Working with customers to deliver real change

In our latest blog Andy Sage, Chair of Thrive’s Customer Experience Panel, discusses the importance of listening to customers and embracing their feedback to improve services.

Giving customers a voice is a key focus at Thrive Homes, having pioneered various initiatives in recent years to make sure residents’ views are not only heard but also used to make a real difference.

The Customer Experience Panel (CEP), of which I am the independent Chair, was set up in 2015 to create a direct link between customers and the Thrive Board.

Our aim is to challenge and hold Thrive to account, monitor customer experience and drive service improvement based around the needs of our customers.

The CEP’s successful approach was recognised by the National Housing Federation (NHF) in its response to last year’s Green Paper on Social Housing, which highlighted the panel as an example of best practice for resident involvement.

This kind of commitment to customer engagement and the importance of acting on their feedback is a central tenet of the NHF’s recent ‘Together with Tenants’ consultation.

But – as detailed in the CEP’s response to the NHF’s consultation – we feel the resulting action plan to strengthen the relationship between tenants, residents and housing associations can only work if it is linked to a complete overhaul of how social housing is regulated.

Making a difference

Developing a stronger relationship with customers is dependent not only on investing in effective engagement but, of course, acting on what customers say.

To supplement the work of the CEP, we have created the Customer Experience Group (CEG) – made up of involved residents and Thrive Business Leads – which analyses the feedback we receive and how it can be used to improve our services.

Over the last year I am delighted that, due to the CEG’s work, the various data from customer satisfaction surveys, compliments and complaints has resulted in improvements to services ranging from communal cleaning to repairs.

Our customers can see how their views are being taken on board to improve Thrive’s performance, through the work of the CEP and the CEG, in this year’s recently published Annual Report for Customers.

Key achievements have included increasing the number of residents surveyed each quarter, introducing call-backs to customers about negative experiences so we can better understand how to improve and running a customer workshop on the complaints process.

Improving data quality

This past year the CEP has taken specialist advice to review our customer satisfaction surveys, including revising questions and extending the frequency of reporting, to improve the quality, validity and reliability of the data we receive.

One of our priorities is to ensure Thrive’s compliance with the regulator’s consumer standards. To achieve this, we have introduced self-assessments by staff on how well their services are performing, followed by ‘challenge workshops’ where we work with them to assess the evidence and identify how improvements can be made.

To increase the CEP’s effectiveness and efficiency, we have created ‘champion’ roles for members so individuals can specialise in certain areas such as communications, complaints, compliance and assurance, equality and diversity, involvement and procurement.

In addition, we have replaced the tired independent service review programme by strengthening other quality assurance processes such as customer journey mapping – and, where we consider necessary, allowing the CEP to request specific service reviews by third party experts.

Looking to the future

The CEP’s work is helping to transform the way Thrive engages with customers, strengthening our relationship with them and delivering better services by listening to what residents have to say.

This approach will be rolled out to a wider audience under our exciting new plans to host ‘Question Time’ style events, giving customers the opportunity to challenge a panel of Thrive experts by asking them direct questions about a particular service.

We are piloting the idea with our first Question Time event, about the repairs and maintenance service, to be held at Thrive’s head office in Hemel Hempstead on October 7th. If successful, we hope to host further question-and-answer events as another way for customers to get involved and help shape Thrive’s services.

Through such initiatives – truly working ‘together with tenants’ – I and my fellow CEP members continue to strive to make Thrive more open, transparent and accountable to our customers.