The other day I was listening to a friend describe their experience of applying to become a tenant of a social landlord. It seemed as though the whole process was designed to be as complicated, drawn out and de-personalising as possible. It was like a ride on a virtual bucking bronco…..an endurance test to see if she could stay clinging on long enough to ‘win’ the keys to a home.
Now there are times when giving something a good shake is the best way to get rid of the bits you don’t want. Give an apple tree a good shake right now and the over ripe, insect infested or bird pecked fruit will be what falls off. The healthy, tasty apples will remain steadfastly on the highest branches.
I guess the bucking bronco inspired customer experience is intended to work in a similar way. Start by assuming that most people trying to access social housing have got something to hide….some sort of skeleton in their closet. Then make the process a bit of an ordeal so the bad ‘uns fall off leaving only those who will become model tenants sat smiling in the saddle when the bucking bronco comes to a stop.
But is that really how things work? If people aren’t treated with respect; if you behave from the outset as though you don’t trust them; keep them in the dark about exactly how you are making decisions; then surely many of the very customers you are after will walk away. They’ll decide they would rather keep their self respect intact and take their chances elsewhere. The ones who stay clinging to the bucking bronco till the bitter end may in fact be the ones who have learnt that it pays to keep mum, hide the truth and cover one’s tracks.
The bucking bronco customer experience can become a self-fulfilling prophecy too. If you assume that many of those looking to use your service are going to be bad customers and you make it clear throughout that you’ve got your beady eye on them and will do your best to catch them out……then guess what? Well then many that ‘get through’ your process will have such a damaged relationship with you that they might ignore your letters, not look after your property or be rude to your staff. And if your response is to make the process even tougher, even more of an ordeal, then things will just get worse.
I heard a lovely adaptation of Aesop’s fable ‘The North Wind and the Sun’ being read on Playschool when I was a kid. It’s always stuck with me ever since as a sort of ‘metaphor for (almost) any occasion’. Show people that you believe in them, that you trust them; and they are far more likely to open up and be honest in return.
At Bromford we’re really challenging ourselves to establish this sort of relationship with our customers…..right from the point they first come across us as a possible landlord. We’ve coined the phrase
‘it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from it’s where you’re going that matters’
We want to know if a new customer has had problems paying their rent in the past or has had health issues or has never lived on their own before; not so we can turn them away but so we can try and tailor our service to help reduce the risk of something going wrong for them in their future.
Sometimes we’ll get it wrong. But how much better for all concerned to start from the basis that no one comes to us intending to be a bad customer.
The only reason we want people to deselect us is because they are not up for an open two way relationship focussed on achieving more…….not because we were too hard or cold or rude to do business with.