Along for the ride
Contractor Kier offers customers the chance to shadow a maintenance worker for a day. Here, Sheffield Homes tenant Yvonne Collins, 71, explains how the scheme is improving tenants’ understanding of repairs and their satisfaction with the service
I spent a morning with Kier gas engineer Brian Marples on visits to my landlord Sheffield Homes’ customers. During those few hours we visited the homes of four tenants, travelling from one side of the city to another, and I was immediately able to see things more clearly from an operative’s point of view.
When tenants were asked to give feedback about the repairs and maintenance service, they often said operatives weren’t arriving at their homes for scheduled appointments. Meanwhile, operatives told us the problem was that tenants weren’t home when they got there. Lo and behold, on my first visit of the day the tenant wasn’t in. It was good because I got to see the other side of things.
When the morning was over, I was able to give feedback to the action planning group, which brings together Sheffield Homes employees with Kier staff, and which I sit on as a tenant representative.
That was seven years ago, and it became the first of many Kier rideouts to Sheffield Homes’ properties. Rideouts, which the contractor runs for customers across the UK, including tenants, residents, and housing organisation staff, involve the customer ‘shadowing’ an operative to understand and appreciate the process involved in maintenance visits.
At Sheffield Homes we use rideouts, which are run by Kier’s customer service department, as part of our tenant inspection process. We run them every month and up to eight people can go on them at any one time. I’d estimate that up to 300 tenants have shadowed operatives over the years.
Usually customers spend a whole day witnessing how Kier runs its repairs and maintenance service first-hand. It starts with an introduction to a manager at its service centre at the Manor Lane depot in Sheffield, where they see how calls from tenants come in and how they are allocated using a computer system. Then they hit the road with an operative - this could be someone working in any trade, including gas fitting, electrics, plumbing or joinery. Before they do so they’re equipped with safety shoes, hard hats and high-visibility vests and given a health and safety induction.
People tend to be very good at complaining, but not at praising. After the rideout they’re encouraged to give feedback on how the service can be improved. For example, tenants asked whether operatives can cover their shoes when they go into people’s homes - and that has happened.
They’ve also asked for vacuum cleaners to be kept in operatives’ vans so that they can clean up after repairs and maintenance work, and for tenants to be given a better idea of when an operative will arrive. As a result, Kier now gives them a two-hour slot during which the operative will call. It’s been a big improvement.
Making things clearer
Tenants have also been involved in drafting the literature for the repairs and maintenance service so it’s easier to understand, and we helped select the materials for use during Sheffield Homes’ decent homes improvements.
The contractor also invites MPs and councillors on rideouts - traditionally, most complaints that are referred to councillors by tenants are about repairs. If they see the service first-hand, they are able to deal with queries more easily.
As for me, I’m now a bit more understanding. Last winter, when we had particularly bad snow, I had problems with my boiler along with pretty much everyone else in Sheffield (there were more than 450 emergency boiler repairs in Sheffield Homes’ properties that winter). When I called for a Kier operative to be sent out, I was told that they wouldn’t be able to get to me within a couple of hours like they usually do, but I was promised someone would visit within 24 hours. Because I’d experienced the demands on the service I was happy to wait a while.