The online revolution has introduced consumers to a plethora of new instant, connected services. Companies such as Amazon, Deliveroo and Uber have created on-demand, transparent and connected experiences, putting customers at the centre of their services, and giving them control, reassurance, convenience and, overall, building trust. They are setting the benchmark for all sectors and consumers are beginning to expect the same level of service from every organisation they deal with, including field service organisations.
Impersonalised and inflexible services that don’t fit into customers’ routines are having a profound impact on today’s consumers. Research by Localz and YouGov revealed a surprising 71 per cent of respondents felt ‘physical and emotional disturbance’ around scheduled appointments. A last-minute change to the time of an appointment or even an on-the-day cancellation will cause a ripple effect to the customer’s daily life. And even when a repair is successfully carried out within the scheduled appointment window, the fact that most appointment slots span four or five hours still leaves the customer guessing about when to expect the operative’s arrival. This lack of interaction and reassurance around service appointments drastically limits the levels of trust consumers feel towards their landlord.
Trust is a critical ingredient in any successful relationship, whether this is personal or with an organisation. Steve Jobs once said, “A brand is simply trust”. Trust is built on a just a couple of important ingredients; transparency and the fulfilment of promises.
In other words, tell the customer what you are planning to do and when, and then make sure you do what you said you were going to do. In the first few interactions, and before absolute trust is earned and established, it’s helpful to let the customer know what progress is being made towards delivering on the promise; where things are up to, what’s going to happen next, and when. And when things go wrong, keep the customer updated and let them know what to expect. If things are running late, the customer won’t mind so much if they are kept informed, so trust will be maintained.
In environments where interactions are frequent and where ‘promises’ can be fulfilled reliably and repeatedly, it could be argued that the need for transparency diminishes over time. The consumer gets used to the outcome always happening as expected; trust has already been established. Good examples include making a bank transfer, arranging a direct debit or receiving an Amazon Prime next-day delivery – they all ‘just happen’. But in environments where outcomes are more difficult to predict, where precise timings are tricky or variable, and where interactions are less frequent (such as in housing repairs), then transparency remains important throughout in order to build trust over time.
So how do these principles apply to housing repairs?
Once a customer has booked a repair and has chosen a time that fits their schedule, they want real-time, relevant information that relates to their appointment, direct to their smartphone.
This includes several communication touchpoints. Customers want to be reminded and reassured that the appointment will take place as and when they requested it, they want to know when the operative is due to arrive, to be able to track this in real-time and they want a heads-up when the operative is approaching their property. Finally, they want a quick and convenient means of passing important information to the operative without having to join a contact centre queue.
Rate your service
One of the key ingredients to successful communication, and one that is often forgotten, is the power of listening. Asking consumers to rate the service they’re received and provide feedback on it will lead to them feeling important, cared for and, if you respond in the right way, listened to. This is something that Uber has done very well; by allowing consumers to rate their driver, it not only leads to customers feeling heard but also it enables Uber to improve the safety and quality of its service.
So what is best practice in housing repairs and how can transparency and trust be supported?
- Provide customers with regular updates throughout the appointment lifecycle, triggered automatically by changes in job status: repair request logged, appointment scheduled, reminders before and on the day of service. Many housing providers already offer these notifications, but this is usually where things end.
- Create the ultimate transparency by giving customers access to real-time location tracking when the operative is on their way.
- Deliver accurate ETAs that take live traffic conditions into account and update ETAs if traffic conditions change.
- Automatically ask for feedback after every completed job and act on those that are sub-optimal. Analyse feedback by job and use the results to monitor and incentivise operatives’ performance.
- Make sure two-way communications are established, thereby making it easy for customers to tell you and your operatives important information (without having to join a call centre queue).
- Automate delay notifications so customers know if things are running late.
- Provide contact centre staff with the same transparency and real-time tracking so they can give a consistent and reliable message if a customer still decides to call.
When trust is established and maintained in a business-to-consumer relationship, the consumer is far more likely to be an advocate and ally. If they consistently receive the service levels they expect, then they are more likely to be forgiving when things occasionally don’t go as expected and are less likely to vent their anger publicly or on social media. That customer will be more on your side and will ultimately become less expensive to serve because they are less likely to raise complaints, less likely to call you for updates, more likely to keep their ‘side of the bargain’ and will generally act responsibly and courteously.
A good example of the importance of trust in social housing is the recent ‘Dispatches’ television programme, ‘The new landlords from hell’. It was heartening to read that Sanctuary Housing had been contacted in advance by some of its tenants, saying they had been approached by Dispatches but would not be taking part.
Building trust and transparency in the delivery of repairs will help to swell the ranks of such advocates, who are more likely to take the side of their landlord instead of denouncing them. There’s an even more clear-cut positive outcome from building trust and transparency and that’s the reduction in the cost to serve; customers are less likely to make calls to check the progress/ETA and they are more likely to be at home when the operative arrives.
Paul Swannell is a housing sector specialist at Localz.