The repairs rule book
Contractor Forrest launched a code of conduct for its repairs and maintenance workers last summer, improving customer satisfaction as a result. Here Sally-Ann Smith explains how it works
Why did you create a code of conduct?
In the current tough economic climate we’ve seen some really big firms including Kinetics and Connaught disappear from the marketplace. Tender competitions for housing association or local authority frameworks remain as competitive as ever. The aim of our code is to differentiate ourselves from our rivals by establishing a level of quality to uphold in every property we work in and focusing on excellent customer service.
More than 80 per cent of our business’s £60 million turnover is made up of planned maintenance work which typically includes kitchen and bathroom refurbishments, roofing, electrical rewires or upgrading heating systems.
We’re in people’s homes for anything up to 18 days fitting a new kitchen and bathroom. Our operatives become part of customers’ lives and those customers deserve the best service from us.
We operate across the north of England, working for housing association clients including Salix Homes, Helena Partnerships, Places for People and City West Housing Trust. We employed City West’s training and skills development arm, City West Works, to help us design the code of conduct training programme and then deliver it to around 350 members of our operational team. Forrest has invested tens of thousands of pounds into the training.
Do you have any examples of points included in the code of conduct?
It covers everything. For an operative, it applies from the point at which they begin getting dressed in the morning to when they unpack their van at the end of the day. When they’re wearing Forrest’s uniform, or driving a company vehicle, they’re ambassadors of the business.
It includes minimum standards relating to the speed they drive - they should not exceed 15mph in built-up residential areas - how they park, how to address the customer, how to explain how long the work will take, and to ask whether it’s OK to put their tools down in a certain place. We tried to design the code around what we know is important to customers. For example, we know mess is a major concern for people, so there is a section focusing on operating a clean-as-you-go policy and ensuring waste materials are dealt with appropriately.
One of the most crucial sections covers how to deal with vulnerable customers, those with hearing and mobility difficulties, and those who do not speak English as a first language.
How is the code of conduct implemented?
In June and July when we launched the code we brought every staff member in offsite for a one-day training session run by City West Works. We ran through examples of both positive and negative customer feedback.
Asking operatives what they would expect from somebody who came to work on their own home was a powerful way to make the code of conduct feel relevant.
What we don’t want is for operatives to stick to the code because they are scared of the consequences if they don’t - we want them to be committed to delivering this level of service.
How have tenants responded since the implementation of the code?
We monitor whether operatives are delivering a high level of customer service through our customer engagement team, which gathers verbal feedback from customers. We also have an auditing system run by our liaison team which visits sites and checks things such as uniforms and where vehicles are parked. They talk to customers and ask whether our guys have been keeping them informed about how the work is progressing. Failure to comply with the code may result in disciplinary action, like any other performance issue would.
Since the code has been in place we have noticed a downward trend in the number of incidents reported by customers, and we’re regularly achieving customer satisfaction survey results of 98 per cent and higher.
Sally-Ann Smith is customer engagement manager at Forrest
The rules: some guidelines from the code of conduct
- You must keep all appointments and turn up punctually. If you anticipate being more than 15 minutes late or early for your appointment you must contact the liaison officer and ask them to keep the customer informed.
- Upon arrival at the property you must show the customer your identification.
- Explain the work that you are there to carry out and check with the customer to make sure that they are happy for you to do so.
- Always make sure that flooring protection has been applied before unloading vehicles and beginning work.
- Keep the customer informed throughout the day on the progress of the works.
- You must retain the highest levels of confidentiality regarding any personal information that may be supplied to you throughout the course of the works.
- Before leaving the property, after you have packed away, walk around and inspect the areas. Ensure that any wiring or sockets are safe.