Let it never be said that customer service is a thing of the past - like having someone pump your gas and wash your windshield, or carry your groceries to your car. Customer service can be one of the least expensive and most effective value-added segments in the high-powered business of IT.
I recently had a conversation with James Sellers, sales/marketing for commercial and corporate office properties at
Carrolton, TX-based TAC Americas - Energy Solutions (www.tac-americas.com) about the direction that IT companies are taking with reference to improving customer service. He pulled off the gloves and laid it all out for me in a conversation that was both candid and somewhat critical of the industry that he represents.
"We are on the cutting-edge of finding new and better ways to serve commercial real estate as a group. What we have found is that our industry - the controls, heating, air-conditioning, and energy services - is behind the times quite a bit in the way that we go to market. What we're doing [now] is taking a customer advocacy approach to commercial real estate professionals in finding [energy solutions] that work for them," says Sellers.
One: Projects Based on Real Savings
He explains that as recent as eight years ago there was a lot of bad business being conducted in the energy market. "A lot of utility companies weren't providing the kinds of services that they should have been providing. There are a lot of reasons for that, part of which is that they weren't giving real saving estimates that they were using to base their products. The way they calculate the estimated savings on the actual installation of the products, they weren't doing what the customer was expecting," he says.
Sellers believes that having a more open dialogue with the customer, identifying what they want, and then explaining to them in clear terms the different ways to evaluate energy-saving projects are the first steps in building relationships with clients. He goes a step further in suggesting that the areas where most companies fail is in showing them how the energy savings numbers are driven. "People sometimes get an inaccurate look at savings - whether or not the information is based on industry standards, and if it's a real savings."
Two: Committed to Open Systems - Building IT
Sellers' belief is that anything that uses energy - whether it involves comfort, safety, or automation - should be able to "talk" in an open system environment to provide the information and control an owner needs.
Open systems are driving the changing structure of the building. In fact, predicts Sellers, if, within the next five years, facilities professionals aren't operating under an open-system platform and are not using building IT to get it done, a building's asset values will be much less. "It's going to be really important to find someone who is really focused on commercial real estate. And focused on finding solutions for buildings and not just a single system," he explains.
Three: Focused on Customer Building Needs
"Commercial real estate is vastly different … than the institutional marketplace … Tenants have to be encouraged to renew their leases or to even move into their buildings or the buildings lose money. In the commercial market, everything is much more financially driven," says Sellers.
He encourages building owners and facilities professionals to start expecting more from their energy providers. "History hasn't changed very much. This customer focus and customer-driven stuff has escaped the energy services and HVAC industry for a long time in a general sense. I think that we're going to start seeing the same things that have happened in other industries happen in our industry. The end result will be a good thing for the customer."
Better late than never seems to be the motto when it comes to customer service in the energy and power management industry. Companies like TAC Americas are leading the way in providing much more than useful data in a timely fashion. They are going the extra mile in producing satisfied customers.
Clara M.W. Vangen ([email protected]) is technologies editor at Buildings magazine.