Stockport Homes Group manage the housing stock owned by Stockport Council and are also committed to building new homes across Stockport, helping transform the lives of its customers. The company was formed in 2005 to manage housing stock across Stockport on behalf of Stockport Council. Whilst the company is owned by the Council, it operates independently on day-to-day matters and in delivering services to its customers.
Stockport Homes Group began working with the CSE Standard over 12 years ago and their annual assessments act as a process of review, driving change in their customer service and then testing the impact of that change. 'We believe that we have a strong focus on customer care as an organisation', comments Martin Saunders of Stockport Homes Group, 'but we wanted to analyse this against a formal accreditation structure so that we could understand our strengths and areas to develop.'
Martin adds, ‘As well as giving us formal recognition of where we are already performing to a high standard, using the CSE standard also helps us to develop an action plan of key priorities for the future.'
Before the on-site assessment took place, the Stockport Homes team put together a written submission which contained examples of practices across the business.
To make sure the examples they submitted met the criteria of the Standard, their intention was to have a number of people across the organisation championing this activity, which also ensured the workload was spread evenly. Martin explains, ‘The Customer Access Team led the review and collation of data but there are a range of staff and managers who contribute.’
Stockport Homes Group places most value on the days when the assessor is on site. ‘On site, the assessor is very positive with any person he meets and puts them at ease very quickly, which I think means he gets an honest response,’ explains Martin. ‘The feedback at the end of the day is provided in a professional way, whether it be positive or an area to consider improving.’
The Stockport Homes Group team are appreciative of how the CSE Standard creates a balance between developing the appropriate customer focused structure, culture and procedures and testing whether these are actually delivering at the front line for their customers. The assessor's conversations and observations with staff and customers provided valuable independent feedback on their frontline services. Martin comments, ‘It is always welcome to receive the confirmation that we are working well for our customers and that we have the right kind of structures and culture in place.’
The Standard has helped to identify some areas where the business needed to improve, such as customer profiling. Participating in the assessment process for a number of years has helped to drive up standards in those weaker areas. ‘The process has also helped us to understand and be proud of what we do well,’ adds Martin. ‘For example, the Compliance Plus areas have helped us to shine a positive light on a number of areas and have external validation that they are strong.’
Stockport Homes Group's customers have benefitted in a range of ways. The assessment process has encouraged the team to put improvements in place. For example, they have developed clearer service standards, provided better information on performance to customers and undertaken more analysis of their customer base.
After the process is completed each year, a report on Compliance Plus areas and areas to develop goes to senior managers with an action plan of how to take the work forward and engage with more staff. Martin explains, ‘The assessor’s comments are useful and are part of the action plan that comes from each year.’ As an example, Martin adds, ‘After a comment from the assessor that some staff were not aware of products, these were subsequently featured in training sessions.’
The CSE process is also being used as a driver and a timetable to move a particular project forward. ‘The key action from this year is to review our approach to customer insight,’ Martin continues. ‘When we completed the assessment this year, this aspect felt weak so within a few weeks we have set up a group to look at why this area was weak and how we can improve.’
Andrew Mackey, Stockport Homes Group's CSE Assessor, comments, ‘The customer-focused culture has developed and grown over the time I have been working with them and they have managed to achieve a number of Compliance Plus scores which show how they are going above and beyond in those areas.’ Andrew continues, ‘It is really satisfying as an assessor to look back at how the organisation worked when I first met them and to compare it to the current ways of working – it is clear that the service offer, the physical surroundings and the attitudes of staff at all levels have improved and developed and I look forward to seeing this continue.’
Stockport Homes Group are grateful that their assessor responds quickly and in a flexible way, which reduces any stress throughout the process. Having been involved in the CSE assessment process for six years, Martin also appreciates that the assessor understands and has experience of his organisation, which creates a better relationship. Describing CFA's support, Martin comments, ‘The main test has to be “do they help us understand our customer service and improve”, and yes they do, so I would recommend them.’
Stockport Homes Group are advocates of the CSE Standard, recognising the benefits of the framework as well as gaining an external view to help measure where they are on customer service and where they need to develop more. Describing the value of CSE assessment, Martin comments, ‘For our money, we get to assess our services against a recognised framework, have an independent assessor review our outcomes and develop an action plan to improve. If we did not participate in this process, there would be a temptation to let some aspects of customer service drift.’