Doug Shaw recently met with Kate Davies, the CEO of Notting Hill Housing, to find out how she is leading and encouraging engagement as a way of improving service.
Kate started by observing a key difference between west and east whereby the east seemed to get the concept of sacrifice for the greater or community good much more than the west. She used the example of the one child policy in China, where people accept that the national interest demands their acceptance of a restriction of their own choices. Another example would be where the individual sublimates his own wishes to those of the family. Kate says we need to understand that different customers have different cultural backgrounds and this means it is important to approach them as individuals rather than providing the bog standard service. This led her to think about NHH’s customers and their needs more holistically – in the round.
NHH employs 800 staff and serves the needs of about 30,000 customers. When she first arrived at NHH, Kate mistakenly had a view that £75 per week for a two bedroom flat in Notting Hill with free repair service is a great deal. What could possibly be the problem? She quickly realised that was still no excuse for poor customer service – and what else is going on? What other social needs might the customer have? What needs to change? Kate explains the thinking and action behind this:
“I run a housing association and our customer satisfaction rating is 58 per cent. For five years we made many attempts at change and adjustment and none of it made any difference.
Finally I took courage and decided to find out why customers were unhappy and what we needed to do, to change their perception. We discovered that those who were dissatisfied were unhappy for three main reasons:
1. We did not communicate effectively with them
2. We often failed to complete the job properly
3. Our repairs service was not good enough.
While the third issue is always a priority for social tenants 1. and 2. were so obvious and almost banal. Surely what our customers wanted was what I wanted any time I bought a service or product. We also analysed some complaints to see what had gone wrong, and we drew some diagrams which showed the complex and inconclusive discussions tenants had to have to get what they wanted.
We then gave the evidence to our staff and asked them how this feedback made them feel, what was going wrong and how they would like to correct it. Their response was also threefold. They said they would like:
1. A personal relationship with the tenant, so trust can grow
2. The power and the budget to deliver the service that the tenant wants
3. Managers to manage around what matters to the customer
When asked why people like working @ NHHT, most of our staff say “the people”, but they rarely mean the customer. They usually mean the people they work alongside (immediate team) which is something of a safe haven compared to the stress of dealing with customers. We allowed the staff to design how they would work if the objective was to increase customer satisfaction.
Each person now has a small case load of 125 tenants, and they are responsible for delivering everything i.e. repairs, rent collection, tenancy issues and behaviour. They meet the tenant in their home and find out what they have to do to make the tenant happy. Then they do it. This in home service also allows the staff to see the customer as a whole person and try to connect the customer with other social services where appropriate.
We also try to make sure we recruit the best people to deliver great service. One of the ways we try to achieve this is through our website www.lovewhereyouwork.org.uk where people can find out not only what jobs we have to offer but much more. On the site we talk about our vision, our service and how the organisation fits together, which I guess you would expect. We also describe the benefits of working for the trust and the sense of shared commitment which we try hard to create. We expect a lot from our staff so that they in turn can expect a lot from us. We continue to develop Love Where You Work to make it more inclusive but we think it’s a good start. The main problem with our approach to date I think has been to emphasise the extrinsic rewards of the job (“hot chocolate and yoga”) rather than the intrinsive benefit of actually helping our tenants get a better life. The latter is really motivating and interesting and allows staff control over their work.
We recognise that nothing’s perfect and that we should always look to improve. But what difference has the listening and action made? We are finding tenant satisfaction rising and the staff love it too.”
If you are interested to learn more about the approach Kate and her team are developing at Notting Hill Housing, Kate is speaking at the Engaging for Growth conference in London on April 14th. See www.engagingforgrowth.com for more details and to book your place.