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Hey folks, Phil Zito here, and welcome back. In this post, we are going to be covering how to engage owners in using their building automation systems. So, recently I put a question on LinkedIn, Facebook, and a couple other places, and I was asking, “What would you like to know about building automation?” One of the responses I got was, “Hey, how can we engage our owners in actually using building automation systems?”

You know, this is a great question, because at the end of the day, if we look at energy management, if we look at building performance, if we look at equipment degradation, any of those things, what we tend to find is a lot of them are tied to disengaged owners. You'll get a lot of folks who will argue that engaging the owners should not be the responsibility of the contractor. It's your responsibility to execute the contract, get things installed, and call it a day. But I would disagree with that. I would say that, if you really want to make a customer for life, finding a way to get them to use the tools that you're providing them is probably a good idea.

So, we’re going to dive into the following:

  • Why do you engage owners? Like, why should we even do it? We have to understand the why first?
  • What does engagement look like?
    • Who are you engaging and why?
    • Then we'll walk through the three categories of folks that we can engage within the built environment.

So, why should we engage owners? Well, if we start to think about it, think about a project that just went horrible at the end. This project, you've been through owner training, you're in warranty, and it's nonstop warranty calls, it is constant customer complaints, nothing works, everything's bad, assuming you did point to point checkout right, and your submittals weren't trash. What was the most common theme?

If you're like most folks, you probably had an owner that was calling with warranty calls all the time, couldn't figure out how to do basic things. They weren't really satisfied with the installation, but as you start to dig deeper, my experience is that they weren't engaged. When I say engaged and engaging owners, often, folks think from a service perspective. Like, we're going to establish a relationship with an owner operator of a building and we're going to do this in a service context.

What we have to think about is how projects get executed. So, a project gets executed, and oftentimes, there's an owner's rep, maybe there's a construction team that the owner is working with, but outside of that, the actual folks who are operating the facility, they're very rarely engaged until the end of the project, during that obligatory/mandatory owner training. In an idealistic world, you would engage that facility side of the business, the operation side of the business, earlier in the project, but you're running from job to job, so it's just not going to happen. So, your first opportunity to gain owner engagement is during that owner training session. I've covered owner training in the past, but to summarize them, essentially understand the roles and or role that is being done by the owner, and then train to the tasks that the role actually needs to know.

Doing that is going to give you a leg up from day one. So, you're going to be able to say, that you trained them on how to change set points, trained them on how to change schedules, trained them on how to set up and maybe adjust trends and alarms, because those are going to be a lot of warranty calls that you're going to get.

I've seen people who get warranty calls on a space not maintaining temperature. The setpoint kept changing randomly because the owner didn't know how to read the graphic and they were looking at the zone temperature that was changing. They thought the zone temperature was the setpoint, and that the setpoint was the zone temperature. I mean, you laugh because surely there's no way someone's that unintelligent, but you're taking someone who has to know all these other systems and then assuming that they have the same experience level as you and I, who work with this stuff every day and have worked with it every day for years.

So, why do we engage our customers? Why do we engage our owners? Quite simply, we want them to engage with the system so that they have a better experience, we have better customer loyalty, they will ultimately have more efficient buildings and buildings that better control the environmental qualities, and finally, we've all been in that sales pursuit or that customer engagement where, 15 years ago, someone at our company did something wrong. They'll never use us again, because whatever happened. Well, you've have to consider that when you're thinking, why should I engage an owner.

If you engage an owner, that means yes, you're going to get complaints, but you're also going to have an opportunity to resolve those complaints and build a loyal owner who is going to operate their facility and not really come back to bite you 15 years down the road when they build a new building.

Alright, so what does engagement look like? I've given you a couple hints so far, but I want to get really tactical on engagement. Engagement looks different depending where you are in the lifecycle of a building. So, owner engagement, and we're purely focused on operators here. So, the first engagement is going to be during training during project closeout. That is going to be engaging with the operator, potentially their managers, and we're going to engage in what roles do you do? How do you do them? Okay, let's put training together that is going to show you how to do those things, very task-focused training. Alright, so you get that done. You get through warranty phase, and you should, during warranty phase, be engaging them in some sort of service relationship, but that’s a whole other topic.

What does owner engagement look like now that they have an existing building? How many of you, if you're honest with yourselves, you're part of the building of a building for an owner, you put in a control system, and you never talk to the owner again? You don't get a facilities’ email address.

