A recent lifestyle survey declared that shopping was the most popular leisure pursuit for families, a new reality well understood by shopping centre managers. What makes a shopping centre a magnet for visitors? Fine-tuned facility services are crucial, says Bernard McCauley, group managing director of Grosvenor Services investigates
The visit to the mall, shopping centre or designer outlet is often a day out with friends or family. Never mind the global brands and glitzy stores, retail centres have eateries, cinemas and other places of entertainment, often along with children’s play areas and perhaps even dog kennels as well! Practically all needs are catered for. This complete retail leisure activity can also make the centre a tourist destination in its own right.
Within the centres or outlets, all these attractions compete for visitors’ attention, and spend. But each centre is also competing with others, and high street shopping, for footfall.
The challenge – especially given the ever-present alternative of online shopping – is to provide a superb visitor experience to satisfy the growing aspirations of customers. Joined-up support services, all operating to the same high standard, are crucial. Clean, useable and safe facilities will play their part in influencing how long and how much customers spend, and their return visits.
The policies and measures that support this kind of successful shopping centre environment are many, but here are some worth highlighting.
Centre and outlet managers need to continually measure shoppers’ behaviours, through footfall and seasonal trends. But they can also benefit from the support of service providers with a flexible service model who, in turn, manage and make best use of their resources by monitoring service standards. Tailored mobile technology software, for example, can be used for bespoke audits that allow thorough checks to be recorded at regular intervals and detailed reports produced. These can then be transmitted to the shopping centre manager who, ideally, should be able not just to view the data, but to interact with it and add comments.
When selecting a provider, centre managers should also ensure that their partners will tailor and fine-tune their services to the centre’s service specification. World-class retail centres require bespoke facilities management services that work effectively.
This approach is first and foremost about flexibility. The service provider must be able to respond rapidly and effectively to fast-changing requirements. It takes management skill and experience to control constantly changing schedules and rotas so that service staff, the centre managers and their customers are all satisfied. For example, for a cleaning company to achieve this, every minute spent cleaning must deliver the highest possible standards for your customers.
Success, in the form of high footfall, brings its own set of challenges. The shopping centre must accommodate crowds of people and intensive use of facilities creating greater demands on support services. For both the short and long term, service providers must ensure they use appropriate materials and equipment.
In the case of cleaning, this involves carefully considering all types of floor coverings, fixtures and structural finishes, and selecting the right blend of specialist and/or multi-purpose machines that will get all jobs done cost-effectively. While most work will be scheduled before and after opening hours, periodic and responsive cleaning is essential to keep all areas clean and presentable without disrupting the visitors’ experience. Litter or chewing gum must be quickly removed, and flooring kept spotless. This is about their safety as well as their experience. Your facility service provider should have clear policies and procedures in place and adhere to all regulatory measures.
Remember that health and safety laws exist not only to protect the public, but also you, your employees, and contractors’ staff. Shopping centre managers have a duty to ensure their service provider trains its people in the use of equipment and has evidence of certification. Risk assessments of the shopping centre site should be conducted by the service provider prior to the start of the contract to ensure the safety of all those using the centre.
A top-notch service provider not only recognises that managing the customer environment is critical. They go further, realising that they also contribute to the customer experience and see the potential to enhance it. Cleaners, repair technicians, security guards and other facility service providers can also be customer service agents. They are ‘touch points’ for your customers. So on-site facility services teams need to be highly trained and able to interact confidently with your customers when required. A good provider will coach its staff to behave like part of your team – for instance providing help with directions to washrooms or specific shops or food outlets. So to the visitor it appears that the centre is run by one dedicated team delivering a consistently high standard of customer service.
It’s not surprising that many shopping centre managers are now taking this ‘one team’ approach a stage further by choosing a single service provider for multiple facility services. A popular combination is the same supplier for both cleaning and security requirements. The financial and administrative benefits for the shopping centre include operational efficiencies, reductions in documentation and a single invoice system. But these arrangements also promote a partnership approach and joint working that will benefit the business and its customers in various other ways.
Working in partnership with your service provider means challenges and new ideas can be discussed openly, and the aims and values of the shopping centre are more likely to be shared by all. This opens the way for your service partner – whether they are responsible for cleaning or a package of services – to add value to what they deliver to the running of the shopping centre and enhance the retail/leisure experience for the visitor.