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That’s what a tenant in Wales told me she needs to see a lot more of. And she makes a fine point. Tenants do tell us what is going on. But do we listen and then fix it? Grenfell suggests that we don’t try hard enough. Do we give tenants the tin ear? Is this what lands us in trouble time and again? Yes, it is.
I’ve been in this game for more than 35 years so I’ve seen a lot of screw-ups. They’ve one thing in common: someone was always trying to tell us what was going wrong. Whether it was Connaught or Circle, the tenants were warning us of dire problems. What did we do? Well, it was too much, too little and too late every time.
Of course we need to get better at this. And we seem to be trying. You can’t move in most landlords now for polls, focus groups, scrutiny and staff beavering away on complaints. All of this was ditched the last time the money ran short. So we wait to see if this is heartfelt or just a sop.
There’s one very easy way to find out what is going wrong: why don’t you talk to the people in the call centre? They hear it all. But the top brass hardly ever go near them. Yes, you can tell how quickly they pick up calls and reply to emails. And you can pull out the rates of satisfaction. But that’s just filler for your board reports.
What you want to know is about the blocks with lots of repairs. Is that a sign of a bigger problem down the line? Are disabled tenants marooned by lousy lifts? The young people in the call centre will know. They can also pinpoint the ASB hotspots. So you’ve got to use them. Many of you have the software to pull off reports on trends on these things. Goodness know where they go. If and when inspection comes back, their first port of call will be the call centre.
That’s where you get the real stuff. Everything that comes afterwards is filtered to the point of uselessness. It passes through too many hands. In truth the landlord is defined by the young underpaid staff in the call centre, not the executives. That’s who the tenants deal with day to day. So try listening, hearing and acting on what they say.
It could save lives. Why do I say that? Do you remember when Toyota had to recall six million cars after a fatal crash? They’d seen two thousand reports about that defect. Crucially, the top brass ignored the suggestions made by more junior staff. By the end of it, 31% of Americans believed that Toyota cars were unsafe. Don’t let this happen to you.
It’s easy to avoid. Talk to the tenants and the call centre. Walk into that room now and see how hard they’re working. You might learn yourself something. Find out what vexes them and fix it. That’s how you keep out of the headlines.
By Alistair McIntosh, HQN Chief Executive.
(Source of data on Toyota: The Intelligence Trap – David Robson)