Tenant Satisfaction Measures: Acuity’s initial thoughts on the RSH’s proposals (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of Acuity’s initial thoughts on the Regulator of Social Housing’s (RSH) consultation on the Tenant Satisfaction Measures (TSMs). In Part 1 we covered overarching principles. In Part 2, we get stuck into the individual measures. Acuity will of course be responding formally to the RSH.

We’re keen to hear your thoughts too so that we may reflect them in our formal response in a non-attributable way. We also held a one-hour webinar with the RSH on 27 January to take a closer look at the detail of the consultation. A recording is available here.

Do remember that the consultation is just that – proposals, not a done deal.

It’s simple: easy to deal with

Given that the entire thrust of The Social Housing White Paper (the starting point for this consultation) is about resetting the landlord/tenant relationship, particularly in terms of the consumer experience, the absence of a really good general customer service metric is a missed opportunity.

Over the last few years or so, borrowing from the commercial sector, social landlords’ have asked: how satisfied/dissatisfied are you that [your landlord] is easy to deal with? Easy to deal with is what customers tend to value most in their relationships with service providers of any type. It tends to garner product loyalty, is comparable across sectors and, in terms of social housing, often outstrips satisfaction with repairs as the key driver for overall satisfaction.

It hoovers up satisfaction with the customer experience on any contact the tenant has from repairs to rent account enquiries to assigning a tenancy and segues to the White Paper theme: engage with tenants helpfully and with respect. Not only that, it opens the door to follow ups like: what could we have done better? This takes us beyond simply scoring the landlord to providing actionable insight to improve services.

Neighbourhood: who, what, where?

The proposed question: thinking about what your landlord does to improve your neighbourhood as a place to live… how satisfied/dissatisfied are you with the extent to which your landlord makes a positive contribution to your neighbourhood? is perhaps the most contentious proposed metric of all and is likely to elicit significant pushback from the sector.

The primary issue is that it assumes too much knowledge on the part of the tenant, eg that they know: a) who is responsible for what in the neighbourhood; b) what the landlord’s contribution is and; c) what is meant by neighbourhood.

Similar questions, like satisfaction with the neighbourhood, have always been an issue simply because the landlord isn’t exclusively responsible for the neighbourhood – there are other local players that influence the outcome, more or less, depending on the local context. On that basis, it fails to pass the RSH’s own test for crafting the metrics, specifically: the measures should only measure things the landlord is actually responsible for.

The RSH is actually between a rock and a hard place on this as it has been tasked by the government (the White Paper again) to come up with something that probably can’t be measured with a simple metric. Arguably, the landlord’s neighbourhood contribution is best dealt with as part of the yet to be conceived qualitative inspection regime where context and nuance can be factored in. The line of enquiry here should be something like: a) taking into account contextual considerations, does the landlord understand its role in its respective neighbourhoods and b) is there evidence it is actively engaged with strategic partners to achieve shared community goals?

Less is more: the timeliness of repairs

If we are trying to craft a parsimonious set of metrics that tell us about landlord services across the customer experience, we don’t need to double up on the timeliness of repairs. The RSH propose two:

  • repairs completed within target timescale (taken from management information) and;
  • satisfaction with time taken to complete most recent repair (asked of tenants as part of a perception survey)

……. especially when the former breaks the most sacred rule of benchmarking: thou shalt not seek to compare things that shouldn’t be compared.

Whilst a number of boards still like this metric for trend, it’s just bad as a comparator. Its fatal flaw is that you can set what targets you like (eg really unaspirational ones) and score higher than another organisation that is performing better but has set stretch targets. Will the reader (including sensationalist journalists and opportunist politicians) read the small print’s big caveat on this?

If the completely acceptable satisfaction with time taken to complete most recent repair is included, there’s just no need for its proposed superannuated stablemate.

 The perception -v- transaction compromise

We can understand why the RSH is suggesting all satisfaction survey questions need to be conducted on a perception basis, i.e. for the sake of simplicity, consistency, comparability and statistical robustness. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the results in respect of ASB and complaints will be skewed somewhat by the perceptions of those that have not recently experienced the landlord’s ASB and complaints services. We have 20 years data that supports the limited value of such an approach.

To date, the questions: how satisfied/dissatisfied are you with your landlord’s approach to complaints handling and how satisfied/dissatisfied are you with your landlord’s approach to handling anti-social behaviour are targeted, through transactional surveys, at those who have recently experienced the service. This seeks to zoom in on the direct experience of a minority as opposed to the hearsay and perception of the majority. Generally, we would expect a fairer reflection of reality from a transactional survey, although small sample sizes can also skew results. But, to further complicate, it’s notoriously difficult for those who have experienced such services to objectively rate the approach (i.e. the process) if they didn’t like the outcome of their case.

And in terms of the proposal to capture the number of complaints relative to the size of the landlord, suffice to say this is likely to be as much to do with context as performance.

So, however rendered, these questions are problematic and likely to require significant qualification/caveat when reported publicly. Indeed, as with the point made about Neighbourhoods above, getting the real measure of complaints and ASB may be better served by qualitative rather than quantitative assessment.

 If you want a straight answer, ask a straight question

Staying with complaints, we have a couple of issues with:  To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following ‘I know how to make a complaint to [my landlord] if I am not happy with the service I receive?’ Firstly, it might be useful to note that, often, tenants want to complain about something they didn’t receive as well as something they did receive, but that went badly. Secondly,  you either know how to make a complaint or you don’t – it’s a binary thing rather than the spectrum ‘extent’ suggests.

As noted, the RSH has quite a challenge in transforming the White Paper’s ‘ideas’ into something that will be possible and useful. Aside from the points we make above, the RSH seems to have formulated the TSMs well. We welcome the addition of the ‘not applicable / don’t know’ response option for many of the tenant perception questions despite it being a trend killer for some long-standing questions.

And finally, a persnickety point: given that 10 of the metrics aren’t strictly speaking satisfaction measures as generally understood in the sector, might ‘Tenant Service Measures’ be a better term?

Clearly, we have lots of other thoughts, but we’ll stop there…..

About Steve Smedley

Steve is an Acuity associate and independent consultant. He is author of "Social Hearts and Business Heads" and his experience in Social Housing and enthusiasm for improving services has led him to become a leading thinker and practitioner in the sector.
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