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The future is here. Technology has advanced the way we’re able to monitor and service assets. Upgrades are not only available or advisable but sometimes required if the building is in an area affected by new regulations for sustainability. If we prioritize customer service and satisfaction, we must set our customers up for success. That means having frank conversations about upgrades, building maintenance plans and effective risk management.
The fact is, so-called “low-cost maintenance plans” are engaging us all in a race to the bottom, shifting focus from providing appropriate service and care to provide the most competitive upfront quote. Today’s economic uncertainty is making many clients shy about spending, which fuels a need to deliver the lowest-dollar bid. There’s only one way to do that: cut time spent doing the work.
Less time means less accuracy and inaccuracy breeds issues the client gets charged for. The evidence is overwhelming. Articles all over the internet explain the high price of deferred maintenance, and yet we still hear companies say they’re excited to compete with us for a maintenance contract because they know they’ll be able to beat our price. And they will.
However, they won’t deliver the same quality or, for that matter, the same amount of oversight, advice and guidance we, or any company with more comprehensive plans, can offer a client.
Does this sound familiar to you? Are you also struggling to get clients to sign on the dotted line because cheaper plans are always available to them? Are you struggling to convince clients to spend more to save more? You’re not alone, and we thought we’d share some of our insights and suggestions because, at the end of the day, if we all start offering better, the clients will start to expect it.
A Balancing Act
From where we’re sitting, there are two types of building managers any contractor is likely to run into: the manager who prioritizes efficiency and the manager who prioritizes comfort.
The manager who prioritizes efficiency is your building manager with the attitude that anyone who’s uncomfortable with the temperature in their building, room, etc., can live with it. Put on a sweater, take off a sweater, and plan around the building because the building won’t plan around you; ensuring it’s running at peak efficiency is all that matters.
On the other hand, the manager prioritizing comfort would put efficiency on the back burner to make sure occupants are comfortable and have everything they need to enjoy their experience in the building. Turn the air up, turn the air down, have the building systems on overnight, whatever it takes to keep people comfortable.
Both managers are setting themselves up for failure because effective building operation and maintenance isn’t a one-or-the-other game; it’s a balancing act. You need to prioritize both efficiency and comfort while factoring in effective risk management. It’s that last element, risk management, that can get tricky.
From our perspective, clients should absolutely avoid overpaying for risk reduction and underpaying, thus taking on too much risk for themselves. Both can only result in a beleaguered bottom line. From the client perspective, though, they might see things through the lens of their industry.
Some customers will spend top dollar on risk management (take health-care and data centers, for example), while others are unwilling to pay upfront for something as out-of-sight, out-of-mind as their HVAC and plumbing systems. The fact remains: building managers must consider the impact of maintaining and upgrading their equipment. In our opinion, the good old iceberg metaphor can’t be overrated.
As mentioned earlier, the economy is a driving force, making many people reluctant to spend money. However, you can either see this as a challenge (“Everything’s expensive, so I have to be more affordable”) or an opportunity (“The maintenance plan I have on offer can help this client realize the savings they’re after”).
Yes, people want to spend less money, but isn’t it all the more reason to discuss the virtues of a robust maintenance strategy or spending now to bring assets up to date? If the goal of any client is to spend only when necessary and save when times are lean, then risk management is not one of the corners worth cutting.
Here are a few points you can raise when clients wonder about the value of spending on a comprehensive maintenance strategy vs. a low-cost option.
1. Ask the client, “What’s riding on the stability of your HVAC and plumbing systems?” They might not be a building manager for a health-care space where a disturbance is literally a threat to public health ...
• However, fielding constant complaints about spaces being too hot, too cold, ineffective airflow, and high or low humidity will frustrate occupants and cause them to building-hop.
• Fatigue, headaches and more can be complications from ongoing indoor air quality issues.
• And what about in manufacturing spaces where equipment needs a certain level of humidity to run?
2. Consider the fact that more sustainable buildings attract higher-quality tenants and allow for higher rents. Could outdated systems literally be cutting into potential earnings?
3. If they are prioritizing the comfort of tenants, they’re definitely in the right state of mind. However, how much money are they losing by not taking advantage of areas where they could be spending less? (Probably a lot less.)
4. If they’re only paying to react to a disturbance, remember that just-in-time will cost exponentially more than just-in-case.
5. Regular, thorough maintenance catches issues before they have a chance to become high-cost emergencies.
6. Regular asset evaluations on top of routine maintenance can help in capital planning long-term, helping clients spread their repairs, replacements or upgrades out over time.
AI And Predictive Maintenance
Branching off discussions purely about physical, on-site maintenance and evaluations, we need to take a moment to address the elephant in the room: artificial intelligence (AI). Smarter and more sophisticated technology is coming every day, and customers both now and in the future have the power of choice; look at the number of commercial buildings these days with vacancies. These platforms offer clients an elevated building automation experience.
For our purposes here at Harris, we employ telemetry to “jailbreak” the enormous wealth of data a building automation system accumulates but doesn’t disperse. This program makes a smart building more thoughtful by getting data out of the building and into the hands of human professionals whose analysis turns that data into actionable information. That information allows for streamlined and purpose-driven maintenance.
Gone are the days of rolling trucks that don’t need to roll or spend time finding the precise source of an alert. With programs like these, contractors can provide predictive maintenance, not only preventive, and it’s in the predicting that huge savings opportunities are unveiled for the customer.
And before you say it, no, programs like these don’t steal jobs and replace hands-on workers. It is only through robust analysis that data becomes information, and only through knowledgeable execution that said information becomes action (and reward). The fact is, most building managers don’t know what to do with the glut of information that can come from these monitoring services; we, as trusted partners, however, do, and it is this ability to guide and advise that makes us an invaluable asset worth paying for.
I’ll say it again: if we all start offering better, our clients will start to expect it. Our industry prides itself on a head-down, get-it-done, call-it-like-we-see-it attitude. I think it’s time we focused more on that last piece before this race to the bottom ends up costing us more than it’s already costing our customers.
James Hansen has a decade of experience in building automation and HVAC/plumbing. He is now the vice president of service and building automation sales at Harris, a prominent national mechanical contractor.