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Why landlords should expect more from their suppliers

George Mallon, Business Operations Director at Liberty, discusses why the work of suppliers needs to go beyond replacing kitchens and fixing boilers.

What housing associations should come to expect from their contractors and partners is changing – and rightfully so.

Long and lasting relationships have been built between landlords and suppliers over the years, not least during the decent homes investments that transformed homes and communities.

Suppliers delivering that work created new initiatives that made sure local people were at the heart of multimillion-pound investment programmes. New jobs were created and it showed the positive impact that partnership working can have.

Today, landlords are facing a new challenge as they look to build new and improved relationships with their tenants.

Once again suppliers like Liberty must adapt our role so we can continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with our clients to improve lives. We need to think about how we put customers at the centre of what we do.

At Liberty, we believe real change starts with better places. Having safe, well-maintained homes really matters. But we also know that delivering right first-time services is no longer enough.

We must go beyond that.

How landlords can improve customer services and their relationships with their tenants is a big part of the social housing green paper.

Technical excellence and a personal service

As suppliers, our actions can influence a client’s reputation. We work every day on the front line, and are there as client representatives. It’s a role we take very seriously.

According to the Institute of Customer Services’ UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), almost a quarter of customers (24%) have been directly influenced by a recommendation from a friend or family about the decision to use an organisation. That’s nearly one in every four customers.

It’s a huge percentage, but it shouldn’t be that surprising. Most relationships are built on trust, value and respect. It’s the same for us.

That’s why, along with the day job, contractors must work hand in hand with our clients to act as ambassadors for the sector.

We need to make sure that customers have a say in the services we deliver, and it makes sense that their needs are at the core of our work.

That means training staff in new ways and making sure our culture and values reflect those of our clients.

Liberty teams complete over 310,000 property repairs annually, and over 190,000 gas services.. This can amount to more than 2,800 customer calls every day.

Clients rely on us – not just for our technical expertise, but also for our people skills. Sometimes a customer might need reassurance or even just a friendly face to speak to. We’re there for them.

Our culture is built on something we call Liberty Sense. As part of this commitment, our approach is to go beyond simply fixing problems. We aim to build strong relationships with clients which are built on trust, and work in common sense ways, looking to solve problems before they happen.

By doing this, we aim to minimise risk, maximise compliance and safety, while giving clients much more visibility and control of assets, costs and liabilities.

Automation in a people focuses world

As we enter the new world of Industry 4.0, where automation, big data and the internet of things become commonplace, technology will undoubtedly play an ever-increasing role in how customer service is delivered.

Just last year, renowned research and advisory firm Gartner predicted more than 50 percent of medium to large enterprises will have deployed automated services by 2020.

Even before that, in 2011, it predicted 85 percent of all customer service interactions will be handled by chatbots and other automation.

These assertions are in many ways understandable given the benefits: 24/7 operation, quick responses and unlimited availability to customers, which is a vital part of a good customer experience.

For web-based companies, it’s clearly a compelling case.

However, not all businesses live in a virtual world, particularly in our sector. Face-to-face interactions are a huge part of what we do. We’re a people focused business, we work in people’s homes and build relationships to better understand their needs.

This can’t be replicated by a machine.

Finding the balance

At Liberty, we will continue to invest and develop the customer service skills of our teams to compliment the introduction and enhancement of digital services. We already provide in depth staff training during the quieter summer months to ensure our teams are ready for the inevitable rise in activity during winter. And we also use the extra capacity from this period to roll out web chat to clients who want it.

Technology’s involvement in customer service will continue to evolve and increase and Liberty will provide excellent digital options for those who want it. But when it comes to visiting customers’ homes, there will always be room for a friendly face and the personal approach.

Ultimately, personality, professionalism and proficiency will always be an integral part of our approach to dealing with clients and customers. Without these, we would not be the business we are today.