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Customer Claire BoultonFibromyalgia sufferer Claire Boulton lives with her two children in her Bromford home in the picturesque village of Wickwar, in South Gloucestershire. After being a customer volunteer on the Locality Influence Network (LIN) for the past five years, she is passionate about customers having a say in how services are shaped and working hand in hand with Bromford to create positive and lasting change.

Here she tells us about her recent involvement in a Voice of the Customer workshop held in Tewkesbury for senior colleagues and customers…

Why I’m a customer volunteer

I used to work with people in housing need at my local council but when I could no longer work due to my fibromyalgia, I needed something else to get my teeth stuck into. My friend and neighbour Debs was already a customer volunteer for Bromford and they needed some younger perspectives so I decided to give it a go. I’m usually quite good at seeing things from a customer and a business point of view and I’m definitely opinionated, so I took the plunge.

That was five years ago now (I’m not quite sure how that happened?) and I’ve honestly loved every minute of it. I love when I see an issue that isn’t quite sitting right with me, and I like to be part of finding a working solution to make a process or way of working better for people like me and my community, the people that live in our homes.

Two other reasons made me sign up:

1. I wanted to help dismantle the stigma that still exists around people living in social housing. If you live in a housing association home, a big cross-section of society still assumes you must be a certain type of person, and I know that this generalisation just isn’t fair in the vast majority of cases. I wanted to be proactive and help my landlord find solutions to problems – and I’ve certainly done that, being heavily involved in helping grant funding get into our communities, shaping Bromford’s response to big issues like condensation, damp, and mould, and even being part of the interview process for new neighbourhood coaches.

2. I also wanted to help fight the stereotype that housing associations don’t care about their tenants – they just house them and forget about them. Having a housing association is much better in my eyes than having a private landlord – you’ve got your forever home if you look after it, and at the same time you’ve got all the support that you need. It’s not just the housing support, it’s the neighbourhood coaches, the investment programme, the repairs service. And do Bromford get everything right? Absolutely not, but I do believe they care about us customers and more than anything we don’t want to lose our housing association. I wanted to work with them, not against them.

Kim Avery, head of customer experience

Kim Avery, head of customer experience, talking at the Voice of the Customer session

Voice of the Customer creates positive change

It's been a difficult two years for everybody, and Bromford are no different with issues around repairs being a particular frustration for many customers. I’ve been there myself when it has felt like you are going around in circles, and nothing is getting done, and that’s why I jumped at the chance to be involved in a recent Voice of the Customer workshop which brought together senior leaders from across Bromford and also involved a number of customer volunteers.

We listened to a lady from Amazon give her take on what makes great customer experience, and then a customer joined every table around the room to discuss both examples that had gone well but importantly when things had gone wrong, and how that had made us feel. I was very nervous before going, I thought “What would they think of us?”, “Would they really take onboard what we had to say?” but I have to say, we were made to feel so welcome, and it was a really fantastic session.

Afterwards, me and the other customers sat back at the front of the room and heard feedback and ideas for action from each table. Rohini, who had put the session on, was clear that she wanted real, tangible outcomes to come from this day. And from how those conversations then went, it was clear that each customer had been really listened to and there was a real energy to improve things. I honestly felt like the most important person in the room. I drove back home with Debs that evening, who had also been there, and we both realised we had come away really psyched up and inspired to think of solutions across a range of issues.

Customers at the event

Customers at the event, with Claire far right

What Bromford should take forward

An example I always use about great customer service is my mobile phone provider. I’ve been with EE for eight years now, and the reason I stay with them is not necessarily because they offer me the best deals or even the best handsets, but their customer service is personal and makes you feel valued. If you have an issue, you’re assigned one person and that person stays with you right through to resolution. Still at times with Bromford, you can end up explaining an issue multiple times to multiple people, and before you know it, it becomes a complaint.

That’s why I was so chuffed with one of the ideas at the end of the Voice of the Customer workshop which has already started to be rolled out across the business. Pull the Cord is designed to help Bromford address customer issues with far greater speed and certainty before it escalates and impacts you in your home. Any colleague or customer volunteer can pull this cord when they feel an issue is taking too long to resolve and a dedicated team will immediately be formed to agree a long-lasting resolution that the customer is happy with. It’s early days but the idea is that they want to always be putting customers first every single time.

The three things I would like Bromford to build on from that session are:

  • I want to see all customers become a person and not a job number
  • when issues escalate from a neighbourhood coach, I want to see customers be given someone who will take ownership and see an issue through to resolution
  • and, finally, I want to see more proactive communication which will mean customers have to do less chasing and have a better overall experience.

We want all colleagues to feel empowered to pull the cord if it means a customer can get a better resolution, and we’ll be monitoring how it goes closely at our LIN meetings.

Clearly there is still a way to go, but I do think the willingness to listen and then act is there.

Fancy becoming a customer volunteer? Contact our customer involvement officer Delphine Guillemoteau on 01454 821079 or for an informal chat. 

Claire is a customer volunteer and mum-of-two, passionate about all things housing

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