For over twenty years I’ve been conducting a biannual survey of fire alarm and sprinkler system end users that begins with the same question: Why do you purchase a test and inspection agreement on your life-safety system? Every year the number one answer has been the same. “It’s required by code.” What has changed over the years is the number two answer which has climbed within a few percentage points of the code requirement response. The second place response: “Because it’s the right thing to do.” I find this encouraging as a growing number of building owners and operators understand the importance of properly maintaining their life-safety systems. It also reinforces my primary sales strategy: “Enlighten the customer to what it actually takes to maintain their system and they will make the right decision.” If they refuse to be enlightened than feel free to throw the code book at them.”
Unfortunately far too many building owners and operators don’t grasp the responsibility they have to their building occupants to provide a safe environment. There are numerous data pointsprovided by various AHJs that allude to the fact that as many as 50 percent of commercial buildings don’t have their systems inspected annually or don’t complete the repairs that are recommended by their service providers. I think this may be a conservative number.
I recently conducted a survey of building operators and asked them the last time they recall that a fire official visited their facility and asked to review their inspection reports. Over 60 percent had no recollection and 20 percent responded it had been over five years. As we all know, very few communities have the money to invest in adding manpower. If they do, it’s normally spent on law enforcement resources.
As in many other areas of our lives, technology has provided an opportunity to fundamentally change the environment we do business in. AHJs have been presented with software solutions by a growing number of firms that will help them meet their mandate to ensure public safety. Some of these firms are willing to provide their compliance software solutions at no cost to progressive AHJs looking for help. Of course, nothing is free. AHJs must have qualified staff to process and manage the information flow.This requires a culture shift for many AHJs and stands as the primary barrier to implementation. It doesn’t take much to foresee a time when the firms supplying the software could also offer enhanced services that include management and enforcement support.
Implementation of compliance reporting has been uneven to say the least. Some of my clients report no activity or interest by AHJs in their area. Others have jurisdiction(s) who have implemented the program.Most report that momentum is building in their markets.Regardless of your current situation one thing is for certain: compliance reporting is inevitable.Will the over 30,000 jurisdictions across the country implement the program over the next few years? I doubt it. Will the majority of the larger jurisdictions with professional fire departments sign up? For sure, it’s just a matter of time.
So what’s the impact on service providers in our industry? It means it’s time to position your firms to take advantage of what may be a windfall of business for those that are out in front. Sure there are concerns that competitors may see your customer list,you may have to pay additional costs for filing fees, or need labor to reformat your reports.Those are all valid concerns, but they’re out of your control. What is in your control is to position your service and service sales department for success.It’s an opportunity to take the lead in your marketplace and not put too much emphasis on what your competitors are doing.
Here is what you’ll need to focus on:
- Education. Your staff needs to be educated on what compliance reporting is and what your firm’s position is regarding your current and future clients.
- Communication. It’s an opportunity for your firm to work with local AHJs to assist them in their efforts. Does this mean helping them choose a software platform that compliments the inspection reporting system you’re using or planning on purchasing?For sure.There’s also a great opportunity to guide end users through the process.Building owners and operators will be looking for a partner, not just a vendor, to help them meet the new requirements.
- Process Improvements/Service Operations. For those of you already utilizing inspection software you’re ahead of the game. For those of you that are hesitant or feel you’re not in a position to make that investment, hang on because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
- Process Improvements/Service Sales. It’s time to take a hard look at how and who sells services in your company. If your effort is nothing less than a structured service sales program it may undermine your opportunity to capture this emerging market or retain your current one. Does your firm have the right people in place to communicate your value proposition? Are they educated on selling value and not price when it comes to service?Is your firm able to offer service agreements that include repairs? If the answer is no, or maybe, to any of the above questions, it’s time to do something about it.