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Human nature

11 February 2016 | Martin Read


The recent move by firms to bring more hospitality staff into frontline FM, and the growth in competition to provide reception and concierge services, allows the profession to showcase just how powerful these best practice FM principles can be, writes Martin Read.


We humans have always bartered, traded and interacted face to face. It’s only in the last tiny fraction of human existence, from the beginning of the last century to date, that we’ve been able to do so remotely from each other over telephones. And it’s only from the 1970s onwards – with the internet something of a major milestone along the way – that we’ve been able to conduct such transactions through ever more capable computer screens.


Interacting with people from your screen to theirs can in fact be incredibly valuable - think Facebook, for example, and how it keeps us in touch with those we’d otherwise lose contact with. But where a commercial transaction is involved, interactions without actual human contact can be truly depressing. Many businesses now force customers to buy product or otherwise transact with them solely through screens, the idea of coming eye to eye with those they serve increasingly outlandish.


Up until the 1970s, grocers served each customer individually. Today, the battle lines in the People vs. Tech war can most clearly be seen in the supermarket, with customers pressganged into another depressing experience with the self-service tills. An unexpectedly basic lack of human understanding in the bagging area sees store assistants paid to train customers on the very machines that are set to replace them, all to cut out costly ‘human’ interactions on the checkouts.


This is a breeding ground for contempt on both sides of the commercial transaction. You’ll also find it on train stations, where staff can be at best standoffish and at worse actually fearful of their customers. There’s the sense that they’re being phased out to be replaced entirely by touch-screen terminals. Even the PA system is inhuman, with automated messages informing us of delays and cancellations.


So, on any given day we have commuters and retail customers suffering depressing, humanless transactions. And guess what? These transactions are likely to be happening to pretty much anyone on their way to and from a place of work.


Here is where the soft skills side of FM can really shine. In recent years, the quality and capability of reception staff has skyrocketed, with people paid to consider and cater for customers, and to deal with them face to face. Learning and adapting to customers’ individual needs, and having a genuine aptitude for helping people, is increasingly the way in which facilities staff offer a wonderful, welcome and entirely refreshing counterbalance to the disastrous digital-only transactions outside. Visitors to facilities with good reception staff enjoy the exact opposite of the experience they so frequently suffer in getting to and from work, literally coming face to face with well-trained and naturally capable faciities staff who are welcoming, willing and anticipatory rather than wary, woeful and supremely disengaged.


The recent move by firms to bring more hospitality staff into frontline FM, and the growth in competition to provide reception and concierge services, allows the profession to showcase just how powerful these best practice FM principles – through something as simple as a single, well-judged human interaction – can be.


Martin Read is managing editor of FM World