‘It is time to end the ‘customer’ or ‘tenant’ debate and start offering better services’ – our Director of Customer Services writes for Inside Housing
Our Director of Customer Services Lourdes Sharpe has written a comment piece for Inside Housing.
Inside Housing is the leading monthly magazine for housing professionals in the UK.
Throughout the piece Lourdes talks about how the people who live in our homes consider themselves customers and expect a service comparable with the other businesses they use.
She highlights the importance of meeting these expectations and how at Citizen we recognised we needed to do much better.
You can read the full article below or on the Inside Housing website.
Whatever we choose to call them, the people who live in our homes consider themselves customers and expect a service comparable with the other businesses they use. We must meet these expectations.
For too long in housing we have treated the people who use our services differently.
Over the years I have been part of many conference sessions and debates which centre around whether the people who live in our homes are tenants, residents or customers. But is there really any value in asking this question?
Even though as housing associations we are rightly proud of the impact we have in our communities – although we provide unique services and it’s true that our product is often one of need rather than choice – everyone who accesses our services is a customer and their experience must reflect this.
Most importantly, the experience of our customers must meet their expectations. When other sectors are constantly driving experience forward in new and innovative ways, the challenge for us is to keep up.
Because our customers will, understandably, not give us wiggle room. If they get a seamless experience with the likes of Amazon or ASOS, then that is what they will expect from us – and there’s no reason why we can’t provide it.
The longer we see ourselves as different, the greater the risk that we fail to recognise the need to meet this standard. To make sure that the interactions our customers have with us are the best they can be.
At Citizen we recognised we needed to do much better. Although the scarce feedback we were receiving from customers showed our teams were doing work which our customers valued, we didn’t have anywhere near enough intelligence, and on customer experience it was clear that we needed to raise our game significantly.
To guide this, we wanted a detailed understanding of what was working and what was not in the eyes of our customers. We first commissioned a research organisation to survey thousands of customers to get a detailed sense of how they rated our service and what their perception of us was.
Over the past two years we have set about transforming our customer experience in response to this intelligence.
This has included the creation of a Citizen First training programme, which has seen every member of staff in our organisation receive focused customer service training.
We have just recruited a new customer committee, using an innovative recruitment campaign to attract a diverse pool of customers who will shape our services through online interaction.
We’ve also rebranded and transformed our website and customer portal and, crucially, introduced a new customer experience platform used by the likes of Sky to give us real-time feedback. This has transformed our understanding of our customers and allowed us to be more responsive than ever.
The new platform means we can assess customer satisfaction and sentiment in real time and deal with issues immediately. We now receive 5,000 pieces of immediate individual feedback directly related to services that customers have received every month.
This means we know much more about that we are doing well and where we can improve. It adds a new layer of accountability among our teams and motivates them to provide the best service they can – joining the dots between individual contribution and customer satisfaction.
This feedback has already allowed us to make often small but impactful changes to the way we provide services and we can already see the result in our satisfaction scores, which are now regularly around 4.5 out of 5 – another tool we can use to motivate colleagues to continue to provide a great service.
Our objective to improve our customer offer is far from complete – in fact, for any organisation it is never complete.
The challenge for us, and for all housing organisations, is meeting the increasingly high expectations that our customers have for the experience they receive. And that applies whether they are receiving round-the-clock care or a simple repair transaction.
Tenant, resident, leaseholder or any other person who receives our services, there’s no doubt at all that they are customers and that’s how we need to treat them.
Lourdes Sharpe, Director of Customer Services, Citizen