So proud to report that one of the projects I’ve been working on for the past 18 months won a social housing industry award. Cardiff Community Housing Association (CCHA) came first in the customer excellence category at the Chartered Institute of Housing national awards.
It’s a project that has evolved organically, that has engaged every member of staff and tackled difficult issues.
We took an ‘inside out’ approach, looking at customer service from an internal perspective and creating principles that applied to both internal and external customers. Staff agreed there should be no distinction between how they treated each other and how they treated tenants- there was no difference.
It was thus more than a customer service project it was about culture change. CCHA wanted a cultural shift within the organisation. They wanted to develop a customer focused culture so that great customer service was embedded into everyday practice not an activity that people, or a single department, made an effort to do.
There was no road map for this work. Theories of cultural change were considered but in the end we created our own way that worked for the organisation.
Our methodology included facilitating sessions with staff across the organisation, we consulted with tenants and the board, we created videos to raise customer service issues that needed to be addressed, we celebrated what was working well and we had open conversations about the things that we wanted to change.
We also used Disney’s customer journey mapping tool to understand processes from a customer perspective and made improvements during the engagement process. In addition both staff and management teams visualised the future- what does ‘customer culture’ look like?
The result – a Customer Culture principles framework written by staff that now forms the competency framework within the performance management system.
To embed the principles further staff created images, paintings, illustrating the key themes: equality, respect, commitment, understanding, positivity, empowerment, and gratitude. These now hang on the walls in the offices and are in a pocket size handy reminder which all staff and partners have been given.
We also have a staff champions group who meet monthly to take forward the agenda so that the principles become a reality in each part of the organisation. Tenants also continue to be engaged – most recently with a conference where they designed the agenda.
An outcome of the work has been a rise in customer satisfaction and a decrease in complaints. Having said that the work of culture change continues so that the organisations continues to improve and ‘be the best’ which is now their internal bench mark.
One of the unexpected outcomes of the project has been the personal development of the staff involved. People who were shy and quiet became more vocal, some even went on to present publicly and facilitate sessions. Other people told us how they felt an increase in confidence and a sense of empowerment in different ways.
These individual ‘wins’ made me realise that culture change does in fact happen one person at a time. If you effect a change in a couple of people a month, and that’s a lasting change, it won’t be long before the whole organisation changes. There is also a tipping point when there will be sudden change due to these so called small changes- so the overall impact is a huge shift.
It also reminded me that given the right environment and opportunity, people come alive, sparkle even and will contribute more than anyone thought was inside of them. That’s the bit I love- the blossoming.
And finally, I learned not only from this project but another I have worked on recently- to make a real difference there is often an element of unease. If everything runs smoothly you’re probably not pushing or challenging enough. Sometimes people have to step into those uncomfortable moments, have those difficult conversations, talk about the ‘elephant in the room’, for real progress to be made. It takes bravery and courage all round to do this- but the results are worth it.
If I can help you with a culture change project please do let me know.