Talk less, listen more, stop with the biscuits and coffee!

The fluffy stuff might not always grab the headlines but it is an important part of who we are as social landlords.  We just need to get a little bit smarter about how we go about it.

The chances are when resident involvement is mentioned in a housing office eyes start to role over.  I can actually hear yours going now…stop, come back to me, this is worth it.  Just as hippies have often been bemoaned for having their hearts (if not their hygiene) in the right place, but ultimately being a bit ‘out there’ so too have all things involvementy (not sure that is a word but let’s go with it) been given the “ah bless ’em” treatment.

The notion of involvement in social housing is an incredibly woolly and vague concept.  This doesn’t help its perception as largely being a bolt-on to the mainstay of a landlord, i.e. rent, housing, repairs and maintenance.  Does involvement mean allowing residents on the board of the organisation (they often are)?  Does it mean residents taking part in procurement exercises (my pet hate)?  Does it mean dragging a few out to sign off the yearly annual report to residents (another bugbear of mine)?  Does it mean paying lip-service to engaging with residents in the hope that they stop all that moaning (depressingly this is occasionally the case)?

For me, the main problem with resident involvement is not so much the end game i.e. an organisation that is responsive to the needs and opinions of its customers.  But the way we go about it.  As a sector we still rely far too heavily on cost heavy, labour intensive approaches by which to engage and involve our customers.  With offices only open 8am – 6pm (give or take…) we seem to think that we will get a representative group of people to hold us to account and drive service improvement by having meetings mid-afternoon on a Wednesday (or any other week day for that matter).  This is of course utter bollocks.  What happens is that those who largely have the time, space etc to come along, do.  Consequently, residents groups are made up heavily by the grey brigade with a few out of work and long term sick customers thrown into the mix.  All bring valuable insight into the way in which we operate and how it affects them.  But they do not provide the whole picture, nor should they be expected to.  Just as I couldn’t possibly represent the voice of a generation neither can the the grey brigade fully speak for the people who so kindly keep us in our respective jobs.

That is not to say we should shut up shop and stop trying to engage and involve customers, quite the contrary.  We do however need to be more open to different ways of going about things.  A fine example of a non traditional approach can be seen at the Mecca of social media in housing, Bromford.  Although on paper not a great PR episode for the chaps and chapesses over in the Midlands, with long term issues of damp resulting in a resident driven online campaign.  The fact that a group of residents identified a problem, held the social landlord to account and ultimately set in motion the wheels to rectify the said problem (without the need for a midday meeting organised by the organisation) highlights my point.  We do not always have the answers, we should not always be the guide.  We should however listen.  The best companies in the wolf pit of the private sector adapt their offering according to feedback (both company and customer initiated).  We would do well to follow suit.

So how do we go about avoiding the old pitfalls of relying on a largely unrepresentative body of guys and gals?

  • Targeted communications – use the data your organisation has on your residents, want to know what first time customers think about their new property and the issues they face? Ask them. Look at who is involved and target the exact opposite.
  • Non meeting reliant feedback – you do not need to have residents in a meeting to get their opinion, facilitate remote working within your involved customer base and reap the results.
  • Do not just do 9-5 working – this means more weekend and evening meetings and yes more online based communication.
  • Expand your customer surveying approach(es) – it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that if loads of negative feedback is filtering through about a particular service area then you should do something about it.  But you have to ask people in order to get their opinions, or better yet listen when the phone/text/email/tweet their issues.  For god’s sake though do not just rely on paper surveys when asking people what they think!

Or maybe I’m just talking a load of gibberish and we should just make the same old mistakes (pro tip, we shouldn’t). For an interesting blog on this subject I suggest seeing Mr Paul Taylor’s latest offering.  Thought provoking as always.

If you feel so inclined (I wouldn’t advise it) can follow me on Twitter here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.

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2 thoughts on “Talk less, listen more, stop with the biscuits and coffee!

  1. Great post Neil and thanks for the shout out.

    I think you’ve pretty much nailed the problem with resident involvement here – it’s one of the last taboos in UK housing.

    First of all you’re right – the whole idea of a scrutiny panel or the like coming in a few afternoons a year as an effective check on an organisation is nonsense. It simply can’t be representative.

    In many ways the crisis of resident involvement is the same as the crisis of democracy. The systems weren’t fit for purpose pre-digital and they sure as heck aren’t now.

    Just as in politics (I want to be able to vote and influence things online 24/7 – I’m busy) , social housing tenants will want the same stake in their landlords.

    A big ask.

    Like

  2. Hi Neil,

    Thanks for the mention in your post. From our perspective as customers we currently perceive a divide between ourselves and our landlords representatives. Consequently there is a deal of mistrust from some residents. A recent example was when Bromford organised a morning drop in session at the local community centre about our campaign.

    Imagine being a mother with a young child and walking into a confined space where there were half a dozen men standing there with their arms folded, looking out of their comfort zone when dealing with customers with a grievance. Remember these were some of the same men who came into our homes to tell us we were the cause of our condensation, damp and mould problems.

    In contrast the approach from the comms professionals at Bromford has been quite the opposite. We have tried to act firmly but reasonably and in return they have dealt with us in an open, sympathetic and frank manner. They have responded in the public and prompt way we have asked for. Time will tell if this will lead to a satisfactory resolution, it will if the comms team succeed in changing the previously held attitudes of local management and frontline staff.

    As I write this reply just before bedtime it has been good to be able to have discussions over social media in what would have been considered ‘out of hours’ times. Just this evening I have questioned Paul Taylor just what a ‘Customers Be Your Best Board’ was. Apparently it doesn’t involve any customers and isn’t a board. But at least I got quick responses to my tweets.

    All too often engagement takes place when there is, or has been, some sort of conflict or problem to resolve. There is a huge portion of our fellow tenants who don’t get into bother with their landlord, nor do they kick up a fuss when something goes wrong. If landlords find better ways to engage with those people they may find the input to their innovations are a lot more realistic and useful. In our experience a great way to achieve this is with the trusted network of Facebook and other opportunities to interact out of work or caring time. Hardly any are using Twitter let alone Instagram.

    The experience in our campaign led us to setting up another blog for all Bromford customers and I hope Bromford will help us make contact with other residents across their stock (https://bromfordsos.wordpress.com/). If we can create meaningful relationships between Bromford and us as customers we could see some great innovation and I am sure it will be applicable to much of social housing in the UK.

    Must go now, it’s been a long day and we do this when we can in addition to our other responsibilities. If professionals can cut us some slack and work with us on our terms then I am sure we can make it happen, big ask or not.

    Like

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