24 Oct 2014
JLL's Director of Workplace Experience Services in Asia Pacific tells Charlotte Ashton how he's making us fall in love with the office.
Picture arriving at a smart hotel in rural England. The doorman smiles at you and, in the likely event that it’s raining, runs out to your car with a big umbrella. At the front desk you book a manicure and a place at the evening yoga class. Back in your room you realise you've forgotten a plug adaptor, so you call back down to reception. It arrives before you've poured your Earl Grey.
Now imagine if you could get this level of service at your office. That's what JLL's Australia Head of Customer Service and Director of Workplace Experience Services in Asia Pacific, Peter Merrett, has made his mission.
Merrett pioneered the unique “office-hotel” customer service concept while in charge at London’s iconic Tower 42. It was the first European property to be presented with the prestigious BOMA International (Building Owners and Managers Association) Office Building of the Year Award and raised the bar worldwide. Luxury hotels are his blueprint because his background is in hospitality; he trained professionally at hotel school before working his way up the ranks in English country house hotels, where, he says, he learned the ‘Art of Anticipation.’
“We were taught to anticipate what people need before they have to ask. So if an office building’s security guard spots someone outside and it’s pouring with rain, he doesn’t just stand there, but goes out with an umbrella and a sense of urgency. The only difference I see between a top-class hotel and a top-class office building is that one has beds, while the other has desks.”
That means no more wasted hours trying to get the air conditioning fixed. We’ve all been there: the office is freezing but nobody in your team can remember the maintenance number. When finally you find it, buried in the intranet somewhere, nobody answers. By this time you need the bathroom, where you bump into the cleaner. You hope they might know who’s in charge of the air conditioning but alas, it’s outsourced to a different company and they don’t know where they’re based.
Not under Merrett’s watch. He brings together all service providers into one team, from the window cleaners to the concierge to the dry cleaning delivery guys, and issues them with name badges, matching uniforms and a lesson in how to better serve their ‘guests’ (the labels ‘tenant’ or ‘occupier’ are banned.) They’re motivated to go the extra mile by positive feedback and plenty of recognition; Merrett is a champion of The WOW! Awards scheme, which celebrates those individuals who go the extra mile to provide top customer service every day. The initiative has been receiving excellent reviews since being rolled out by JLL in Australia.
When the cleaner smiles and knows your name as well as how to get the air conditioning turned down or the printer fixed, it not only makes for a more pleasant working environment but also saves everyone time. As does the hotel-style Room Service Merrett has introduced, including JLL’s most popular offering in Sydney: manicures at your desk.
But Merrett’s mission extends beyond pure convenience. He firmly believes in the value of fun and thinks it’s important to provide the occasional treat ‘just because.’ One Monday night in an office building in Perth he asked his team to set up a chocolate fountain in the main foyer.
“People arrived as usual on the Tuesday morning, expecting nothing out of the ordinary” Merrett recalls. “They were dubious and bemused by our latest little surprise, but word travelled fast and by mid-morning the fountain was absolutely mobbed. People loved it. It cheered them up and got everybody chatting together. There’s real value in that.
“At another location in Sydney we took everyone a bag of warm popcorn at their desks one afternoon – just because. It costs next to nothing to do things like this, but the enjoyment it provides benefits all our customers and guests. Small things like this contribute to employee satisfaction, which in turn affects talent retention and recruitment.”
That’s how Merrett counters the skeptics who argue that popcorn, manicures and smart uniforms for the cleaners only place unnecessary stress on the bottom line. He’s been preaching about the importance of customer service in corporate real estate for some years now and is sanguine about the increasing number of “believers.”
“It’s very difficult to put a dollar value on all of this, but based on the feedback we get I know it can translate into a company’s location decisions. For property owners, that means a renewed lease or a new company moving in. For years both corporate decision makers and property investors have been brushing best service to one side, writing it off as unimportant fluffy stuff. But more than ever now it’s becoming an expectation and an important point of difference for property and facility management providers.”
That can only be good news for anyone whose heart has sunk at the prospect of leaving home for the office on a rainy Tuesday morning.
Go! Someone might be waiting to give you a massage at your desk, the security guard could help you with your dry-cleaning and who knows? There might even be a chocolate fountain waiting in the foyer.