Housing Series: Customer Service training – the one thing you can do to increase resident satisfaction and reduce complaints

We know from our experience working with many customers in social housing that your highly competent teams are working hard to achieve good outcomes for residents in an already challenging environment shaped by many things beyond their control. Our frontline knowledge also means we can be confident that there is one thing you can implement straightaway to improve satisfaction and reduce complaints, particularly among maintenance and repair teams.

This one crucial thing is to put in place a structured process of regular progress updates and reports that specifically refer to realistic and achievable timeframes. As residents demand quick and efficient service, this simple and effective step can literally transform the current pressures on your customer service teams, reduce complaints and drive resident satisfaction.

What do residents really want from customer service teams?

If we take a moment to reflect, we know that residents want their issue or repair fixed as quickly as possible, and yet it’s also reasonable to say that what they will really appreciate is excellent communication; to be kept informed of what is happening at every stage of the process. Most residents will understand the numerous challenges that customer service teams face, particularly those that are beyond their control such as market forces, delays and backlogs.

So, how can you equip your people to confidently keep their customers up to date, even when things are taking longer, and they may need to find other options and solutions?

Step 1 – Check the process; does it exist and is it clear?

The first step is to examine your current processes and consider whether your systems encourage, flag, and track the need to keep residents informed of progress. Do they make it simple for your service-givers to return at the appropriate time with additional updates if things don’t go as planned?

Step 2 – Are your people equipped with positive language skills?

Secondly, how do your people phrase a customer update? Do they use positive, solution-focused language even when they may have to deliver unexpected or disappointing news?

If they lack the necessary skills and tools to deliver the messages in the right way, their responses could act as a potential breeding ground for complaints, leaving residents confused and wondering what is going on and whether they will ever receive good news.

By addressing this lack of skill and competence, you can provide your people with the confidence, systems, and processes they need to provide a meaningful update, as well as the polished capability to frame and communicate the update in a positive, solution-focused manner.

The right way to do it

Let’s look at a typical example of the positive and correct way to deliver a progress report that may contain disappointing news:

“Hello, Mrs Smith. I’m calling to provide you with an update because I understand how important it is for you to be kept up to date on the steps we are taking to repair your bathroom. What I can tell you is that our team is still looking for the parts we require, and as promised, I will keep you updated on our progress. At this point, we haven’t been able to locate those parts and are considering all options to come up with a solution, so I will commit to calling you back on Friday before 3pm to let you know where we have got to.”

Contrast this positive and thoughtful response with the following options: 1. Silence – not telling the customer anything, leaving them to wonder what, if anything, is happening; or 2. “Unfortunately, Mrs Smith, we haven’t been able to get the parts for you. We don’t know when we’ll get them because everything is so difficult out there right now, but we’ll let you know when we do.” This response will cause frustration and anxiety and is more likely to escalate the situation into a complaint because the customer has little reason to hope that the situation will be resolved.

It’s important to note that we use specific, easy-to-remember time scales in the positive, correct response above, as this added clarity allows the other person to know when the next action will be completed. Make sure that the times provided are always realistic and achievable. Empathy should be used where appropriate before moving on to the action you can commit to.

One other question to ask…

As well as providing regular progress reports and updates, there is another helpful and important aspect to consider. If you have or are developing a relationship with a resident where you are consistently managing a complex situation for them, it is useful to ask them what is most important to them, for example: “So that we’re working our way through this together, let me just check – what is most important to you about this situation? We will find the right way to resolve this, whatever the challenges; can you tell me what is most important to you?”

Their response will give you something to build upon together, showing that you care, are taking ownership and responsibility and are optimistic that you will find the best way forward while covering the resident’s most pressing needs.

We clearly see through our ongoing work with multiple customers in social housing that keeping customers informed and up to date on progress is a tipping point for reducing or managing complaints and keeping customers as satisfied as possible within the circumstances the organisations are facing.

 

How can we help housing organisations?

Find out more about our training programmes for the housing sector.

 

Checklist: 15 questions to help you excel against the Housing Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code

Use our checklist tool to complement the Ombudsman’s self-assessment and evaluate whether your culture and people capability will enable everyone to embrace the expected standards and positively deliver against them.

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