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Richmond Housing

By Mark McCall, Client Manager, TLF Research

RHP – a housing provider in Richmond – has always believed that putting customers at the heart of its business strategy was the right thing to do. They own and manage 9,500 homes for people in need, including affordable rented housing, housing for older people and key workers and provide a variety of home ownership opportunities. Although providing and maintaining affordable homes is a big part of what RHP does, what really matters to them is the way it does things. So the way customers experience their services is a vital part of business for their 220 employees. 

RHP’s whole approach to customer service is centred on doing simple things consistently well – hence its focus on ‘doing the basics brilliantly’. The basics for them include being responsive, bringing homes up to a good standard, ensuring that repairs are done quickly and well, and dealing honestly with problems when they arise.

As a small company, RHP has a huge ambition – to become the best customer service provider in the UK and an excellent employer. Through the pursuit and delivery of these goals it aims to provide a seamless and exceptional customer and employee experience – the RHP Experience - that people recommend to their friends. In turn, this contributes to its business growth enabling it to provide more homes and a wider range of services that match the needs and aspirations of their existing and future customers.

RHP knows that to stand-out, it must compare itself against the big hitters in the industry. So rather than follow the historically safe approach to customer service, it pioneers new ways of working. By working for and with customers, in the last year alone, RHP has seen the launch of some amazing new initiatives which has led to them achieving customer satisfaction of well above 88% the industry norm. This article looks at how some of their latest innovations have helped them achieve ‘the RHP Experience’.

The Employee Experience
RHP employs like-minded people, who are passionate about doing things exceptionally well for their customers and being the best at what they do. “We don’t just look for people who are technically qualified to do the job; we bring in people who innately embody the behaviours needed to deliver our goals. This makes engaging employees with our strategy easy!” says David Done, Chief Executive.

“We provide a great, fun, working environment as we know that happy employees mean happy customers. The key to our employee success has been rewarding behaviours that promote trust, open communication, creativity and autonomy while fostering an environment in which our people have the atmosphere, support and tools to do a great job.” This has seen RHP invest over £200k per year in relevant employment development for the past five years. As a result, they have achieved employee satisfaction of 98%.

The iamrhp Experience
RHP did exhaustive customer research to find out what really mattered to its customers. Through its research with the Leadership Factor, it discovered that actually, for their customers, there are key behaviours that are essential to improving service experience. 

For RHP customers, the key behaviours identified were: 

· being on the customer’s side 

· being honest and helpful 

· fixing things fast, to last

So RHP began working with their employees to make sure that they are always demonstrating the behaviours customers want most – known as the ‘iamrhp’ service style. Through simplifying the Myers-Briggs model personality types, they’ve worked with their teams to identify their own personality types. This has helped give their employees a greater understanding of how to improve their communication with customers and adapt their behaviours to meet the needs of customers. David says ‘this is particularly important in our business, as a lot of the time, we have to give messages that our customers may not want to hear. So understanding the practicalities of how to better communicate difficult messages in a non-confrontational way has meant that we can still build positive relationships with our customers.” In a recent employee survey, 90% of employees said the iamrhp service style has improved the customer experience.

The Collaborative Experience
Careful planning has allowed RHP to gather information about their customers’ experiences in a more intelligent way. They work collaboratively with customers to define the experiences they deliver. Kaylene Potts, Customer Insight Manager explains some of the key components to their customer engagement strategy:

Quality Partners
Quality Partners are a group of 30 customers who put the spotlight on specific service areas at anytime during the year giving us straightforward, honest information. They do this through a variety of ways including mystery shopping and onsite inspections.

Mystery shopping allows us to explore the actual customer experience at a snapshot in time (rather than asking customers for their views retrospectively) and records specific details of that particular experience. As such it is powerful tool for us to help highlight clear action points for improving service delivery. Mystery shopping has been remarkably successful. Through a recent mystery shop of our Customer Contact Centre, Quality Partners highlighted some of the key topics our agents weren’t able to fix at the first point of contact. As a result, we developed several training programmes around these topics so that agents can now deal with these customer issues immediately. 

We have a panel of 1,000 customers known as ‘e-Consultants’ who we use on a quarterly basis to swiftly respond to online surveys to tell us in more detail what they think and help us better understand their experiences. e-Consultants were selected through asking those customers whose email addresses we hold if they wanted the possibility of taking part in regular surveys about different aspects of our services throughout the year for the chance to win cash prizes or other incentives. 

Last year we used their feedback to revise our key service promises to customers and ensure we are delivering services in ways which are most important to customers.

