Are you being served?

Left Hand Right hand

In an attempt to get over the horror show that was the 2015 General Election me and my ladyfriend went to watch the mighty Worcester Warriors take on London Scottish. For the uninitiated/dead inside this clash of titans was for the 2nd leg of the Championship Play Off Semi-Final. As is customary on our pilgrimage to Lourdes Sixways we stopped off to have some grub and a drink. Hardy Warriors fans will know drinks are a necessity to get you through the game.

At the public house in question all was dandy until the food service kicked in. You had about 4 staff doing different jobs (but not really talking to each other). I can see the attraction of this approach. Each member of staff nails their respective areas. But such modes of work need to run smoothly with communication being paramount, otherwise you end up looking (and acting) like headless chickens.

One particular Faulty Towers-esk moment involved staff member #1 coming over, dumping our drinks and leaving. In the process of doing so he didn’t bat an eyelid whilst completely stopping me and staff member #2 from sorting out the food order.  Random staff member #3 came to check if food was OK. It is a skill but they always ask me mid mouthful so hand signals usually have to suffice at this point. After we had finished staff member #4 cleared our plates. Not stopping to check if we wanted either the bill or dessert (FYI I always want dessert).

Why the rant? Well, swap the pub for a Housing Association the food service for the services we provide and a similar pattern emerges. Very often the different aspects don’t properly interact with each other.  Often from our end the focus is on completing a process, not understanding the needs of the customer. Whilst we may have an SLA which states a 2 week completion time for us.  For the customer that is 2 weeks of hearing nothing whilst the issue at hand builds up. Touch points and process junctures are two different things.

Such approaches as outlined above tend to end up with poor customer service and a pissed off tenant. Worse it can end up costing your organisation a lot of money.  This is especially relevant given the increasingly complex structure we operate under. With the boys and girls in blue winning the General Election I can only see a further move to more mergers and group structures as organisations seek to secure their long-term future.  The fact that the first ‘new’ generation of housing folk (post 1960s) is up for retirement soon may also be a factor.  But that could just be me being mischievous…

My all time favourite story on poor communication involves windows (the see through things, not the operating system). It was recognised that a scheme with rather shabby windows was getting a lot of call outs. So the repairs team went out stripped off the paint and sanded back the wood and repaint said items. The hope being that this would reduce repeat/consistent repairs and ultimately save money. It looked lovely, until the planned maintenance contractors came out a month later, ripped the windows out and put new PVC ones in. What a mess.

But there is also a more urgent need to ensure different parts of the organisation know what each other is doing. Every organisation has ‘names’, customers that through acute vulnerabilities, bloody-mindedness, or with nothing better to do, cause havoc. This is often containable and manageable with frontline staff. But such individuals are persistent and will call every number they can find. Well intentioned back office staff (like myself) may end up kicking a hornets nest by accident. Fundamentally not only are such occurrences time-consuming, they are also costly. Your CRM processes should enable you to pick up a quick back story before calling. This will enable a coherent riposte and avoid re-opening grievances. Failure to do so risks unravelling months of work at a stroke.

Probably just as effective is ensuring that you facilitate cross team communication.  A simple but effective method is getting your housing officer (or equivalent), income officer (or equivalent) and repairs team member responsible for an area to meet regularly.  This can be tricky if repairs are held externally but by enabling the 3 main threads of a tenancy to intertwine you can share valuable knowledge and experience.  And keep everyone on message.  If you have a mixed housing/income officer set where low arrears are handled by housing officers, stop, now.  You are about 5 years behind the curve.  For some interesting facts and figures on this changing side of housing check Pawson et al.’s now slighted dated work for the TSA.

Moral of the story? Well, as Bob Hoskins used to say (ironically enough in an advert for a company known for its crap customer service) “It’s good to talk”. As organisation get ever larger and more complex (I’ve not even touched on the role contractors play in this) ensuring clear communication channels is paramount. It is also good to make the most of your CRM. Drill home its importance and invest in its use. Oh and always make sure your repairs and maintenance teams keep in touch.

Feeling depressed? Don’t worry, all is not lost and in particular from my pub experience there is happy ending. Warriors smashed it to reach the Play Off finals and we went home and made our own dessert #winning.

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An open letter to everyone who voted Conservative yesterday and why you should hesitate before you pat yourself on the back.

Yea, nails it.

Wilsher 's Blog

To everyone who voted conservative yesterday,

I hope you’re happy. Actually that’s a lie, I really don’t. But before you sit smugly down and give yourself a big pat on the back I’d like to ask you a few questions.

Do you think you haven’t benefitted from the system you are currently trying to break down? As a child, did you ever go to hospital? Have you had an education? Did you ever use a library? Have you ever been on a bus? If so, you have benefited from a system which subsidises facilities with taxes. And now you have, you are willing to take it away from everyone after you. Correct me if I’m wrong but that doesn’t seem very fair. You cannot have socialism and a support system when you need it but then be unwilling to support it for other people.

Now if you are someone who…

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Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right…

The Guardian’s latest opine (though a legitimate one) on the potential further cuts said to be drafted up by Whitehall rams home the point that those receiving state assistance are fair game politically.  Regardless of the repercussions.

I am constantly amazed that those in a position of wealth, security and responsiblity continuously, and dishonestly, shun those below them.  A significant undertone to the pre-election campaigns has been the denigration of those at the margins of society.  Let me be clear these proposals (outlined below) are immoral, unworkable and will fail to deliver what is needed to help the economy recovery properly.  They also forget that we are all a couple of missed pay cheques, a stroke, an accident, a bereavement away from being in the same position of many of those we help on a day-to-day basis.

In short the proposals include:

  • Prevent the under 25s from claiming housing benefit and incapacity benefit (because of course no-one under 25 needs any state assistance)
  • Increasing the bedroom tax (because that has worked so well so far)
  • Freezing benefit payments across the board
  • Stricter fit for work tests (because the current ones run so smoothly)

Whilst a neoliberal’s wet dream these potential changes are simply horrific.  And if they are anywhere near as unsuccessful as the benefit cap, the bedroom tax v 1.0 and the already stricter fit for work tests they will cause havoc and poverty to those already struggling.  They will not re-balance the economy, they will not drive up employment, they will fuck over those who least deserve a good kicking.  They are a set of policies symptomatic of a political set that simply cannot, will not understand what it is like to be on the bread line.

I have been steadfast in my desire for our sector to be more proactive, more influential and to be more progressive in its efforts.  Whilst much more work is needed to be done the momentum gained pre-election has been welcome.  Housing is much higher up the agenda and those at both SHOUT and the Homes for Britain campaigns deserve credit for their efforts.  We must however be broader in our remit.  We must defend those who live in our homes, not just because it makes sense financially but because it is often the most vulnerable who have the least say.

David Backwith has recently written (well yesterday in-fact) that social workers must work with service users to understand and counter the detrimental impacts of austerity and poverty.  I would argue we need to go further and fight with them, not just on their behalf, but actually together (not just like resident involvement in decision-making, real collaboration).  Because otherwise these proposals will help shrink state support to some bizarre Victorian-esk level.  And frankly the 19th century was a bit shit, so let’s not go back there.

Ultimately you judge a society by how it treats those at the margins, those at the bottom.  I would rather be on the side that offered a hand up rather than a slap down.  I believe as a sector we do a great, great amount of work to help communities and individuals that otherwise would be cast aside.  It is time we did a bit more to stand up for them.

As always you can follow me on Twitter here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.