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Why properly resourcing customer involvement is an investment not a cost

Thrive is committed to involving customers in a meaningful way at the earliest possible stage using initiatives that create an impact.

The Customer Experience Panel (CEP) led on the development of the Investing in Involvement Statement’ back in 2017. This statement sets out Thrive’s commitment to resident involvement and a forecast of activities to achieve this.

The CEP has recently started work on reviewing this statement, and so in this blog, we share our thinking with you and request your thoughts and ideas before it is finalised and published.

Committed to doing engagement properly

The first question we addressed was why does Thrive invest in customer involvement? The simple answer - it makes Thrive a better housing provider.

The original statement sets out the following three commitments:

  1. Supporting customers to challenge and hold Thrive to account through combining the experiences, views and judgement of involved customers with wider Customer Insight to enable the customer perspective to shine a light on potential ‘blind spots’ and concerns that could impact badly on customers
  2. Improving Thrive’s understanding of what is important to customers through developing complaints and other ‘early warning’ systems, real-time customer feedback mechanisms and performance metrics that accurately capture the reality of the customer experience, aiding the co-design of services and resolution of service failures
  3. Informing and engaging Thrive’s customers in a meaningful and timely way through early and ongoing customer consultation over issues that impact on their home, tenancy and immediate neighbourhood, from concept to something happening.

The CEP still believes these core commitments help to maximise the influence of customers and prevents customer involvement becoming a tick box exercise.

Shared expectations give strength

It also helps that Thrive adopted the National Engagement Standards developed by the Tenant Participation Advisory Service.

In the Foreward, Jenny Osbourne, the Chief Executive of TPAS says:

“These standards are not a statutory tool or a regulatory document but instead seek to clarify the standards, expectations and commitments that we firmly believe are required for residents to become active partners in making decisions about their home and their community, rather than being silenced or ignored.”

They cover a wide range of areas including:

  • Governance
  • Scrutiny
  • Business Strategy
  • Complaints
  • Information and Communication
  • Resources for Engagement
  • Community and Wider Engagement.  

Thrive’s approach anticipated the Together with Tenants Charter developed by the National Housing Federation (the trade body for Housing Associations) in response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The Charter sets out in clear terms what residents can and should expect from their landlord.

Our recent review of Thrive’s Involvement Statement has stood the test of time well. However, it also identified some parts of the statement needed to be reaffirmed or replaced with issues ranging from developing a digital engagement offer to measuring the impact of engagement activities.

This is where we need your help…

The CEP remains keen to increase the opportunities for customers to get involved and further diversify the pool of those having their say. Thrive relies too heavily on the CEP and we want to offer all customers the chance to have a strong voice.

Doing engagement differently

The CEP is aware that many of you work or have other commitments that make it difficult to participate in groups and attend regular meetings, so we have prioritised the development of more flexible engagement, including a digital engagement offer. So far Thrive has created or run:

  • Drop-in sessions at Starbucks
  • Launched a Facebook page as a way to stay up to date with useful information and get in touch
  • Customer experience online sessions to discuss what you value as part of a good service
  • Customer Question Time Event on the repairs and maintenance service which a combined ‘studio audience’ with online engagement
  • Launched a prize draw to understand what performance you’d like Thrive to report on each year
  • This regular blog.

Our future plans

Everyone at Thrive accepts there is room for improvement. Whilst COVID-19 has forced many of us to work remotely for the foreseeable future, it hasn’t stopped Thrive and the CEP from continuing to engage with customers. Upcoming activities already pencilled in include customer testing of the new myThrive hub and our next customer Question Time event on Wednesday 14th October 2020 which will cover Thrive’s estate services.

Additionally, the CEP is busy working on:

  • An exercise to check Thrive’s compliance against the Regulator for Social Housing’s Consumer Standards
  • Co-producing the Annual Report for Tenants due to be published in September 2020 (so, watch out for it as it will provide you with an opportunity to appraise Thrive’s performance and give feedback!)
  • A mapping exercise of all Thrive’s customer-facing services to check in on how their performance is measured and reported on - thereby ensuring all services are put under the spotlight
  • Developing case studies to demonstrate the positive impact of undertaking engagement activities
  • Meeting the regulatory requirement to consult customers every three years over the best way of involving you in governance and scrutiny.

As mentioned in our last blog, the CEP performs a critical friend role. This includes scrutinising Thrive’s performance in collaboration with the Service Shapers Group (SSG) which reviews performance in more detail on a quarterly basis and is open to any customer to attend.

The SSG has proven to be an effective way of driving service improvement without needing to carry out time-consuming scrutiny reviews of individual services that can take anywhere between six to 12 months to complete. That said, the CEP reserves the right to commission an independent review of any service we think requires more robust scrutiny.

Some notable achievements

  • Better complaints handling by reducing the average number of days it takes to resolve cases from 38 to 17 days
  • Improving the responsiveness of services by drastically reducing outstanding tasks in staff work trays from 1200 to 308 and other service improvements to reduce the number of calls from customers chasing things up
  • Achieving better Value for Money through the procurement of new maintenance contracts resulting in significant cost savings
  • Increased overall customer satisfaction by 3.2% in June 2020 vs. June 2019
  • Increasing the level of customer satisfaction that Thrive listens and acts on their feedback by over 20% between 2018/19 and 2019/20
  • Better communications and engagement through recognising customers prefer to access information in different ways and opening up more channels for customers to provide feedback

These achievements clearly demonstrate why properly resourcing customer involvement is an investment, not a cost as it drives service improvement and more than pays for itself.

Your input makes a difference

Thrive really does take on board feedback from its customers and both the CEP and SSG play a vital role in ensuring actions are taken as a result. Direct customer feedback identified that keeping customers informed is important, so Thrive introduced an initiative to call customers ahead before attending an appointment. There’s more that can be done, we just need your feedback!

The CEP would love to hear about your engagement experiences and thoughts about what we could do better or differently. We are always open to new ideas so if you think we should consider alternative engagement methods, let us know. Better still - get involved to make it happen! You can contact us by emailing getinvolved@thrivehomes.org.uk

The next blog in November will cover the 2019/20 edition of the Annual Report and the CEP’s input on service delivery to achieve performance standards. Meanwhile, stay tuned by liking Thrive’s Facebook page and remember to get in touch if you have anything you’d like us to take forward.