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Neighbourhood coach Hannah Hunter explains how having the right relationship can pay-off in a powerful way. But, like any relationship, it often takes time, commitment and genuine warmth from both sides.

This is a story about John* – a customer who we had no contact or relationship with at the start of the year.

In January we received complaints from a neighbour about very loud noise levels coming from John’s home in Stroud, particularly at night time. Lots of shouting and swearing could also be heard from the flat above. I dropped by at John’s to discuss the matter face-to-face but I couldn’t get hold of him and presumed he must’ve been out. Eventually I managed to catch him on the phone and, while he was reluctant to discuss the complaint, he assured me the noise would stop. Which it did, for a while.

Then six weeks ago, the reports of anti-social behaviour reared their head again. The neighbour said the noise was regularly disturbing her sleep and that despite knocking John’s door and posting notes through his door, the situation hadn’t improved.

I contacted John and made an appointment to visit him but when I turned up, John wouldn’t answer the door. Thinking of how I could make a breakthrough, I contacted John once again and asked him to get in touch within seven days – I explained in the nicest but firmest way possible that if he didn’t, we’d be left with no other option but to explore legal avenues to make contact.

This tough love triggered a reaction in John and he then sent me a very honest and open email explaining that he suffers from Asperger syndrome – which we didn’t know – and that he rarely leaves the house because of this. He admitted that most of his time is spent playing Xbox late into the night (which is where the shouting and swearing comes from) and that he felt he’d not done anything with his life despite being 29-years-old.

Sensing the nature of our relationship had changed instantly, I thanked John for being so upfront while explaining that although we wanted to resolve the noise issue, our main priority was to help him achieve his aspirations and that we had lots of great services to help him do just that.

A bigger picture

I finally met him face-to-face and we spent the next 90 minutes talking in-depth about his difficult childhood and how “time doesn’t exist to him” because of the lifestyle he’d been leading. John even spent five days straight playing Xbox games without going to sleep! He explained about his aspirations and talents, including that when he was 17 he loved Taekwondo and would like to experience that sport again one day. We also talked about his eating habits and he admitted that he relied on the nearby petrol station for food (spending a fortune in the process) and only ate sandwiches for tea.

In fact, the only thing we didn’t speak about was the very issue which had first prompted our interactions – the noise complaint – as I quickly realised that there was a bigger picture here and that by starting to tackle his other issues the loud noise may naturally resolve itself. I set a small action plan for John and challenged him to do a proper supermarket food shop and to cook himself at least one meal before taking a photograph of it to show me at our next appointment. By the end of the visit, John was laughing and joking and said he felt like the action plan had given him something to focus on.

The next appointment was unfortunately cancelled because he had family visiting from Scotland – but this in itself was a positive and we’ve regularly kept in touch in the interim before our rescheduled catch-up. John managed to get to the supermarket and subsequently cook burgers and chips as he keeps to the action plan I’ve challenged him with. Having spoken to the neighbour too, the noise levels coming from John’s home have been much quieter and a lot less often – it is still disturbing her sleep on occasions but on a far less frequent basis.

My focus now is to continue developing that relationship with John and gradually setting more goals for him to build his confidence. The noise situation will obviously be monitored but I think it’s really important that John knows we are on his side and working with him, not against him.

It just shows that by asking the right questions and delving deeper into customers’ lives, positive outcomes can be achieved. In fact, while writing this blog John has just emailed me again to say that he’s already feeling better in himself and feels as though he’s starting to achieve things. That, as they say, is a result!

*Name changed to protect identity

Communications Manager - whether it's telling customer stories, proactive and reactive media relations, social media, or photography, I'm your man!

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