Listening is one of the housing sector’s most valuable tools. It enables us to benefit from a thorough understanding of what our customers value, how we can meet their aspirations, and ultimately, deliver the highest levels of satisfaction.
Regardless of how well we think we are listening to our customers, there is always the potential to do more. We can all be better listeners and there are plenty of good examples throughout the sector that demonstrate how this is being achieved. Here, I share our approach.
Over the years, we have realised that to truly connect with our customers, understand their needs, and deliver the best service and value, we need to proactively seek constant dialogue. That means continually asking the right questions both to our customers and ourselves to establish what may need to change, improve or evolve. It also requires a willingness to accept criticism and do something about it.
One of the most important, but hardest, questions to answer is whether our customer service experience is good enough. To find out, we have carried out extensive research over the last two years to gain a greater understanding of our customer base and what they think about our approach to customer service. This has involved more than 200 interviews in customer workshops across the UK.
The process highlighted the importance of categorising our customers in line with their specific needs and priorities. This analysis proved instrumental when the first lockdown was announced, and we formed a Customer Wellbeing Taskforce. The Taskforce was able to devise a highly targeted approach based on those most in need, including more than 70,000 phone calls and tailored assistance.
The research also enabled us to identify any inconsistencies in our approach to customer service and what we could do more efficiently and effectively. The overarching feedback told us that we needed to put people before processes and empower our colleagues to do what is right for the customer, to co-create with them.
This would require us to change the way we engage with customers and to achieve that, there would need to be a cultural change across the Places for People Group. This led to the development of our People First Strategy – a new way of thinking that puts customers at the heart of everything we do and achieves optimum value. Using feedback from our customer research, we established our People Promise, which has the Plain English accreditation and communicates our commitment to customer service.
To spread this message and engage colleagues in the People First strategy, workshops have been held across the UK. Our colleagues are encouraged to put themselves in the shoes of customers, to think about how they would want to feel, and what they would need to do to make sure their individual needs and expectations are met to increase customer satisfaction.
Our People First approach is supported by several practical tools that are helping us monitor customer experience. For example, we have adopted the net promoter score (NPS) to measure how likely our customers are to recommend us to others. Customers are invited to provide feedback through a new NPS dashboard which will help us monitor and improve customer satisfaction. We have also established a National Customer Group as a forum to gain customers’ feedback on products and services.
Listening to customers in a more analytical way will also help to create a more targeted approach to development. This was the driver behind conducting further research earlier this year involving more than 8,000 members of the public. The aim was to establish what our potential and existing customers in different target segments want from their next home.
These insights are helping us to more forensically explore the factors that influence people’s decisions when choosing a home. As a result of the pandemic, we polled another 4,000 customers in September 2020 to establish if, and how, Covid-19 had changed their views.
This data will play a crucial role in helping us to quickly deliver more of the right homes across the UK.
When working with a broad range of customers with many different needs, listening can be challenging and in an increasingly uncertain world, it has never been so important. Maintaining a dialogue with our customers will enable us to keep learning so that we can improve on our previous best and ensure our products and services are relevant and create value.
There are many ways that we can actively listen to our customers, and we’re open to new ideas from across the sector. There will always be things that we could do better and that is our focus to ensure we continuously improve, deliver the highest levels of customer satisfaction and homes that people really want and need.