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Jason Holder, head of property maintenance at Bromford explains how his customer-centric approach to service development could help to reduce the demand for repairs.

We all face the same issues in the social housing repairs sector. One of the biggest is the ongoing challenge of making our property maintenance programmes as cost effective as possible. Most have already made the move to drive efficiencies through contractors and suppliers, but the big nut to crack in my view is reducing the overall number of repairs we undertake.

Bromford averages three repairs per property per year and you can pretty much guarantee that when you walk into another association they’re between 2.7 and 3.4 a year, but the big question is how can we get this this number down across the board? This is the challenge I presented to the Bromford Lab.

We started by looking at how we could make repairs preventable by taking a proactive approach to property maintenance, introducing an MOT for the home. But we didn’t see any real reduction as a result. Next we rephrased the question and looked at what it would take to help customers self-serve. Before everyone starts waving their placards here – we’re not talking about fixing their own boiler – but instead more of an 80/20 view on the low risk jobs they could do for themselves.

We worked with customers to check out the viability of this and the message came back loud and clear that yes it could work, but customers either a) don’t know that they can do low-level repairs or b) they don’t know how to do the repair.

With this in mind we started to work up an idea with customers that would see a multi-skilled engineer meet with every new customer in their home shortly after sign up. The engineer would show them how to maintain the essentials and do very basic DIY, so for instance things like: switching on the isolation valve if you’ve got a leak; stopping and repairing leaky taps; unblocking sinks; bleeding radiators; maintaining latches and locks. And if the customer doesn’t have the tools, we’ll leave them with a basic DIY kit.

Prior to the Lab I would have had to have written a wordy report that went through the various channels for approval before we faced a hefty roll out for a project of this type. But instead, by working in the Lab environment, we were able to quickly work up a test that we could reflect upon and adapt in an agile way very easily. Working at this test, rather than pilot level also greatly manages the risks of just giving things like this a go, as the impact on the customer and business is very minimal.

It’s early days from the test and there’s more to do. For instance educating and empowering our contact centre to give the right advice goes hand and hand with the success of the multi-skilled engineer. But anecdotally it’s working well for customers who say that for example, they previously wouldn’t have known or had the confidence to flip a trip switch so they would have called us.

The real ROI will come over time of course, as we measure whether repairs are decreasing. But we’ll also be tracking advocacy, numbers of follow up repairs and we’ll be implementing a series of follow up inspections that not only cement the skills development but also test whether the customer is feeling more equipped to do these low level repairs.

Watch this space...

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