Maintenance in 30 Minutes - Or Less

When institutions review current maintenance services and make changes to ensure better and faster service to the customer (students), increase in overall satisfaction is noticeable. Not only are students more empowered to use university services and seek assistance, but services are more efficient and employees know what it really means to provide quality service. This is true at Northern Arizona University (NAU). The Office of Residence Life and Facility Services teamed up and developed a new maintenance program titled "30-Minute Maintenance." Development of this program involved shifting existing service paradigms and maintaining a strong collaboration between Residence Life and Facility Services.

The Old

Until September 1999, residents with a maintenance concern would communicate with their residence hall front desk and fill out a work request form. A General Maintenance Mechanic (GMM) might or might not pick up the request that same day, let alone complete the work. Residents sometimes informed their RA of the problem, thinking the information would be submitted properly. Using this old system, the resident might not see the problem repaired for three or four days. Office of Residence Life’s Quality of Life Survey routinely indicated that residents were less satisfied with "timeliness of maintenance" than with other facilities procedures.

NAU decided to research programs at other universities. Utah State University has established an approach that allows a resident to call in maintenance requests directly to a central dispatch. A Maintenance Mechanic is then called to respond to the request within 15 minutes. Within the first week, the program began to show signs of success. Residents and hall staff became satisfied with response time, and maintenance staff enjoyed providing the service.

Office of Residence Life and Facility Services at NAU decided to establish a similar program. However, there was one difference. Residence Life at Utah State University has its own Housing Services, which did not need to work collaboratively with another department. At NAU, Residence Life relies on a strong relationship with Facility Services and works collaboratively on residence hall improvements and maintenance. A new maintenance program would need to have approval from two separate entities, not one, with both having different operating principles and financial implications.

The New

In September 1999, NAU implemented the 30-Minute Maintenance Program. The service allows residents to call and report maintenance concerns to a dispatcher located at Facility Services. Service is provided between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. A Residence Life GMM then receives a radio call and responds to that resident's room within 30 minutes.

For the first two weeks of the program, GMM, Dispatch and Residence Life staff met daily to discuss items that were and were not working, make corrections and conduct additional training. After the first four weeks, the average response time was 12 minutes, with approximately 90 percent of the problems being repaired at that time. The other 10 percent were forwarded to the dispatcher so a work order could be submitted to appropriate trades personnel, and residents received a card indicating work order information and GMM name. From September 20, 1999, through January 28, 2000, GMM staff responded to 2,600 calls in an average response time of 15 minutes. Average response time before September 20, 1999, was three working days.

Student employees assist GMM staff and can fill in when a GMM is not at work or is conducting a major repair. The Office of Residence Life employs two Night Student Maintenance Mechanics who respond to student and staff concerns between 10:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. during the weekday and 24 hours/day during the weekends. This has helped decrease the amount of calls to on-call GMM staff and has provided a quick response to night emergency calls.

Like Utah State University, residence hall staff at NAU noticed a change in student satisfaction and perception of Facility Services staff. Hall directors have now taken on an indirect role with managing daily maintenance and can see amount and types of calls using computer software. Therefore, instead of reviewing logbooks on a daily basis, paging a GMM for immediate assistance or listening to students complain, they can concentrate on other student issues.

Helpful Hints

You may be considering adopting a similar program, but are concerned with implementation procedures. Here are some tips that may help.

- Review relationship between Residence Life and Physical Plant. Both should agree on customer service philosophy. Both need to make financial commitments.

- Involve maintenance and hall staff in the development of the new program.

- Contact other institutions with similar programs. Their insight may prove helpful.

- Review the use of student staff. Well-trained students can assist in many different ways.

- Review dispatch guidelines and reporting procedures. Have a computer-based system that is easy to use and can formulate many reports.

- Purchase a reliable radio system with multiple channels.

- Develop marketing strategies that encourage residents to call a central number.

- Develop training strategies for both hall and maintenance staff.

- Meet daily for a few weeks to discuss what is and is not working.

- Review average response time and show positive results to Facility Services and Residence Life staff, administration and residents.

- Continue to evaluate the program using satisfaction surveys, hall staff feedback and maintenance reviews.

Since NAU has not yet conducted its annual Quality of Life Survey, it is difficult to show data that indicate an increase in resident satisfaction. However, overall comments have been positive, and there has been a decrease in the amount of calls indicating dissatisfaction with living conditions. GMM staff have finally been able to schedule preventive maintenance in their buildings, which they believe will decrease the number of future calls. The 30-Minute Maintenance Program has proven to be a successful collaboration between Residence Life and Facility Services, and residents have enjoyed the new customer service approach.

At the time this article was written, Stacy Klippenstein was the Assistant Director of Residence Life at NAU; he is now the Director of Residence Life at Central Washington University. Richard Bowen is the Manager of Maintenance for Facility Services. For more information, contact Bowen at 520/523-8831. Also, check out the Residence Life Web page at www.nau.edu. A special thanks goes to Tom and his staff at Utah State University.

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