In the service industry – nothing can outcompete the human touch

The year of 2018 has almost just begun. But what focus will this new year hold for ISS and our ways of working with service? We got the opportunity to have a few moments with the CEO of ISS, Jeff Gravenhorst to talk about the company's recipe for success.

What do you think are the biggest trends in how our industry is developing and what is the key to success?

There’s no doubt that our industry is taking exciting turns these years. The biggest trend I see is a growing change in how we perceive our facilities. Whereas facilities and buildings in the past were perceived as cost-centres, nowadays our clients increasingly orientate towards using the workplace as a tool to drive organisational transformation and improve business performance.

Today, forward-thinking companies build less for the monumental statements – and more for the company effectiveness and purpose.

That change clearly reflects in our client dialogues. Our conversations increasingly concern strategic benefits and outcomes (i.e. the ability to attract, motivate and retain talents) rather than input- specifications (a service provision where service provider delivers predetermined resources e.g. the number of hours).

The key to our success in this new reality is to become even better at supporting our clients in achieving their purpose and with the power of the human touch create value-adding and memorable service moments.

In this new business reality, do you see customers expecting something different from the service quality and delivery aspect than what they did before?

To answer that question, it is important to make clear which customers we are talking about. The needs differ heavily depending on if you talk with the end-user, the C-suite, the Corporate Real Estate or the procurement department.

Whereas the C-suite is focused on the compliance and the strategic value-added, the end-users are looking for a feel-good experience that gives them pride, purpose and a sense of belonging. On top of that, the procurement department has an interest in securing that this is done at the lowest possible cost.

To satisfy the Corporate Real Estate department, the demands of the C-suite, the end-users and procurement must be gathered and delivered upon in one single solution, fulfilling the overall corporate strategy.

So how do you achieve all the leading indicators, the soft indicators and human indicators up against the hard-core savings?

You need to know where to put efforts in and where to take efforts out. Fortunately, technology among others, allows us to measure what parts of the building are being used and what touch points add the highest value. Naturally, we then invest resources in the moments where the highest emotional value can be provided and save costs on the touch points that doesn’t matter.

So, the key to delivering quality service, is reflected in where we can create the highest emotional value?


Let me give you an example. Servicing tourist attraction areas, in addition to delivering memorable service experiences - one of the main goals of our client is to secure revenue from the souvenir shops.

To fulfil that goal and purpose, it is our responsibility to make sure that the tourists are enjoying themselves in an efficient and safe environment leaving them in a good mood to purchase souvenirs. Our front-line employees can play an instrumental role in influencing the mood of the visitors and move an experience from being great to becoming world-class.

Making sure that we put our client purpose first by making people happy and let them be the centre of our attention and care, is adding much more value than just going through the work program.

This leads me back to the story of one of our front-line employees, Lukas Larsen, in Oslo Airport, who decided to put aside his task to help a traveller to quickly get to her gate so she didn’t miss her flight.

At that moment, Lukas was off task – but he was on purpose. And this is what matters.

In 2018 our aim is to continue to empower our people to walk that extra mile, put that smile on people’s faces and provide a great service experience with a human touch. I’m not in doubt that this is where the single biggest competitive advantage is to gain both for us and our clients.

Last question to sum all this up, how can we measure the value-added from the service of the human touch? How can we prove the ROI?

We can do everything I just said. But I think the key point here is proof. Or in other words, evidencing the outcomes.

A proof point can, for example, be; employee engagement. When we grow employee happiness, does this result in a lower staff turnover, higher customer satisfaction, higher profits and improved retention rates?

There are many ways to measure how one metric is impacting the other.

I do not even think that the difficulty lies in finding the outcome. The real struggle lies in the change of leaving something we, in the industry, know so well and feel so comfortable with; the input. So, when you boil all this down, I believe that our single biggest opportunity and determiner of success lies in our willingness to shift our mindset from input to outcome and grow commitment to follow what truly matters – the purpose.

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