Who Is Your Customer?

Our customers change. Our core customers remain, and always will be, the students. However, the role an educational institution plays in the community is changing, and we have gained a diverse new group of customers.

What does this have to do with maintenance? Well, every product that successfully made it to market had to first have a defined target audience. There are very few“one-size-fits-all” products. Our service is very much the same. We need to know who we are serving before we can deliver a successful job, as each customer requires something slightly different from us.

Our primary customer remains the student, though students’ needs have changed through the years. Today, our students often require a higher level of service because they have grown up in a time where everything is new, improved, faster, more flavorful and can all be accessed in many different locations. Students of the past did not seem to require such a high degree of instant response. This is truly a component of the age of high-tech. There are scores of books and articles about how to respond to the current generation of students. It behooves all of us to do our homework and steer our departments toward delivering the next level of service to meet our customers’ current needs… sink or swim!

Our students’ parents are certainly key customers as well. If you asked John Fierfelder, our work control coordinator, I would guess that after dealing with nearly as many parents as resident students, he may say that they may well be our primary customer! In many cases, the parents pay tuition, room and board, and help their children select the colleges they attend. So in that light, we must answer to them. However, as John will tell you, we try to find a nice way of encouraging parents to let their kids work through the issues at hand. Students are here to learn and grow, and should be able to address problems on their own.

Our schools are marketing to more groups than ever before. These groups become guests on our campuses while holding meetings or attending training or summer conferences. More outside groups mean more set ups and residence hall turnovers for our teams. These events provide us with untold opportunities to present that everlasting first impression to someone who would not normally set foot on our campus. Outside groups present a great source of income. We need to make the administration’s priority our priority and work to support these events in a way that makes our institution, and therefore our department, proud. This means our thinking needs to become more like that of a hotel or conference center staff, delivering whatever it takes to please the customer.

Other customers, ones we rarely identify as such, are sections within our own department. We look at most on-campus departments as customers, but we may not always look at the inside of our department as a customer base. Our internal Housekeeping, Maintenance and Grounds groups must see how we serve one another as a priority. It is so easy to brush off an internal component as“just the Grounds guys,” but in fact, if they require a service from us, they have just become a customer, and we are obligated to serve them the same as any other.

Obviously, our administration is a primary customer. I have never seen a Maintenance department that did not snap to attention when they knew they had a work request from a dean, vice president, provost or the president! Serving these leaders does not necessarily help us complete more work orders, but it surely helps keep them happy. If they are happy and have no complaints, then we are happy and have no complaints (coming in!). While taking care of the folks that make the decisions is a somewhat selfish motivation, it can pay off in the long run.

Finally, one key customer that is typically overlooked is the passerby. Our campus is an urban, downtown campus, and we always say that anyone driving along one of our frontages has just become a customer. Why does a complete stranger rate as an important customer? Simple: If, while passing by our campus, he notices us and we make a positive impression upon him, then there may be a possibility that he will send a child here, attend himself or become a friend of the school and donate money. Any and all of these scenarios are plausible, and we need not discount the possibility.

Keep your eye on what your customers’ needs are, and remember that we must sometimes make adjustments to how we work in order to meet the needs of our customers… or to learn about what a new customer expects. Being flexible and willing to serve is the primary focus, but knowing who your customer is will truly help build a successful operation.

Michael G. Steger is director of Physical Plant Services for National Management Resources Corp. at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, FL. He can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Michael G. Steger is director, Physical Plant, for Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, FL. He can be reached at [email protected]