In the early part of this century even before the halcyon days when there was a Tenants Services Authority ( who remembers them?), the customer or tenant or leaseholder were King and Queen. Landlords were keen to find out what their service users thought of them!
I spent a lot of time training both residents and landlords in the fine art of Mystery Shopping and getting them to ask meaningful questions that would actually deliver real opinions. Fast forward to today and very few landlords are using this tool or even worse are using a version that is so antiseptic it tells them nothing.
Why is this happening? I have a few theories.
Good Mystery Shopping actually tells you.in real time, what your customers are experiencing. This can often at first be unpalatable. I spent many a feed back session, gently explaining that the written testimonies were what residents were actually getting when they phoned the call centre/used online services/visited the office. With support most landlords could learn to use this as a tool for improvement. Over time staff change and the skills atrophy so the strength and opportunity that ‘shopping’ offered got lost.
As the housing sector has become increasingly deregulated then there has been an associated reduction in the time and money dedicated to seeking resident’s views. Good Mystery shopping which resulted in change was real plus point for audit and could lead to better satisfaction ratings. Neither of these two carry anything like the importance they used to.
Almost always the first thing to go with cuts (or the rent reduction which is the same) is any form of resident involvement. Unfortunately, Mystery Shopping was seen all too often as an involvement tool. In reality, Mystery Shopping is cheap and effective quality assurance and service improvement.
Landlords, don’t be shy find out what your customers think by testing your service! With the increasing move into new sectors Mystery shopping offers real feedback. Some of the targeted ‘shops’ we have developed include:
- The experience of new home owners, share owners and tenants when they move into new homes
- How was the regeneration for you – learning lessons for new developments
- Channel Changing – our experience of moving it all online
Any Mystery Shopping needs to be bespoke to the landlord and residents and will tell you how it really is!
This week, I have been procrastinating over our response to the Mayor of London’s Draft Homes for Londoners consultation. We love regeneration, not just for its own sake but because done well it can genuinely improve lives. But so many landlords seem to be hungry to realise land values at the expense of carrying local communities along with their plans. That is my major problem with the Guidance – that it stop shorts of giving existing communities a genuine say in the future of their homes and estates. In fact it even shies away from a test of opinion in case some conscientious independent tenants and leaseholders advisor interprets that as a ballot. It’s extremely short-sighted to believe that gentrification can continue at the current rate and surely nobody believes that there is not a price to pay for clearing working class residents from high land value areas.
Affordable homes can be built with the approval of residents, it’s not easy but infinitely doable. What is required is for landlords and their consultants to listen as well as speak. To develop business plans and programmes which protect or enhance the lifestyle of existing residents and place value on protecting affordable low cost renting options in the Capital.
Recently, I have heard planners talk about existing estates not being “dense enough”; landlords contemplating demolition of perfectly good social housing to maximise land use; and architects report that the requirement to make play provision is challenging. No wonder residents are angry. With thousands of families in temporary accommodation, nobody can argue with the need for more housing, indeed I have never heard a council tenant dispute the need for more housing they are the sector’s strongest champions. But turkeys will never vote for Christmas and tenants and leaseholders will never vote for redevelopment unless they can see something in it for them and the next generation.
So landlords must present proposals which protect secure tenancy rights, do not disadvantage leaseholders and create great places for people to live in. There will still be painful choices but surely we can get residents to agree that:
- Some blocks are beyond the end of their useful life (if they are)
- Garages and car-parking are less important than new homes and open space
- Community centres don’t have to be single storey standalone buildings
Certainly a compromise can be reached, and tenants will (and have in Hackney) vote in a ballot for good regeneration.
Failure to provide appropriately priced rented housing for the families of bus drivers (Sadiq Khan please note) or shared ownership options to which teachers can aspire will have a catastrophic on London’s economy and therefore the UK.