By Emma Lindley, HQN Associate 

At the recent HQN annual conference there were a couple of sessions dedicated to the topic of professionalism, with a strong focus on the mandatory qualifications required for senior housing executives and senior housing officers by the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023.

For many people, being professional and having a qualification are one and the same thing, and so there are a lot of people asking: will my job be in scope? Does my degree from ten years ago count? Should I retrain or should I just retire early?

But few people are thinking about the Competence and Conduct Standard that DLUHC and RSH are still working on, and even fewer are thinking about what professionalism is at its heart.

After listening to the presentation from Jo Causon, of the Institute of Customer Service, I believe the heart of professionalism is trust.

Jo shared with us that 89% of housing sector customers that responded to their Customer Satisfaction Index survey said it’s very important or important to trust an organisation’s customer service. For local authorities, it was 95%. Indeed, high levels of trust has the highest correlation with high levels of customer satisfaction across all 26 measures that make up the Institute’s UK Customer Satisfaction Index.

The ICS have identified seven key dimensions of trust that organisations can focus on to improve their relationships with customers – the two highlighted scored the highest for improving trust:

  1. Customer ethos: organisations genuinely care about their customers and build the experience around their needs

  2. Competence and capabilities: quality of products, services and people

  3. Reliability and dependability: consistent service, accountability for putting things right, easy access to help and advice

  4. Transparency: open and honest communication

  5. Ethics: doing the right thing
  6. Empathy: understanding individual needs and circumstances, providing tailored services

7. Brand validation: how the organisation is rated in reviews, on social media, by friends and family

During the presentation, I was immediately struck by how much overlap there is between these seven dimensions and the areas DLUHC, RSH, the Housing Ombudsman and CIH are all focusing on. Whilst many of the standards being set out by these organisations are welcome, necessary and long awaited, on the other hand, there’s almost too much going on and not all of it has been properly joined together yet. This means organisations are completing the Complaints Handling Code self-assessment one year, implementing the CIH Professional Standards Framework the next, preparing for mandatory qualifications now and not even thinking about the Competence and Conduct Standard. Whilst we look at each piece of the puzzle in isolation and reactively implement the next thing required of us, we’re failing to stop, take a step back to see the bigger picture and think about how we could take a proactive and joined-up approach.

The Institute’s dimensions of trust, alongside their dimensions of customer service, might just be the bigger picture we need to stop and take a look at.

The Institute offers plenty of suggestions to improve both trust and customer service – for customers with poor or very poor financial wellbeing, it’s all about responding to their personal needs. These customers are more distrusting of and dissatisfied with organisations that fail to respond to these needs and their average satisfaction scores sit 37 points lower than that of similar customers who dealt with an organisation that understood and responded to their personal needs.

This group of customers have also highlighted organisations should be easier to contact, have more helpful staff and have more staff available.

I’ve said before that people do business with people, not with organisations, and this really comes through in the Institute’s findings. So, absolutely focus on what you’re being asked to do by DLUHC, RSH and the Ombudsman, but put building trusting relationships with your customers at the heart of everything you do.