The private sector has long understood that great customer service is driven by a customer-centric mindset, spending millions to understand what their customers’ needs and expectations are and designing services to meet them.
This was not always the approach taken by the public sector, however as they and their service users became more aware of the need for customer engagement, significant steps have been taken in recent years to better understand the needs of the people and communities they serve.
What this means for those bidding to provide services to a Local Authority or Housing Association, from scheduled maintenance to retrofit installations, is that there will likely be a renewed focus on your engagement processes. Here are a few considerations for the next time you are faced with a resident engagement quality question.
Providing appropriate resource
Your engagement strategy must be properly resourced to ensure it is effective in delivering its planned objectives. Consequently, being vague around who your Resident Liaison Officer and supporting staff will be would not fill a buyer with confidence that engagement will be carried out proactively and/or consistently.
Be very clear about the different roles of each person involved including who they report to, their specific responsibilities, and how these will link in with each other. Resident engagement should be managed by someone who understands resident needs, so emphasise your team’s experience and their previous successes.
Frequency and consistency
Engagement cannot be a one-off activity taken at the start of the programme, maybe followed up with a satisfaction survey at the end. Momentum is key to ensuring residents feel like they can engage and stay engaged. This needs to come across in your response. Consider creating a schedule of proposed activities to demonstrate your commitment to engagement for the duration of the contract.
Related to this, don’t rely too much on in-person meetings. Many residents prefer to get involved on their own terms, rather than through collective mechanisms, and the proliferation of digital technology has only made this easier to do. Can residents contact you via your website, or through social media channels, and how will they be responded to?
Planning for success
This point is a wide-ranging one, but it basically boils down to ‘How are you ensuring that your engagement activities are as efficient as they can be?’ This includes:
- Properly promoting the activities so those who should be there attend in the right numbers
- Making sure obstacles to successful engagement (such as language barriers) have been identified and addressed
- Defining the issue and desired outcome of each activity and properly conveying that to attendees
Your engagement methodology extends to your long-term engagement strategy and how each activity ties into it. Keep in mind that not every type of engagement is appropriate for every kind of issue, so be clear on how you are using these to your best advantage. The point is to demonstrate that there is real purpose behind your engagement activities, with the goal of making your service offering better for all parties.
Keeping (and sharing) records
Of course, any engagement activity is only useful so long as the ideas and opinions expressed within can be captured, recorded, and assessed. As well, not every local authority or housing association is going to be able to be hands-on with the programme most of the time, so it is crucial that you demonstrate how you intend to capture information, and how you intend to use it for the betterment of your service.
How this information is captured is highly dependent on the nature of the services, the type of engagement activity, and the buyer’s requirements. There is some scope to work together on this, but in general you should make some allowances to capture both a collective image (‘65% of residents are in favour of…’) as well as personal insights (‘one resident expressed that…’). Detail how frequently this information will be shared with the buyer and when and how it will be analysed.
Engagement leads to action
The bottom line of resident engagement is that it has to lead somewhere. Evidence suggests that having a voice and feeling listened to contribute to a greater sense of place in the community, which encourages residents to stay involved. Conversely, residents will quickly lose confidence if engagement ends up having little or no impact on the outcomes they experience.
This is a difficult thing to address because buyers will have an expectation that the programme be carried out, and you can’t predict what their residents will have to say about it at this stage. This is where previous experience is invaluable: how did resident engagement lead to better programme outcomes, both for residents and clients.
Ultimately, the key to successful resident engagement is commitment from across the whole organisation, ensuring engagement is meaningful, and having a clear strategy and purpose about what you want to achieve. A sincere desire to engage in a meaningful way will come across in your response, whereas attempting to treat engagement as a box-ticking exercise will likely impact on bid success.