|5 minute read
To ‘Make Things Right’ customers need to be heard more for things to get better, writes Indra Mudie
Written by Indra Mudie, Home Group customer and colleague
Home Group customer, and board member, Indra Mudie shares her views on the Government’s new social housing campaign, and where she sees her housing association in relation.
It’s absolutely right that a spotlight has been placed on the living conditions some people in social housing are having to endure. In this day and age – for that matter any day and age - nobody should have to live in the conditions that we’ve seen in the media over the past year or so.
It’s a real shame it’s taken Government intervention to ensure they put a stop to people having to live like this. But, I’m glad they have.
This ‘Making Things Right’ campaign, along with the recent media coverage, especially on damp and mould and the tragic story of Awaab Ishak, have brought things to the fore, at last.
This activity and attention has also given customers a greater voice. This is one of the main things that people have been calling for, for some time.
I’m pleased to say that’s something I have as a Home Group customer. It’s not always perfect but it is good, and getting better.
The journey is by no means complete
I’ve been a customer board member at Home Group for almost four years. In that time, I’ve seen lots of great work done by colleagues. I’ve also seen the times where they haven’t gotten it quite right, but also how they have learned from it.
It’s been most refreshing to see the way that they have handled customer engagement and communications in that time. I’ve seen it evolve, and how they take on board feedback directly from those we are trying to speak to as an organisation: us customers.
Their journey is by no means complete. There is always going to be room for improvement in communications. I believe that as soon as you think you’ve got it cracked you don’t learn anymore.
I’m pleased that in my time with Home Group, I can say that they’ve probably got the communication right the majority of the time.
It’s so important they consider the customer
There have been moments when they could have gotten something out slightly earlier or if they had mentioned a certain thing, it might have stopped a situation from happening. The upshot is that they can learn from it. And they do from my experience.
Home Group have made a real effort to listen to and learn from customers when messages don’t quite land right.
Indra Mudie | Home Group colleague and customer
Even when they have to share difficult communications with customers, which they know will get a negative reaction, such as rent increases or service charges, it is so important that they consider the customer.
A perfect example of this is when they recently sent out our rent increase letters. It does a deep dive on the letter to show what is going up, the justifications behind it and what help is out there and how to access it.
That is so important at times like these. There is a lot of good work done by the likes of the financial inclusion team. It’s so important that customers feel supported by their messages, even when they are about difficult or negative things.
It is encouraging to see, as a customer myself first and foremost, that Home Group are trying to listen and improve at all times. When things haven’t been quite right first time, or there are new ways of thinking which customers have brought up, they have been listened to when it might have been easy to ignore or overlook.
Really makes you feel part of the conversation
As a customer board member, I am in a position to be able to share my experiences – and those of the customers I speak to regularly – directly to the highest levels of the organisation.
When here, talking to the rest of the board or the executive team, I’ve always felt heard and able to contribute as an equal. Our chair John Cridland is absolutely phenomenal at doing that. There are certain times in meetings when he will turn around and say ‘Well, before we open it up to the floor, I want to hear the customer’s point of view first’. It really makes you feel a part of the conversations.
It is more than just paying lip service. When I or others have made suggestions, they have been genuinely taken on board. For example, when I first started, our customer board members were not able to be a part of other groups.
Once you became a board member, you had to step down from everything else and we used to argue that how can you be the voice of the customer if you can’t actually hear the customer yourself. Yes, I can speak from personal experience, but we wanted to bring others’ voices to the table too.
Share more information with fellow customers
Bringing that to the rest of the board, they listened and agreed. Now, we can stay on whatever we were on before – the viewpoint teams, customer forums, all our engagement groups. It means I can bring a genuine customer voice.
That’s really important because something can be said in a customer forum in January and it might not get implemented until November or December, if at all. As far as they’re concerned, for twelve months they are ignored until all of a sudden it appears.
This way, we can come down from the board and say ‘that thing you wanted taken up in January, it was put on the agenda in March.' It allows us to share more information with fellow customers.
You see people upset on social media and calling out Home Group for not doing this and that. In some cases, that’s completely justified. But I have also been out on the ground and heard people say, ‘Home Group has saved my life’.
You ask them what they mean, and they’ll say they were in a bad place in life and Home Group gave them a house, they provided support or offered volunteering opportunities.
Many people see Home Group as another landlord dealing with repairs and rents, but there is so much they do around support, handling complex needs and the likes of signposting to the financial inclusion team. That feels quite rare and special in a landlord.
What you don’t see externally is this side of things. What you do see are the issues, which they must sort out, for sure.
Indeed, there is still quite a lot they have to improve on as an organisation when it comes to engaging and communicating with customers, but it seems they are learning and approving each day.
The ‘Making Things Right’ campaign will help housing associations focus on communication and engagement more than they have. But in my experience, not every housing association will do it from a standing start. Some, like Home Group, are further down the track.