Put on that tin hat: why it’s time to ask questions of your dissatisfied residents

Your organisation does its best for residents, and it can be dispiriting when surveys come back showing a hard core of unhappy tenants. The last thing you might want to do is ask them more questions about your service – but it’s an important step to take, and will bring huge benefits if done well.

There are all sorts of good reasons to consider finding out more about dissatisfied residents. They may be complaining about very real problems in your service, which need to be addressed. They cost you more in money and time, and their views may influence friends and neighbours who under other circumstances might be more positive about your services. There are also sometimes situations where there are pockets of dissatisfaction, or where there appears to be a decline in the positive feedback you’re getting.

If you understand what’s driving or underpinning your findings, then you can consider what to do about it and make the necessary changes, or in some cases understand that the views of some residents are intractable.

Acuity is often asked to carry out follow-ups to customer satisfaction surveys, and in the last year we have focused on this group of residents in two different ways, both re-examining their views in greater depth, and in going back to individuals to ask further questions.

Both approaches show interesting findings, which I’m sharing here with some anonymised case histories.

Method 1: Digging down into the data

We did this for a landlord who is a top-quartile performer, with overall satisfaction rates in the high 80s, re-analysing a survey they had done previously.
We started by looking at the responses from the 11 per cent of residents who were not satisfied with overall services, to find out which key areas were involved.
Here’s where they weren’t satisfied (it didn’t make happy reading):

  • listens to views (86 per cent dissatisfied)
  • opportunities to make views known (81 per cent dissatisfied)
  • estate services (73 per cent dissatisfied)
  • value value for money of estate services (74 per cent dissatisfied)
  • repairs service (65 per cent dissatisfied)

We then looked at the number of non-positive responses from each resident. Even residents who were very satisfied overall with their landlord services awarded up to a maximum of four ‘non-positive’ scores (generally neither satisfied nor dissatisfied).

We also uncovered a group of 20 extremely dissatisfied residents, who were unhappy about almost everything and were already generally well-known to the landlord.

We looked more deeply at a further group: the 443 residents who made five or more non-positive responses to the survey (compared with 478 who made no non-positive responses and 157 who made one each).

Those 443 were much more likely than other residents to have made contact with the landlord in the previous year (56 per cent compared with 41 per cent) and much less likely to recommend their landlord (59 per cent compared with 91 per cent). Interestingly, they were equally likely as others to have requested a repair.

But the crucial group were those who gave between 10 and 16 negative responses, as patterns began to emerge from their answers:

  • Almost all were not satisfied with overall landlord services
  • Most were not satisfied with complaints, anti-social behaviour, listening to views and estate services (both overall and value for money)
  • There were peaks of dissatisfaction around the appearance of the neighbourhood and value for money of the service charge

We identified these as hot topics for further investigation, possibly revealing underlying problems which are affecting tenant satisfaction overall.

Method 2: Second interviews for unhappy residents

This can be a much more difficult process for landlords, as the responses can make for uncomfortable reading. It’s important, if you choose to go down this path, not to feel defensive about tenants’ views but see them in a positive manner. They are providing you with an opportunity to find out what the problems are, and why you are not meeting their expectations.

We did 40 semi-structured, in-depth interviews with dissatisfied residents, uncovering serious problems around repairs and communications.

The residents said it took too long after they reported repairs for the work to be done, and that it was often of a poor quality. They concluded financial reasons were to blame: that HA was trying to get the work done as cheaply as possible which in the long term was counter-productive and ended up costing far more as well as causing distress and inconvenience for the resident.

It was easy to report repairs, but not very effective. Respondents felt staff taking the calls had insufficient knowledge or understanding of their circumstances or queries – but thought they understood it all. Some residents were annoyed at being “fobbed off” and frustrated at not being able to get across what the problems are.

If they tried to escalate this to another member of staff, that person was never in or available and a message had to be taken. But the promised callbacks never came, which many respondents described as “infuriating”. As a result, some respondents had given up on making complaints as they felt it was a “waste of time”.

There were very clear messages here for the association: if it believes resident feedback will help it fulfil its aims and objectives, then there should be policies giving staff consistent guidelines on responding to complaints.

There should also be a mechanism escalating complaints from the front line to upper management, so that appropriate action can be taken to fix resident-identified problem areas within the organisation.

Surveying dissatisfied residents: our tips

I hope this has shown what a useful exercise it can be to dig deeper into what some of your dissatisfied residents have to say. But we can’t pretend it’s an easy process for anyone involved. It’s a good idea to:

  • Prepare mentally for a tough journey.
  • Consider outsourcing the work if possible. It is difficult to be impartial and residents might find it easier to speak openly to someone not employed by the landlord.

It can still be a daunting process, and as always Acuity is happy to help you along the way, whether you need support to get things started or for us to take on the whole project. We’ve got years of experience and a growing body of evidence on what works, and we’re always keen to help.

About Denise Raine

Denise Raine is a Director of Acuity Ltd, and has specialised in tenant satisfaction and feedback research for more than 20 years.
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