The Government’s Green Paper and the Hackitt Review both brought into sharp focus that listening to customers and responding to their needs should be front and centre of everything we do.
We work hard to create a positive relationship with our customers and as a sector we have a longstanding commitment to engaging with residents. But housing associations don’t always get it right. As early adopters of the National Housing Federation’s 'Together with Tenants' initiative we are working with customers to build a collaborative, balanced relationship and developing four new standards for housing providers.
Last year our focus was on improving customer experience. Over the years our performance has been good. The speed at which we let homes, and the number of customers we support to pay their rent puts us amongst the top performing housing associations in the UK. But whilst our performance has been good, we know that customer experience could improve. So, we set out to improve this with customers at the heart of the changes.
We’ve listened and co-designed new services with customers. We learnt that customer enquiries can be complex and if they are, customers want to meet us in person at time and place that’s convenient for them. So, we have consolidated three area offices and established five community hubs across Greater Manchester in the communities we serve, providing customers better access to support. Customers can arrange to meet us at any of our hubs at a time that suits them and because people need us for different things, by making an appointment we can make sure that the right colleague is there to help them there and then.
We have also made it easier for customers to contact us by all our other channels. Our new customer service and support team are helping us to diagnose issues better and reach a solution quicker, avoiding hand offs and improving satisfaction. And as most of our customers work, they want to contact us before 9am and after 5pm, so we have extended the hours the team work, so customers can contact us when it’s convenient for them.
We found that some customers were frustrated at taking time off work for repairs. So, we have changed our trades team’s working patterns - introducing Saturday appointments, plus early appointments before customers go to work, and late ones for when they get back.
We have introduced geographical based patches for our repairs and maintenance teams. This is helping us to get to know our customers and their homes better and has given colleagues 35% more time to deliver services by reducing travel time. It’s also helping us to reduce our carbon footprint. By having a dedicated surveyor on every patch, we are also able to diagnose repairs better and ensure that the right trades person attends and can fix the job on the first visit.
Central to these changes has been our Residents Scrutiny Panel. They have been in the driving seat, being an influential and critical friend and helping us to co-design solutions.
Luchia Fitzgerald, the chair of our Residents Scrutiny Panel explains: “We have developed a working relationship with service managers. It’s breaking down barriers and changing mind-sets. We are having positive and helpful discussions about how we can get services to work better in the future and recommendations have been put in place to make sure that services improve. The Resident Scrutiny Panel is here to make a difference. Working together is the best way forward for us all.”
These changes are having a big impact and by empowering customers to share their experiences and demonstrating what we have done differently, we are encouraging continued collaboration and learning. So, we keep listening to customers and working with them to improve, because that is the only way we can truly do what matters to them.