This is really important. If you want something that is stupid simple, that you can do that will increase sales and increase owner engagement right now, pay attention. When you do owner training, get the email of the manager and then over the course of 12 months, build out each month. Send a snippet video, like three minutes, hosted on YouTube, unlisted, super easy, no cost. Get that email, create a video on how you change your graphic, how you change the setpoint, how you change an alarm. Build them a service chart. Trust me, this is going to pay off in the long run.

So, you build out 12 months of content, and then you have a drip campaign that goes out to that email address every month for 12 months during warranty. That is a touch each time with the owner. Once you've created it, you can use it again and again and you could put a little blurb at the end, to say, “Hey, if you want to learn more, we have services, we can train, etc.”

You are teaching the owner how to use their system and do the most common things they're going to do on a day-to-day basis. Now, if you want to take this a step further, you could put a little checklist document in there. It could say, “Change a graphic, here's the checklist, follow the checklist.” Or you can do things like addressing common issues such as summer to winter switchover. Customers run into issues with setpoints, so you can address that or even address days that start off cold and then turn warm. You create this once and it will engage the owner and get them using their system. You have to get them using their system. So, once that building is built, and you wonder how you can engage the owner, you have this built out.

So, you've educated them through the warranty phase. Now it's about efficiency. So, you have another 12-month sequence. I know this seems like a lot of work, but it really should take you no more than 10 minutes to create these little snippets. So, you could record one on how you go about reading your utility bills, or how do you know if equipment is starting to degrade? What are good amounts of filter change outs? What sensors can you put in place to detect when filters should be changed?

Do you see that little hint right there? That's a potential change order opportunity that you just put into place. Now your goal here is not to just sell people, we are honestly trying to educate and inform people. At the same time, you can turn this into work, potentially, if it makes sense and it benefits both you and the customer. So, this second set of series is year one, year two of the building. If they are engaged during warranty phase, and they're engaged in year one and year two, the likelihood of them staying engaged is very high.

Now we need to move to, as I call it, kind of the make-or-break point of the road. So, you're traveling down this road, you have all these signs and these are your emails coming out to them. Your make-or-break point is where they decide they're going to work with you to establish processes on how they run their business. This is where you can offer a consulting service.

This is also where you can also just give it to them and say, “You're a loyal customer of ours, here are some standard processes we created for the most common tasks in building automation. If you'd like to customize them for your business, work with us and we'll help you customize them.” You can give them that or they decide to do nothing, and they go on that path on their own. I mean, that's really kind of where it divides.

Now, let's say you think this sounds freaking awesome. It’s great idea. You like it. But your customer has had a building automation system for 10 years. That does not mean that you can't contact them say, “Hey, look, we just developed something for some of our new customers. We know we installed this in your system 10 years ago, but we believe this would be beneficial to you. We're not trying to sell you anything. Would you give us your email?” All this requires is you looking at your existing customer list, getting their email, and you send out this sequence you've created.

The key point is you create this thing once and you use it multiple times. You send this out, it has this quality content, and guess what? At the end, they may choose to reengage you. They may say, “We're using our building automation system so much now, we want to improve it.”

So, that's a model for engagement that works pretty well, and it's repeatable and it's not aggressive. Truly, you're just providing value, and it's up to them at the end of the day to engage.

Now, who are you engaging with and why? I actually find three buckets. So, right now we've focused on the facility operator, and we've focused on potentially the manager. I want to start this off by talking about someone who we often don't think about from an engagement perspective, and that is the tenant.

So, the tenant is an important area of focus. Tenant retention is a major thing for commercial real estate. If you can help improve tenant retention with some preexisting engagement tools, then you can provide value to that facility operator, and ultimately, to that asset holder. The same goes with schools, engaging the students; with colleges, engaging the professors and students, things like that.

So, what does this look like? Once again, I'm a big advocate of build once, use many times. These could be things like getting someone to create little posties for you that say, “Turn off the lights,” or “Turn the temperature down,” or all the way to giving them a digital dashboard with digital signage, which some of you have to do for LEED credits. So, these are ways to engage the tenant, and by facilitating tenant engagement, whether that's through technology, or through soft marketing, you're going to provide value to those facility operators.

At the end of the day, there's kind of two areas where energy efficiency can fall apart. Definitely, poor maintenance, and poor facility operations can cause energy efficiency to fall apart. If you've been in this field long enough, you've gone to the school that had wireless thermostats and the teacher was putting the thermostat in the little mini fridge in his/her room to turn on the heat. You've seen the towel, the hot towel or cold towel, sitting on the thermostat to change temperature. You've seen people leaving systems on in unoccupied buildings.

