services Management (ESM) company has become one of the top choices for such companies to ensure quality and consistency at each of their store locations nationwide. The ESM model provides a cohesive and centralized way for the regional or corporate level management to monitor their locations and, in turn, reduce costs, increase “on-location” time and offer a consistent aesthetic brand to their customers.
Is This a Best Effort?
One of the greatest challenges presented to those corporate managers that have not centralized their exterior services is effectively monitoring the quality and frequency of service each of their locations receives. For example, in many installation projects, shortcuts may be taken by the installer in order to make deadline or increase margins. Facility management is most likely not aware of this situation due to lack of quality control programs, and therefore cannot effectively respond to the errors in time, ultimately causing the manager additional charges for repair or replacement. Further, the corporate-level manager does not always have the on-location time necessary to ensure that work is being performed to specification.
In much the same fashion, numerous facility managers opt to maintain their exteriors in-house in order to potentially save a few bucks. Unfortunately, while this scenario appears to be a cost-saver, it can actually be more expensive due to the in-house team’s lack of knowledge and experience, as well as the indirect costs associated with diverting energy away from the store personnel’s core competencies. Quick-fixes and in-house teams may seem cheaper in the short-term, but the facility manager that plans ahead knows that some additional expenditures up-front can save money, time and headaches in the long-run.
Leveling the Field
Whether or not you choose to team up with an ESM provider, the first step to effectively managing your exterior maintenance is to set clear specifications for service. Which areas of your property require service, and how often? Who will be responsible for overseeing labor? How will services be communicated and documented? With clear objectives, thorough planning and a unified vision, it will be much easier to gauge whether the work being performed is consistent with expectations.
Once your maintenance plan is clearly defined, the key to success lies in the supervision of the site(s) as well as the communication of frequency and quality of maintenance. The facility manager that lacks knowledge regarding site activity or potential safety risks on-site is less likely to make timely and effective decisions.
For the corporate or regional manager, being on-site for quality control of maintenance isn’t always feasible, even if curb appeal and customer safety are top priorities. Yet even the contractor that exceeded expectations in the first months of service may begin to lag without consistent management and supervision. Many times, for instance, a contractor may begin to use plants of lesser quality or fail to thoroughly clean up an area following service. Even if the facility manager had the opportunity to visit the site, it may not always be immediately apparent that the site is not up-to-spec – that is, until a problem arises.
Companies that partner with an established ESM company, however, typically have the benefit of a comprehensive quality assurance program that ensures proper supervision and communication between facility management and the service provider. Trained industry professionals are assigned to each store location in the portfolio to regularly inspect the properties and provide the supporting media and documentation to allow the facility manager to better monitor exterior service from an off-site location. In essence, these field experts become the facility manager’s “eyes and ears” on-site, ensuring quality service in a timely fashion, as well as identifying potential problem areas or safety risks that may require management’s immediate attention.
Getting On-site Without Leaving the Office
The development and implementation of various software applications and Web-enabled management tools have further simplified the maintenance-monitoring process for the facility manager. Internet and hardware enhancements have delivered automated accounting software, Web-enabled portfolio management and digital cameras, all of which combine to increase productivity, quality and responsiveness.
Today, most professional ESM companies offer up-to-date property information at the touch of a computer key. Database-driven programs have the capacity to store and document all client and site information in a user-friendly system which gives the facility manager the ability to supervise all aspects of portfolio management from any computer with Internet connectivity. From routine services to emergency damage control, digital photography and information uploaded to the database through wireless laptops on-site allows facility managers to monitor retail operations across a national footprint and make time-sensitive decisions.
Meeting Your Expectations
Even the best quality assurance systems cannot eliminate problems, but the sign of a true professional will be the speed and efficiency in which they identify and remedy potential obstacles. The probability of increased responsiveness and accountability improves exponentially with the level of supervision and communication set forth in the exterior maintenance relationship.
With a clearly defined facility maintenance program, trained professionals monitoring properties on-site and the latest technology that allows for monitoring off-site, facility managers are truly able to maximize benefit and capitalize on cost-savings.
If you are still working with independent contractors that seem a bit behind the times, or are attempting to maintain your exterior assets with in-house personnel, perhaps it is time to consider an upgrade. Without an effective quality assurance program, your curb appeal, customer satisfaction and, ultimately, your bottom line will suffer. By taking the time to familiarize yourself with what is available in the industry, you will have a better understanding of what you should expect in terms of quality assurance and can guarantee the best relationships to manage each of your locations nationwide.