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In October 2011, Amicus Horizon underlined its service credentials by achieving the Customer Service Excellence (CSE) standard for its Contact Centre (Response). One of the biggest social landlords in England, the charitable housing association manages 28,000 homes in London, Surrey, Kent and Sussex.

With a mission statement of „making homes, helping people‟, Amicus Horizon helps vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society (often in challenging circumstances) by putting roofs over their heads, sustaining families and communities, tailoring services to individual needs and creating training and employment opportunities.

“We want to deliver great customer service because what we do changes people’s lives,” says John Barr, Director of Customer Experience. “Customer Service Excellence helps us develop the great service we already offer to our customers. It increases staff morale, helps us recruit fantastic people and raises our profile.”

Response delivers four key areas of service (repairs, rent and service charges, tenancy matters, allocations and lettings) through seven teams:

  • In hours team
  • Out of hours team
  • Three Regional Repairs teams Administration team
  • Survey team
  • Resource, Training and Quality team
  • Customer Experience Team (focused on complaints)

Preparing for assessment

Work towards Customer Service Excellence started in March 2011 with the specific goal of achieving the standard within eight months - in time for the annual staff conference at the O2 Arena on October 12.

“We assembled a project team from different departments (Directors, Managers, Team Leaders and Officers/Advisors) to work together on our submission,” says Darren Hockley, Resource and Quality Manager. “We reviewed existing customer service systems and found we didn’t have to make any major changes”.

Amicus Horizon already has a project team working to introduce a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. CRM will bring together a number of different systems making it easier for advisors to handle service requests. This will increase first contact resolutions and customer satisfaction.

How did SGS help?

“We built up a great relationship with our assessor,” says Darren Hockley.” When we needed clarification around the standard, our assessor proved really helpful.”

“During our pre-assessment, she pointed out we had too many performance-related reports in our submission. We have a number of internal reports which could be confusing to staff. So we created a single report clearly showing our performance results.”

On their assessment days, Amicus Horizon arranged for the assessor to meet key stakeholders, including a partner contractor and customers. She also spoke to several customers by phone.

Benefits of the new standard

In a short time, Customer Service Excellence is delivering important benefits externally and internally. “It demonstrates we deliver quality services to our customers. It has made us hungry for more success (accreditations and awards) and inspired colleagues and other departments across Amicus Horizon.” says John Barr

Amicus Horizon introduced a number of changes to give insight into the levels of customer satisfaction they provide. These include reviewing the surveys they carry out on different services, and introducing common questions to help gauge overall satisfaction. They also carry out a specific survey measuring satisfaction with call handling and created a poster for the reception area showing managers and their areas of responsibility.

Praise from SGS

Jo Heath CSE Lead Auditor said: “Strong and inspiring Leadership underpins all the work being done, which is complemented and supported by effective policies and skilled advisors, who are available 24hrs a day, 7 days a week.”

Certification brings added value

“Achieving the accreditation has taken our desire to deliver brilliant services to the next level. Customers are really benefiting from the surge in energy it has created,” says Darren Hockley

In fact, achieving the new standard has turned out to be the icing on the cake. The night before they received official notice of their Customer Service Excellence success, Amicus Horizon won the European Small Contact Centre of the Year at a glittering ceremony at the London Park Lane Hilton - prompting glowing praise from Head of Judges Claudia Hathaway:

“The small Contact Centre at Amicus Horizon was a great example of the effective force that can be realized when good processes, a highly motivated, energetic team and a sense of purpose and customer focus combine.”

“Our target is to be the best at everything we do,” adds John Barr. “We are currently best at complaints (satisfaction and outcome) in Housemark and in G15 (the 15 biggest Housing Associations in London). Customer Service Excellence is a 3-year project and we look forward to continuing our journey. We’ll be looking into the Institute of Customer Service’s ServiceMark too, which will compliment our CSE accreditation.”