So, operators are important, but realize that the tenant and the end user can have a significant effect on the efficiency of the building. So engaging, especially if you're doing like an ESCO contract, energy savings contract. Definitely engage your tenants.

The next thing that I want to mention here is around operators. I’ve mentioned a few things around operators, but I want to get kind of really tactical with you. So, training, warranty, our drip program during first, second year of operations. Drip being a term for marketing where you have a marketing sequence that sends out on a regular schedule.

Now, you can take it a step further, by engaging in a collaborative relationship. This may look like one that financially benefits your company, or this may be a service that you provide. So, everything ultimately, at the end of the day, it's going to financially benefit your company. It’s just whether it's going to be obviously financially benefiting your company by increased revenue, or it's going to be a differentiator and a value add that, once you build up, makes you more competitive than your competitors.

You could do this one of two ways. You could build a program and call it your “Owner Engagement Program,” or some other cool marketing name, and then this program is something you sell kind of like a plan service agreement. Then you’d train the operator on key tasks, so you’d do a key task analysis.

The first thing you do in a key task analysis, and this is going to be expensive for you to build the first time, but it will be inexpensive every time after that. So, first, you shadow them for a day and see what tasks they do. Day one. Then we're going to list out, from high to low frequency, what tasks they do. Next, we're going to build out processes, training, and engagement around these tasks, doing a value upsell here.

Once you've built these, you've documented them in video and you've documented them in process checklists, then you package that and you keep it internally. Because your next customer that you go to, they're probably going to have the same issues, and guess what? You've already created the content to service them. So, this looks like a monthly agreement, where you essentially service the operator.

In my opinion, this is, especially nowadays with talent just leaving in droves, something that can be very valuable. If priced right, it can bring a good source of revenue into your business. Really, once you get this built out, the cost then becomes the front side assessment of the customer. Once you build out that list, you build out an engagement plan, you sign an engagement agreement, you drive them through the engagement, and then guess what's going to come from that? You got it! Change orders and potential upsells, but the owner themselves are going to be better enabled.

Now, on the flip side, you don't necessarily have to charge for that. This could be a value service that you offer to your customer base. It's going to build loyalty, which should, on the macro level, increase repurchase rates from you.

How do we engage managers? Managers are an interesting one, because you have technical managers, and then you have basically business or specialty managers. So, technical managers would be those who manage the facilities team; Energy Manager, etc. Business managers, those are going to be the folks who are responsible for AR, responsible for business unit, etc. Specialty managers are going to be responsible for the functioning of the core tasks in this building. For example, Principal, Chief Nursing Officer, etc.

So, what I'm going to focus on here is going to be the operational technical managers. So, this looks very similar to what you're doing with the operators, it's just slightly different. Whereas with the operators, you're analyzing their tasks and you're providing the technical support to execute those tasks, with the managers, you're helping them to formulate processes.

So, this is once again, is something that you will analyze, and possibly identify, “Okay, you have no maintenance process,” or “you have no triage process,” or you have no summer/winter switchover process.” You’re going to identify these, figure out what they are measured on. Are they measured on energy reduction, CO2 reduction? Are they measured on uptime? Are they measured on utilization? What are they measured on? Once you understand that, you help identify the processes that your team can execute and help them learn how to manage those processes. Once again, very heavy work on the front side, but once you've established this, it’s a lot easier.

So, from a managerial perspective, I’d identify what I'm going to target is, what are the processes that impact what they are measured on. I would create supporting documents for this process, I would train the managers on how to manage those processes, and then once you've built that, you can use that again, and again, and again. The nice thing about it too, is with these processes, you can potentially upsell services. If they don't want to self-execute, you can upsell these services.

Alright, so I know that this was a different way of thinking about owner engagement. Now there are the trite answers of, you can educate them on utility bills, energy, sustainability and things like that. And hopefully, they will feel motivated to do the stuff. My experience is, those one-shot events tend to be forgotten in the noise, hence, the whole drip methodology of touching them multiple times with a clear progression.

That being said, I'm interested in what questions you have about this. I haven't really heard anyone talk about this approach before. I mean, maybe folks are executing this approach and I'm not aware of it. This is, you know, something that we use in our own training programs, to train the people who actually execute this stuff. But what are your thoughts? What questions do you have? Let me know, as I definitely want to bring ideas to you, especially in today's world, so I want to bring ideas to you that I believe will benefit your business.

Thank you so much for being here. Continue to contact us with your thoughts and your questions and your comments. They are definitely appreciated. They help us to understand what you want to learn about, what you want us to talk about. So, thanks so much and take care.


Phil Zito

Written by Phil Zito

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