Building trust with residents and the importance of transparency

Ramesh Malhan, 12 October 2021

Black Country Housing Group (BCHG) as a community base landlord was already making change with a move away from Housing Officers to Customer Relation Managers. At the heart of this is a relational approach with tenants, and a visitation program that meant a visit to every tenant at least once a year in their home.

We thought about what the Together with Tenants charter meant for us and our tenants. We decided on two aims – to achieve trust and transparency. However, to be truly ‘together’ and achieve our aims, meant communicating and engaging with all – from the board of management, to more importantly, our residents.

How did we engage residents?

We used an independent organisation, IFF Housing Research, who selected and set up four resident focus groups. No one from BCHG attended these sessions. These focus groups helped form what would eventually become our new Customer Engagement Strategy.

From this, we learnt that:

  • We needed to maintain a balance between digital and traditional methods to access services.
  • We should improve areas that matter to residents.
  • We need to give our residents information on what they want to know more about.
  • That local approaches to engagement work best for them.

What did we do with this feedback?

We used it to create further ideas and to develop others. Even with the challenges of lockdown, we still maintained engagement with residents virtually and continued to discuss ideas.

In early 2021, we restarted focus groups via Zoom and updated residents on what we had been doing and where things were going since we discussed plans.

We created a new role - Head of Customer Voice, and I’m happy to say that I took up this position. This role aims to put customer engagement at the forefront of our services and emphasises our commitment to change.

What else did we do?

During lockdown we created BCHG Chat. BCHG Chat provides a star-based and free text system that enable residents to express their views publicly and allows us to respond directly for all to see. This concept had not been done before within our sector.

Being public, BCHG Chat brings challenge and a dare to be different. It’s ultimately a brave way of considering how we open ourselves up and build trust. No one wants to feel exposed, but it helps in really listening to what our residents think of us – whether positive or negative, thus helping to slowly change the way we do things and developing trust.

Internally, we worked on embedding a new approach. The strapline we came up with was, ‘No Voice, No Approval’. With this, all customer facing policies and decisions, from frontline to board, will require voice and feedback from our residents or face the consequence of no approval.

In light of the Social Housing White Paper and the new Code of Governance, we strengthened our approach to resident scrutiny, selecting new residents and training them. We’re currently working on improving how they engage in the governance structure, so both board and scrutiny gain the assurances they require. The aim is to achieve trust and transparency and change the way we do things.

We captured our philosophy in our Voice Map included in our Customer Engagement Strategy.

When we became an early adopter of Together with Tenants, it was not just a badge, but a real desire to be transformed and grow. It’s about making sure customer voice brings changes within the structures of BCHG that will last.