Transforming our relationship with customers

In her latest blog, Thrive Homes Chief Executive Elspeth Mackenzie discusses the new ‘deal’ set to strengthen relationships and improve communications with customers.

These are exciting times for us at Thrive, as concepts that we have been evolving for a considerable period are starting to become a reality.

One change is our roll-out of the ‘Thrive Deal’, an agreement which clearly sets out our relationship with new customers, outlining their – and our – roles, expectations and responsibilities.

The ‘deal’ we offer is that we provide and keep their home in a safe condition and in return ask customers to respect, value and take care of it. The underlying principle, of course, is that people must take more responsibility for their housing. Our starter one-year tenancies offer an increased level of support to ensure customers understand what it takes to make a success of their tenancy.

This new approach includes us taking an inventory of each property and a record of its condition, so customers sign up to ensuring they maintain the quality of their home.

We will then conduct annual ‘Home Plan’ visits to check the property’s condition, see who is living there, understand how it is being used and identify any necessary repairs. These visits also enable us to pick up on issues, such as hoarding or DIY ‘improvements’, which might impair the accommodation’s long-term safety or that of an entire block of flats.

During the course of our new seven-year fixed term tenancies, the fifth year visit will involve more rigorous scrutiny of the property and will inform our final year conversation with the customer about their changing needs, plans and aspirations for the future – and how we might play a part in those.

These home visits will promote a healthier relationship with our customers, presenting an opportunity to have a more in-depth conversation with them about what it’s like to live there, specific challenges they may face and how we might work with them to overcome those challenges – all within the context of our ‘Thrive Deal’ agreement.

Better communication

This new deal is about us, as a landlord and a business, understanding our customers better, demonstrating that we value them and want their tenancies to work. In addition, it allows us to gather crucial information that could alert us to potentially serious issues.

Our regular one-to-one conversations during the Home Plan visits will enable us to collect anecdotal feedback not currently provided by our existing systems of resident engagement.

So, as well as encouraging a closer relationship with our residents, the Thrive Deal will help us build up a truer, more rounded picture of our homes – and flag up any problems early.

This is particularly pertinent in the post-Grenfell era, when there is a focus on housing providers’ relationship with customers and how we listen to them, thus ensuring we hear what they are saying so their concerns are highlighted and addressed.

The digital shift

As part of the Thrive Deal, we have recently launched our first digital tenancies where customers ‘sign up’ at the new property, share documents and agree to engage with us digitally through the myThrive app that enables customers to pay, check rent balances and report repairs.

I firmly believe we need not shy away from encouraging customers to engage with us in this way – in a world where so many people now conduct their banking, shopping and leisure activities online.

This digital shift is good news for customers too, making it much easier, simpler and more convenient to interact with us at a time to suit them, without the need to worry about transport to our office or the opening hours of our customer service centre.

From a business point of view, we have to be increasingly smart and appropriate in the way we communicate and gather customer insight – and this must include the shift to digitalisation, as we work to bring the housing sector into the 21st century.