RHP Heartbeat
The Leadership Factor feedback surveys, referred to as ‘the Heartbeat’, are at the heart of what we do and tell us about our customers’ ongoing experiences. These results allow us to confidently check whether the changes we are making are actually making an impact and being noticed by our customers.

Every month we conduct 100 telephone surveys which means 15% of our customers are interviewed annually. Customers are asked to score their satisfaction against factors that are directly linked to RHP’s key behaviours. Customers are asked for specific details of what RHP could do to make them more satisfied, whilst very satisfied customers are asked what makes them so happy with RHP.

The results are published using  our monthly Customer Heartbeat Bulletin – with the key messages from customers disseminated throughout the organisation as soon as the results are available and The Leadership Factor’s web reporting tool (around 50 employees have access). This helps managers to remain focused on key areas and results are available onmanager, team and even individually to ensure accountability. The verbatim comments from the survey are also shown on the web report, enabling employees such as customer advisors and caretakers to see specific examples of what customers are saying about the service they receive from them, thus bringing the results more to life.

In the last three months we have seen that many of the changes we have made really are making a difference. Compared to the previous 12 months we have seen improvements in all three of our key headline measures, ‘overall satisfaction’, ‘satisfaction with repairs’, and ‘satisfaction with taking your views into account’. We have seen improved performance at the top end with more customers ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ satisfied and just as importantly fewer people who are dissatisfied with our performance. An example of this improvement is that the number of people ‘very satisfied’ with taking their views into account has increased from around 34% to 43%.

The Technology Experience
Kaylene explains some of their recent innovations achieved through working directly with customers.  “Our Contact Centre (CSC) answers almost 100,000 calls every year, making them a vital customer facing team within the business. Through the work with our Quality Partners, we re-designed the way calls are directed into the contact centre. Quality Partners identified that if a customer had to call the contact centre more than once in a day about the same issue, they may end up explaining their issue twice. As a result, we installed a new programme on our phone system, which automatically re-routes customers to the same agent they initially spoke to. This has helped our agents to build a rapport with customers, saves our customers time and improves the overall experience for customers.”

Out of RHP’s new service style has come the inception of RHPedia – their trailblazing online knowledgebase, dedicated to fixing things fast, to last – the third behaviour of their service style. This website is based on the Wikipedia model. RHPedia enables any employee to deal with customer issues at the first point of contact by giving them the key information, advice and guidance needed to resolve any customer enquiry that comes in. 

Employees can directly add information to RHPedia that is then reviewed by RHP employees before going live within 24 hours. They have competitions and prizes for those who add the most useful information. Prizes have included iPod shuffles and theatre tokens. RHPedia has reduced the need for customers to ask for call backs by 60%, as more employees can answer more enquiries first time. 

Kaylene explains that “What’s fantastic about it is that it engages our employees through collaborative learning. It allows them to impart their knowledge on how to deal with the many complex customer enquiries we receive on a daily basis. This has really made the difference for us increasing the number of enquiries we resolve at the first point of contact by 14% in the last few months.” 

Through the work with their e-Consultants over the last year, RHP has been delving into what their customers want most from a repairs service. One of the things that came top was to make it really easy for customers to report a repair. As such, RHP has introdued 2-hour repair appointment time slots. The development of its interactive website has seen RHP become the first housing provider in the country to allow customers to directly book 2-hour repair appointment slots online. Just another example of how RHP uses innovation to enhance the customer experience. 

The Customer Experience
RHP are already achieving some of the highest levels of customer satisfaction and performance in its field, with 99% of repairs completed on time, 98% of calls answered and re-letting empty homes in 14 days or less, but there’s always more to do. The huge economic changes taking place across the country, present major challenges but also open up great opportunities. RHP wants to maximise these benefits for existing and future customers by constantly improving, innovating, challenging and influencing. 

Kaylene is keen to emphasise the fact that “the way customers feel about our service is what will make the difference. We know that great experiences don’t just happen; they are designed, so we plan every customer experience down to the last detail. We have developed a customer experience that is consistent at every point of contact, different from our peers and valued by our customers.”

This is why RHP has been shortlisted for the National Business Awards’ Customer Focus Category and has just won the UK Customer Experience Award for Public Sector/Not for Profit companies. The judges of the UK Customer Experience Awards said “Customer focus is clearly within the DNA of the organisation. RHP value their customers and employees and are proud and passionate. There was clear evidence of how they use customer insight to drive effective business processes. An inspiring service with real demonstrable results proving that RHP’s customers receive great customer experience through a variety of channels and forums.”

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