5 December 2018

Sarah Thomas, Executive Director of Customer Services at The Guinness Partnership, will be at the Customer Experience in Housing Event talking about how great customer service should be at the heart of our business models - and how Guinness have seen great results by doing so.

See a snapshot of what you can expect from her when we caught up with her.

You might think that having two daughters in school can be a challenging time for a parent. I've been lucky enough, however, to find that filling trip permission forms, booking a parents’ evening or paying for school lunches has been the least of my worries - down to the school's handy online system. As a working mum, I’m delighted I can do it when it’s convenient for me, whether it be on the commute to work or in the evening. Gone are the days of paper forms and cheques being lost in school bags, with tearful children and telephone calls to school. And frankly, I don’t miss them.

Even better, when things get complicated or emotional, as with most people, I want to talk to a person rather than an online form. The school understands this and acts with speed, flexibility and empathy.

I don’t pay for this service and the school isn't a business which has to worry about me switching to a rival. But the school’s service offer gives me choice, convenience and a measure of control which makes me feel like a valued customer. I’m more inclined to work with them and less likely to complain. And in return this helps them; stressed, cross parents are not what they need. So they have made everyone's lives easier.

So, if a cash-strapped state school can do this, how much more can we offer our residents if we do the same?

Of course there are differences between a school and a housing association. For one thing, most of our customers don’t want or need to interact with us every day, as schools do with their pupils. But it’s the fundamental elements that Guinness are aiming to deliver on – an excellent digital offer for transactional services, coupled with an estate-based Customer Liaison Officer who understands their local area, able to build relationships and is there to sort out complex issues.

This enables our customers to do lots of things, including both reporting and booking repairs online. If they need help in-person, they can make an appointment with their Customer Liaison Officer. By making the Customer Liaison Service completely mobile our team are able to swiftly respond to local issues when required or if plans change. They can access and update our systems on the go and use technology for post and printing whilst out and about. And they can do more for our more vulnerable residents.

For Guinness, our model and the technology behind it are scalable. It expands as we grow, and contracts where we rationalise our stock. Running costs are lower - important as we go into another year of rent cut.

But it was a big change for us, both practically and culturally. We had to invest a lot of effort in change but we’re really pleased with the early results. Take-up suggests customers value being more in control. 78% of our tenants think we’re easy to deal with and 90% think our staff are warm and friendly. Employee engagement has improved by 14% to 86% as people who were traditional Housing Officers spend more time with customers and less time filling in forms in an office.

The service was launched in April so this is only the beginning for us. But our tenants and residents are telling us they like it and we’re confident it’s the right way to go.

Catch Sarah at the Customer Experience in Housing Event at 3pm. Find out more information about the line-up here.

Sarah Thomas

Sarah Thomas is Executive Director of Customer Services at The Guinness Partnership.

It's all about the personal touch