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Beyond the Front Desk

15 September 2007

First impressions are important but can mean much more. Royal & Sun Alliance used an outsourced service from Office Concierge to take traditional thinking of a receptionist’s responsibilities well beyond the front desk.

MOST PREMISES AND FMS understand the importance of reception and front desk staff as the first point of contact for their employers. The steady move towards a more ‘hotel’ approach to the ‘meet and greet’ of visitors has been evident for some time, as businesses recognise that the reputation of their organisations can be enhanced – or damaged – by their experience at the front desk.

One major employer, the FTSE 100 insurer Royal & Sun Alliance (R&SA), however, has taken the role and importance of its front desk team to another level. More than ‘just’ being there to welcome visitors, take their coats and inform colleagues that their guests have arrived, they have extended their responsibilities to include no fewer than 33 separate services, each with their own individual Service Level Agreements (SLAs). These include everything from the ‘traditional’ customer services such as visitor management, switchboard operation, meeting room management and hospitality right the way through to an FM Helpdesk service, audio visual services, security management (including surveillance) and even the monitoring of the building management systems (BMS).

The driver behind the change was R&SA’s Property and Facilities Manager, Andrew Lilly, with the catalyst being the company’s move from offices in Berkeley Square in the West End to a new Global headquarters at One Plantation Place in the City.

As Lilly explains: “The move to Plantation Place actually meant that the amount of occupied space was condensed from about 50,000sq ft to 35,000sq ft. Whereas in Berkeley Square we had separate areas set aside for security, BMS monitoring, operations, maintenance etc, at Plantation Place, workspace is of a premium. This prompted me to look at whether it was feasible to consolidate the operation of these services and put them to the Front Desk. Operationally all these services bring together people, systems and processes that are all about the delivering excellent customer service/experience and if you have smart, intelligent people on Reception then you can add the knowledge and skills and experience they require to take a more enhanced responsibility, and add greater value to your business.”

The key issue for Lilly was finding a service provider with the capability and capacity to service this requirement - in other words R&SA team.”

As a starting point, Office Concierge agreed with the R&SA a key Service Level Agreement and a degree of performance monitoring. This has over time been enhanced to 33 SLAs around specific areas including customer services, communications, housekeeping, switchboard operations and etiquette, console management, teleconferencing, witness voice recording, voicemail, hygiene, e-mail management, information security, meeting room management, business centre management, investor day presentations, business continuity, CCTV surveillance and BMS monitoring.

The Team Leader, Alex Watt, has jointly developed with Lilly the concept of ‘service champions’ who take responsibility for and become ‘experts’ in their particular service areas. They are then responsible for managing these together with the service levels, training the rest of the team, and monitoring their KPIs etc.

“With so many services and support systems, sharing responsibility and having designated ‘owners’ rather than a single supervisor responsible for everything is very effective,” Lilly continued. “And it means that the team are able to manage a broad range of services and deliver customer excellence across them all. The team becomes self-managing. With delegated responsibility and peer pressure each service champion is responsible for driving performance – so nothing gets forgotten. In the event of holidays or sickness, the team has shared skillsets so that there are no gaps in the services they can provide, and no disruption within the business.”

Of all the areas the team is responsible for, the ones that are perhaps most surprising are the monitoring of security and BMS. Lilly argues that having the right people behind the desk in the first place is key. “I don’t need separate security staff during the day to manage the security systems and monitor CCTV in our space when the team is more than capable of dealing with any eventuality, and responding to alarms in the appropriate manner. They are also trained and part of our Business Continuity Emergency Response and Work Area Recovery procedures. Last year the Front Desk supported a WAR test involving our ‘dual redundant’ offices in Crawley and Southwark Bridge and it was very successful.”

When it comes to the BMS, again the team has direct access to three systems from Front Desk, and are responsible not just for monitoring the system within Plantation Place, but also additional offices in Plantation South using the web-based Trend technology. It means they are able to respond to most routine requests, such as adjusting temperatures within the building or specific rooms. Maintenance is of course referred to the relevant provider.

The number of ‘systems’ that the team manages is impressive - three security systems, three BMS and one system each for CCTV, voice recording, telephony, meeting management, visitor management, facilities management, and e-mail. Conservatively, Andrew estimates that 98 per cent of all facilities-related calls go through to – and are managed successfully by - the Front Desk. Standard operating procedures and protocols are the most challenging part of the role, and any mistake is considered a disaster.

Whilst Lilly is happy with the performance of his team, he is continually looking to drive service levels still higher, and explore further added-value offerings such as a concierge service for staff.

He sees one of the measures of success in the relationship between R&SA and Office Concierge as being the way in which the team has become embedded within his company’s culture: “Noone in Plantation Place thinks of them as being Office Concierge; they all think of them as being part of our team, embedded in our core business providing essential infrastructure and customer services commensurate with being a global HQ. Even the individuals in the team themselves feel as much a part of R&SA as the rest of the staff, and have the full support of the FM and HR teams in helping them further the development of their services.”

Simon Cooney, Managing Director of Office Concierge is delighted with how the relationship has developed, and suggests that the R&SA ‘model’ may rapidly becoming the norm: “However well a company is managed, first impressions start with the Front Desk. The quality of our people sets the tone, and dictates how they can be utilised to a company’s best advantage. Andrew Lilly has been quick to realise their potential, and deploy their skillsets well beyond what might be considered their ‘traditional’ remit. It will be interesting to see how others follow his lead.”

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