Struggling to improve customer satisfaction? This Acuity research will help

As the sector prepares for active consumer regulation, what can we learn from recent tenant feedback about good and bad customer service? Denise Raine lifts the lid on the new ‘easy to deal with’ STAR satisfaction question.

What we did

We looked at the results of 20 surveys that included feedback from 10,000 tenants conducted between April – December 2020. The landlords were a mix of housing associations and local authorities, big and small, from across England with some BME representation too. Most of the landlords were better than average performers.

What we found

Regression analysis shows the new STAR core survey question: How easy did you find it to deal with [your landlord] on this occasion? has far more influence on overall satisfaction than satisfaction with the repairs service which for many years was the top-ranked determinant. Repairs still has a significant influence, but this analysis shows us just how important customer service is (see chart below). It should be noted, of course, that repairs and customer service are closely linked: a significant percentage of customer contact is associated with repairs.

The chart shows the median satisfaction scores for the five key Star metrics and their degree of influence on overall satisfaction. The data draws on 20 surveys including 10,000 tenants.

The new question usefully reflects the customer experience across all landlord services and draws heavily on learning from the commercial sector about what customers value: frictionless touch points that effectively address whatever the tenant has raised.

Digging deeper into the survey data, we also found:

  • positive comments associated with good performers are heavily weighted to the importance of customer care where staff attitude, good communication and ease of making contact were common themes. But they can get it wrong too; the limited negative comments also tend to isolate customer care as the main issue.
  • unsurprisingly, for the poorer performers, customer care stands out as the key grumble: answering phones, call handling, returning calls, resolving issues, and courtesy and respect are recurring themes.

Tenants’ voices provide a checklist for how to get it wrong:

  • difficult to reach on the phone, can never speak to the right person. They pass [the tenant] to a different department then gets cut off.
  • they are difficult to get hold of and do not get back to you
  • they do not take time to listen in order to send out the appropriate people
  • they don’t answer and they don’t even want to know, they just fob you off
  • just not listening to me. I have gone through 3 Housing Officers and managers higher up and been promised the world, but I have been let down so many times and believe that they are just saying things to get me off the phone ………
  • they say they will do things and they don’t
  • ….it has taken a lot of communication attempts to even get half an answer. No one is taking responsibility for the situation at all.
  • it is so hard to access people. Putting everything on-line is just not suitable for those who do not use the internet.
  • the communication is awful, they have absolutely no interest in me at all. Everything is automated – it is an automated maze. I’m sure they designed it to be as difficult as possible.
  • they do not turn up at all
  • it takes a long time to get things resolved
  • they are rude [and have] the attitude that I should be grateful for having a roof over my head
  • no one will take responsibility, they push me from pillar to post
  • constantly reporting issues and it feels like they just don’t care
  • rude, disrespectful, belligerent, I feel like I am being told off by them, they are time wasters, they are not bothered and they do not care
  • I am not treated like a human being at all
  • they should have a bit more compassion

Clearly, there’ll always be hiccups in service delivery due to unforeseen temporary challenges like COVID-19. Similarly, there will always be a vexatious but vocal tiny minority who want the moon on stick. Nevertheless, these comments are similar to those we have seen over many years and echo observations about the unresponsiveness and indifference of landlords in the Social Housing Green Paper. They do not sit well with the sector’s social mission.

A minority of social landlords have a long way to go before they can claim to be tenant-focused. But even the best have something to learn: tenant feedback provides the raw material for identifying the very specific marginal gains that take you from ‘good’ to ‘great’.

As we head towards proactive consumer regulation, social landlords need to better understand the customer experience. Satisfaction surveys identify what’s most important to tenants, how landlords are doing and where the gaps are. Such intelligence provides both a baseline from which progress may be measured as well as an evidence-base for targeted and effective remedial action.

Acuity provides an end-to-end service from survey design to helping you analyse and act on the results. Please contact me to find out how we can assist you to take customer service to the next level.

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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