Every day, retailers hire contractors to clean floors, wash windows and service air conditioners and appliances at thousands of individual locations around the globe. Companies spend billions annually servicing and maintaining stores to give customers the best possible experience. Yet many lag behind in facilities management, relying on an informal network of contractors selected and managed by regional offices or individual stores. While most have a process for validating contractors and requiring insurance and licensure, retailers rarely have sufficient data and visibility to improve their contracting operations and improve the performance of their service providers.
Louis Vuitton has hundreds of stores across the globe, and like many other brands, is challenged to ensure its facilities are maintained according to specifications as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.
With no centralized maintenance department, every store was “almost on its own” to find niche service providers in individual markets, says Alan Donohoe, senior manager of the store planning preservation department for the Americas at Louis Vuitton. It was not only inefficient; it also drained managerial resources that could have been better directed toward customer experience.
“We knew we had to get away from stores having to take care of themselves,” Donohoe says. “We wanted to take that out of their hands and give them more time to take care of customers, not worry about who is going to come fix [something].”
‘Source to settle’
Even for the largest retailers, it can lead to service gaps and inefficient facility management, says Tom Biuocchi, executive director and CEO of ServiceChannel, a platform that connects buyers and service providers in a system that offers transparency, visibility into performance and accountability.
“They all have the same problem … . People may not show up. You’ll get a good contractor here, a bad one there,” he says. “It has long been an inefficient process that’s very difficult to effectively manage or control.”
Retailers usually have little insight into how jobs are being performed, whether they’re paying the right rates, being billed properly or if they’re using the best contractor for the job. In a best-case scenario, they’re leaving money on the table and could improve their facilities for a lower cost. In a worst-case scenario, poor performance and late arrivals of service providers could degrade the customer experience and brand perception.
By creating an on-demand network of service providers, Service Channel says it can save retailers millions on their annual maintenance expenditures. The platform lets retailers more easily find providers, automatically issue work orders, address issues and process invoices.
The ServiceChannel platform has more than 50,000 contractors across 63 countries that offer janitorial services, plumbing, HVAC repair and service, recycling, alarms, lighting, flooring, snow removal and more. Over 500 global brands including CVS Health, Under Armour, Bloomin’ Brands and Cole Haan use ServiceChannel to manage all or some of their maintenance operations.
Before deploying the ServiceChannel platform, Louis Vuitton’s facilities management process was largely a manual operation, Donohoe says. ServiceChannel software offers a “source to settle” work order management platform that takes retailers through the whole process of contractor selection to issuing work orders and paying invoices, all in one system.
For example, if Louis Vuitton needs a new toilet in a store in New Orleans or San Diego, it can instantly identify the best tech for the job in each market based on ratings. A work order with job specifications is automatically generated and the contractor can accept the job. From there, the retailer can track the service technician through their phone to account for when they arrive and how long they have been on site. When the job is completed, the tech completes the order and submits an image to the system to verify that it is performed. All of this is done in a seamless fashion that enables the same process regardless of the market they are operating in.
“They get approval from the local store manager, invoices on the platform, they get paid and the transaction is done,” Biuocchi says. “It’s all simplified and digitally recorded.”
The platform also offers greater visibility into the contracting process, boosts operational efficiency and helps ensure compliance. By removing middlemen and inefficiencies in the process, ServiceChannel typically saves customers more than 25 percent in their first year.
The ability by which store managers can now more easily address maintenance issues has enabled Louis Vuitton to improve its facilities, Donohoe says. Using the platform, managers can create a ticket in as little as 90 seconds, then send it out to dispatch and resolve any issue. Stores can now also automate lighting and HVAC maintenance companies to perform inspections at set intervals.
“It has made [store managers]more aware because it’s so easy to get something repaired or fixed,” Donohoe says, “and they don’t need to worry about calling anymore.”
Access to detailed data and performance metrics also helps retailers continually improve their maintenance operations and enhance service and accountability among contractors. ServiceChannel’s Asset Management capabilities allow users to monitor and manage assets with mobile devices and gain visibility into work history and maintenance, warranty and preventative maintenance information for physical assets.
Since using ServiceChannel to manage its vendor management, Louis Vuitton has reduced daily time store managers must spend resolving issues by 96 percent. The automation of invoices and payments has also saved time on the backend by reducing the account payable department’s load by more than 4,000 invoices and 41 work days.
Retailers can also use the platform to demand more accountability from service providers. The Contractor Scorecard measures contractor work and performance through such metrics as dispatch confirmation, check-in compliance, on-time arrival, resolution time and invoice submission timelines. Retailers can use the data to optimize the use of contractors in individual markets and easily replace them when they’re not meeting expectations, Biuocchi says.
Having access to such information enables Louis Vuitton to know exactly where it stands with each contractor and make them more accountable. That has offered data to not only improve maintenance but also how stores are built and designed.
“I can now report to people who make the stores where we need to do a better job in building them. We can go after pricing, different components or [service providers],” Donohoe says.
ServiceChannel attracts service providers to the platform with the opportunity to market themselves and land more work on the Fixxbook platform. Once a contractor enlists and becomes visible on the site, other retailers and nearby customers can see their capacity, availability and reputation. As positive ratings build momentum in gaining more work, it offers an opportunity for automated marketing, Biuocchi says.
Mobile functionality enables contractors to efficiently manage many of their administrative tasks while in the field with the ability to receive work, communicate with and easily invoice clients. This takes a lot of the hassle out of running the business and enables service providers to focus on their work rather than back office operations. Internal studies indicate that contractors get paid an average of 16 days faster when they use the app, Biuocchi says.
“We help them do that automatically on our application, so they like the fact that we make their job easier and we save them time in every one of these things,” he says. “It makes them more efficient, it helps them get more work and it helps them get paid faster. Those are the three things the contractors care about.”
Craig Guillot is based in New Orleans and writes about retail, business and personal finance. Read more of his work at www.craigdguillot.com.