17 October 2019

Trust. A word loaded with emotion and feeling. Trust is a big word, one you associate with parent and child, husband and wife. It infers faith, safety, belief, confidence and honesty. So what does trust even look like in a landlord tenant relationship?

I am reminded of my first exposure to Dr Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Effective Leaders, back in the 1990s. Some of Covey’s Habits are now in common parlance – for example, who hasn’t heard of Win-Win?

One of Covey’s underlying principles that struck a chord with me was the metaphor of the emotional bank account. Covey used this to describe “the amount of trust that's been built up in a relationship”. The emotional bank account begins on a neutral balance and, just as with any bank account, we can make deposits and withdrawals. Covey describes the way we can build up the emotional bank balance through understanding the individual, keeping commitments, clarifying expectations, attending to the little things, showing integrity and apologising when we make mistakes. He could almost have written the first draft of the Together with Tenants Charter

How we’re implementing the Together with Tenants plan

At Black Country Housing Group (BCHG) we’ve signed up as an early adopter of the Federation’s Together with Tenants plan. We’re still developing our approach with our tenants and board, and we see two key themes emerging through which we can deliver upon our commitments: trust and transparency.

Trust means:

  • that our tenants feel safe and secure in their homes
  • we hear from the breadth of our tenants to get the deepest insight
  • we involve our customers in changes that affect them so they work with us to shape standards and services that directly affect them.

Transparency is about:

  • being open and honest about customer feedback (even when not so positive)
  • sharing the information that our customers are most interested in, such as information relating to their property or their tenancy
  • being clear about how and why we make decisions and how customers can be involved in those processes.

We’ve changed the way we ask tenants for feedback, trialling sentiment analysis by asking customers to express an emotion of joy, fear, disgust, sadness or anger.

A personal relationship with our customers

Underpinning both of these themes are the relationships we have with our tenants. Over two years ago we reshaped our traditional housing officer structure into a team of Customer Relations Managers (CRMs). Their role is primarily to establish a close relationship with each resident on their patch, and be the point of contact for all service matters – rents, lettings, nuisance, grounds maintenance, property related and so on.

Our CRMs are out in their neighbourhoods 80% of their time, meeting their tenants, basing themselves in local cafes, community centres – in fact anywhere that enables them to get closer to the people with whom we should have a personal relationship, i.e. our customers. Building these one-on-one relationships, and being open and honest are the foundations of a partnership of trust.

Amanda is speaking at the National Smaller Housing Associations' Conference & Exhibition 2019. Find out more about attending her session on Thursday 7 November at 10:30 on 'Strengthening trust by understanding and delivering on customer experience'.

Amanda Tomlinson

Amanda is Chief Executive of Black Country Housing Group

Amanda worked at senior management level as Finance Director and Managing Director for 10 years in the sector prior to her appointment as Chief Executive of Black Country Housing Group in 2013. Amanda is keen to ensure that Black Country Housing continues to be much more than a local housing provider, supporting our local communities through the provision of a range of services creating positive social impact.

Relationships built on trust