Customer Leadership at Housing Associations
In this edition of our Housing Associations Futr Spotlight Series, we caught up with Paul Harris, Executive Director of Customer Experience at Curo, to share his thoughts on the crisis, their response, and the implications for the future.
Please could you give a brief intro to Curo and yourself?
“Curo is one of the largest landlords in the South West, with a diverse portfolio of 13,000 homes. We own a range of property, from starter homes to Grade I Listed Buildings, in locations from rural villages to city centres.
“I joined Curo three years ago because I wanted to do something more meaningful, having done a number of different director level roles in big private sector FTSE companies and in public sector organisations previously.
“housing associations provide a service that nobody else does or can”
“Housing associations provide a service that nobody else does or can, and it is so badly needed, unfortunately – that’s why I moved across.”
What did your team do as we moved to remote working to ensure that residents continued to be well supported?
“We’re fortunate in that about 70% of our income is protected, so weren’t in the same situation as organisations whose income was decimated overnight.
“We started daily Cu-bra (because we’re Curo) meetings since the night Johnson told us ‘don’t leave your home’, and have since reduced that to twice weekly. I chair these meetings, and from here we developed and ran our lockdown plan.
“A significant change, for all housing associations, is that we couldn’t do routine repairs – leaving us with a large number of operatives in need of repurposing. By focussing on things like communal repairs, safety inspections, and some urgent tasks, we were able to keep them all gainfully employed.
“Everyone has been working flat out – we haven’t furloughed anyone.”
“Where staff had difficulties doing their job, we reallocated them to tasks they could do from home, such as outreach to vulnerable customers, and data cleansing work.
“We also tried to think about what we could do for care workers and NHS workers; assuming many were doing long shifts, we offered them additional out of hours services. We also gave up space at our community hub for the NHS to have a scrub drop off, as well as a food bank.”
At what point did you start returning to service as usual?
“Our return to service has evolved in line with government guidance.
“During lockdown, not many people rang up to book repairs, as we’d communicated that we couldn’t do them for now.
“We had a backlog of several hundred routine jobs on the books, but were worried several thousand more hadn’t been reported. Thankfully, this didn’t really materialise when routine repairs recommenced three months ago.
“Now, pretty much everything is operating close to how it used to. Some things that had to change in lockdown turned out to be for the better, and so have stayed – such as doing digital viewings where possible as customers prefer it.”
Given the experience of the past six months, what do you think are the main takeaways for the future?
“One of the main things is that we forced ourselves and – to some degree – our customers to become more digital, as we could no longer provide support for various things through the phones.
“Our customers had to use different channels, do remote viewings and other things of that nature.
“We plan to continue embracing these digital channels because it is more efficient, though there are some circumstances where it is not appropriate.
“we forced ourselves and – to some degree – our customers to become more digital”
“Other areas have seen some change too. We’re in constant dialogue with the food banks about the space that they might need as food bank visits will only go up next year.
“We also want to continue calling our vulnerable customers to check they’re okay. It felt like a good thing to do out of necessity but it’s probably something that we need to keep.
“To do so, we need to free up resources for calling, which fits in well with becoming more digital – for example, by trying to increase the uptake of our self-service portal, My Curo.
“I suspect COVID is going to be with us, in some guise, for a while, so thinking about safety and how our teams operate will feature well into the future.”