Article | January 5, 2022

How Community Service Order Request Apps Can Help Raise O&M Team Visibility And Budgets

By Eric O’Connell, Enterprise Application Team Lead, InterPro Solutions

Field Technician With Mobile Phone App

Operations and maintenance staff are the unsung heroes of many facilities. If they do their jobs well, nothing breaks, and their hard work goes unnoticed. And even when they do their jobs well, things can still break, simply because that’s the nature of heavily used equipment and aging facilities. Most community members aren’t aware of the subtleties of factors like mean-time-to-failure and planned maintenance – they just see that something isn’t working.  And when the O&M team is remembered for what’s not working instead of how responsive they’ve been to community service requests, getting budget approval to address deferred maintenance or gain efficiencies can be next to impossible.   

What’s new in the O&M world is the availability of service request apps that make it easier for your community members to initiate service requests, leading to a dramatic increase in requestor satisfaction and a greater appreciation of the service team’s contribution to the overall community, which can often translate to widespread support for important O&M budget initiatives.

Community service order request apps enable members of the community (for instance, students and faculty at a university) to report maintenance issues and request repairs via a mobile device. These apps typically allow community members to upload photos, video and audio files when reporting an issue, such as a spill, a broken door lock or a banging radiator. They also allow O&M staff to provide real-time updates on the service requests, giving community members up-to-the-minute status on the resolution of an issue.

If your facility isn’t already using a community maintenance app, you should consider one.  Community members won’t report maintenance issues if you make it difficult to do so; most people won’t take the time to make phone call or email the service team because they fear being put in a call queue or being forced into multiple rounds of correspondence.  But many will use an app send a quick photo and add a short note using voice to text when they know that the service request will be handled quickly and efficiently.     

If you decide to implement a service request app, here are some features to look for:

  • The ability to upload photos and audio/video files. Visual and audio cues can help speed up repairs. Imagine a call from a community member reporting that their plumbing is making a funny noise – and the callers brave attempt to describe (or mimic) that noise. Now imagine an app submission that reports the plumbing making a funny noise, with an audio file attached. Which gives the repair person more information? When your staff is able to diagnose an issue in advance, they bring the right tools and parts for the job, which means they can fix things more quickly (and on the first visit).
  • Built-in mapping.  In a large facility or campus, just identifying the location of the maintenance issue can be a major challenge for the requestor to communicate.  Calling the service desk and trying to describe the location where you see a spill can be maddening when you’re in an unfamiliar location surrounded by mysterious equipment.  With built in mapping, the service request app can automatically pinpoint the location and associated asset, negating the need for a “describe where you are” conversation.
  • Dynamic service request forms.  Community members are often frustrated by one-size-fits-all service request forms that require a lot of data entry.  In response, many of the service request apps offer configurable service request forms that adapt to the type of service requested and dynamically branch based upon the answers to the questions posed, providing step-by-step guidance to the requestor and assuring that service-critical information is captured at the point of initiation. 
  • The ability to provide automated updates to the requestor. Your community members are accustomed to getting real-time updates via apps – think DoorDash deliveries or an Uber pick-up. Providing them real-time updates on their service issue – something that’s common with these service request apps – can go a long way towards building requestor satisfaction and trust. They can also prevent people from calling or emailing about the same issue over and over because they are unsure if their issue is being acted upon, or they are unaware of the status of the repair.  In today’s apps, it’s common to get alerts when the service request has been opened by the service desk, when a repair has been scheduled, a technician assigned, when the technician has been dispatched, when the repair has been started, and when it’s been completed – typically accompanied by a visual timeline akin to what you’d see in a ride-share or delivery app.
  • In-app communications.  Similar to many consumer apps, it common for service request apps to offer in-app messaging between the requestor and service team to make it easy to gather additional service request details, provide instructions on how to gain access to the requestor’s premises, or to give the requestor additional details on an in-progress or completed repair. 
  • The ability to send post-repair customer satisfaction surveys. Using post-service surveys, either within the app or via follow-up email, you can collect feedback on the service you provide. Share those positive results with senior management – it’s great fodder to show that your O&M team is providing great value to the community.

It’s hard to get increases to your O&M budget when your team’s contributions aren’t seen or appreciated.  The introduction of a service request mobile app can transform the requestor’s service experience – which leads to greater appreciation for what the O&M team does day-in and day-out.  Over time, that individual requestor appreciation will spread across the greater community – shining a light on how O&M underpins overall community satisfaction – which can translate to support in the C-Suite when budget appropriations are being discussed.