Listening to the customer of 2016

06 October 2016

This National Customer Service Week, our Customer Contact Team Leader James Ballantyne blogs about meeting the needs of our customers and learning from every complaint.

Trillions of customer service transactions take place around the world every day. From buying a coffee before jumping on the train, to booking a doctor’s appointment, or completing the purchase of your first home, to logging a repair with your landlord. We too often accept customer service as a given, instead a process from A to B. No coffee to having a coffee - you get the idea.

It’s easy when we’re the ones delivering a service to a customer for it to become just another transaction, but we need to stop and think about what we’re doing well, and if it meets their needs. I want to share some of the work we’ve been doing in welcoming feedback and changing our culture to create an army of listeners, at the same time as assessing the expectations of a customer in 2016.

Our customers tell us when they’re unhappy and we take the opportunity to learn

It can be daunting when we’re met with frustration if we’ve not met a customer's expectations or failed to deliver something they feel we should’ve done. Was it that we missed an appointment? Did we do a poor job when installing their new kitchen? It’s important that we respond to their complaint with a timely and appropriate investigation, working with them to bring about a resolution they’re happy with, fitting with the purpose of our business. What we’re asking our supporting teams is to is look at what our customers are really saying, and find any common trends.

Last year, we received 1,459 comments through our complaints and compliments process - that’s 1,459 customer reviews, good and bad, which we can learn from. In response to these we have:

  • Updated our contact system to allow customers to request call backs rather than wait in queues
  • Introduced a Resident Liaison Officer to support our maintenance teams to improve communication gaps
  • Recognised the need to improve communication across the business - we've reduced the number of letters we send and started to use text messaging to quickly update our residents.

We were able to do all of this this because our customers told us what they expect, and it gave us an opportunity to change and improve our processes. We’re improving how we learn from our customers by:

  • Monitoring complaints and compliments to know what our customers expect and how we can deliver our services to better meet their needs
  • Coaching our Customer Advisors on taking great notes, working out where any frustration lies, to resolve the issue and record the outcome
  • Reflecting on effectiveness of our customer responses, questioning whether we, as a customer, would be happy with the service we’ve received
  • Sharing updates across the business so, as the first point of contact, our Customer Advisors know our services inside out.

By doing this, our Customer Contact Team resolves an average of 80% of enquiries at the first point of contact, always striving to be an effective one-stop service. We take our time to explore real concerns, with opportunities to collect customer intelligence to drive change in our services. Our advisors act as ‘Customer Champions’ for the business.

The customer of 2016

A customer expects a safe roof over their head, value for money in their rent and service charges, and easily accessible landlord services. They're wanting an instant service and to interact with us when it suits them. Choice is ultimately what the customer is looking for.

What does that mean for us as a landlord?

With wider choice of service interaction, we need to be really clear about our expectations. To allow choice to happen, we need to put clear processes and systems in place to facilitate good interactions with customers, with a clear service offer. It’s really as simple as that.

And what does that mean for the future? Our five-year business plan sets out our need to be more agile in adapting to shifting environments, committed to our customers in the expanding services we deliver, and more digitally focused, because that’s what our customers’ expectations are. Some of our aims will involve some time and investment, but others can be met by simply listening to our customers.

Follow James on Twitter @JamesBKHA.

National Customer Service Week is hosted annually by the Institute of Customer Service. Follow the hashtag #ncsw16.