Customer service in a pandemic

L&Q’s response to the coronavirus crisis will shape how the organisation supports residents in future


Image: Istock

Gerri Scott

Group Director Customer Service, L&Q

Eight weeks into my new role at L&Q, my overall conclusion is that these are the best and worst of times to be starting a new job. Despite the awful impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown, it is at times like these that you see an organisation at its very best – pulling together to focus on the things that really matter to residents.

The way in which we have worked during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic will shape our future customer service. Whether it is refining our repairs offer, or moving more swiftly to digital service delivery, lockdown has demonstrated that we are capable of so much more.

Where are we making a difference?

In crisis, we have managed to quickly put in place things that make a real difference to the quality of our customer service. Online property viewings and sign-ups were something that we had planned, but we were able to be up and running in a matter of weeks. Reaching out to our most vulnerable residents through nearly 15,000 telephone calls meant that we were able to get people the help they really needed, including, sadly, food for far too many people.

Enforced working from home has helped to drive the pace in shaping an agile, mobile workforce, much more connected with residents, taking the service out of the office to people’s homes. Our resident engagement is immediate and far-reaching as technology enables frequent conversations with hundreds of people and instant feedback and views.

Staff going above and beyond

We have seen exemplary kindness and understanding. Staff who have not only continued to do their jobs in difficult circumstances, but have gone above and beyond to support residents who may not have family or friends, to help and provide support. Volunteering at food banks, partners getting involved to help deliver food to residents, virtual quizzes and get-togethers to help keep spirits up, and front-line staff – the real heroes – continuing to mop and clean, inspect and check, repair and care.

Crisis is a real leveller. Throughout my career, in local government and housing associations, I have often been struck by a pervasive disconnect between some staff and how they perceive the people they are providing services to. For me, customer service has always been about delivering the service that you would want to receive yourself. Some call it the ‘Mum test’ – but I’m sure we’ve all seen service which falls short.

"For me, customer service has always been about delivering the service that you would want to receive yourself"

The ‘Mum test’

In these times however, just as we are struggling with juggling work and home life, often with home schooling on top, so too are our residents. As staff are furloughed and worry about the future, our residents share our worries about paying the rent and mortgage, and what ‘normal’ will mean for them and their families and loved ones.

Our future customer service offer must hold on to all that is best about our response to the pandemic. Caring for others, dismantling organisational silos to deliver a service that makes sense to residents, rather than staff, and reaching out proactively to those who really need our help. Not only is this a much more emotionally rewarding way to work, the new approach to customer service is less rigid, more pragmatic, less weighed down by process for process sake and, above all, more compassionate.

This is not the way I would have chosen to start at L&Q, but there is so much that is good about the way we work now and what it can mean for our future offer to residents. Previously, our residents often found us wanting, but lockdown has provided an invaluable opportunity to reset. Our focus is on the things that really matter. The health, safety and wellbeing of our residents is something we will take forward with pride and vigour.

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