Customer Board

Customer care has always been a priority for the company, as it goes hand in hand with improving operational performance.

In recent months it has received more attention following the initial focus on understanding and addressing a complex inheritance and handling some operational and process challenges.

To challenge and shape these improvements, the company established a pioneering Customer Board and asked Sir Michael Pitt to become the independent Chair.

Sir Michael Pitt chairing the Customer Board in Cambridge

Sir Michael Pitt chairing the Customer Board in Cambridge

This web page outlines some of this progress and how the company will continue to improve our responsiveness to the needs of customers.

Alongside The Customer Board, the inaugural tenant survey, and complaints handling are key to delivering on the company’s commitment to customer care, and complement other strands of work such as business redesign, the launch of Our Properties Online, the inclusion of customer service in the Leadership Development Programme, the improvements to call handling arrangements, and the managed interaction with customers driven by the Operations Directorate.

All of these are positive developments.

National Customer Board

Sir Michael has chaired five National Customer Board meetings so far, with meetings taking place in London, Manchester, Taunton and Cambridge.

The Customer Board is made up of senior representatives (including CEOs or Chief Finance Officers) from tenant organisations such as acute, community and Foundation NHS Trusts, commissioners such as Clinical Commissioning Groups, NHS England Area Teams and GPs.

The role of the Customer Board is to encourage open, honest and constructive communications between the company and tenants, proactively seeking out and resolving concerns at an early stage and highlighting areas for improvement to benefit patient care.

It drives innovation and best practice and provides constructive challenge to the work of the company, helping improve services and providing a direct link to the Board of NHS Property Services.

Members shape the agenda for meetings, topics for discussion and areas of focus, helping the company drive improvements.

The effectiveness of the Customer Board will be reviewed annually and at least once a year, or more frequently if requested – the Chair of the Customer Board prepares a report for the company’s Board.

Dr Ian Harper, Medical Director, Surrey & Sussex Local Medical Committees, said: “There is still a lot of work to do. The Customer Board provides a useful vehicle for us to raise generic issues nationally and help move them forward at a local level. I have no doubt that through the Customer Board we have been able to bring important concerns to the attention of the right people.

“We recognise that NHS Property Services inherited a lot of issues. The Customer Board is undoubtedly helpful in moving these forward.”

Meetings have provided important feedback on how the company is perceived by customers and a powerful demonstration of the priority that the company now attaches to this aspect of its operations. Opportunities have been created to explain some of the challenges facing the company, to test new ideas and for staff to follow up real problems raised by customers. They are helping to build dialogue, confidence and goodwill. The Guide for Customers was one of it’s first outputs.

The constructive challenge that customers have provided at these meetings indicates a desire for the company to engage more with its customers on a local basis, enhance its responsiveness, and establish improved financial procedures. The Customer Board will continue to meet for the foreseeable future, moving from one part of the country to another.

Tenant Survey

During October 2014 the company received the results of its first tenant survey. Commissioned from independent market research specialists, it was deliberately small scale (238 responses) and designed, at minimum cost, to give an initial impression of how tenants are feeling about the property they occupy and their interactions with the company. While a larger scale survey would be needed to deliver statistically more significant results, it is possible to draw some conclusions.

Tenants have provided a mixed response about a range of service areas which have identified a number of areas that the company needs to consider to improve services and tenant satisfaction. Some of the survey’s findings make uncomfortable reading but are what might be expected at this early stage in this company’s development. In broad terms, they highlight some satisfaction with the quality of the accommodation provided (although this is variable), but a sense of frustration from some with the quality of interaction with the company itself and with property and facilities management.

Three key aspects require urgent attention:

  • The company’s reputation as a landlord
  • the provision of building management services, and
  • the understanding of business needs.

It is recommended that focus groups be instigated to explore these issues with tenants in greater detail so improvements can be targeted and delivered.

Tenants were very positive about working together with NHS Property Services to make their building more efficient in terms of sustainable development.

More tenants agreed than disagreed that NHS Property Services has the potential to manage assets and services more efficiently than before.

Complaints

Customer complaints are a key means for driving improvement activity, and are taken very seriously across the company.

The handling process is currently being reviewed.

Areas for Improvement

Reflecting on feedback from the Customer Board, the Tenant Survey and customer complaints, the company needs to make progress in four broad areas:

  1. The first concerns the systematic surveying of both qualitative and quantitative customer feedback. This is key to providing an insight into the needs of customers, benchmarking against other organisations and informing decision making. While the inaugural Tenant Survey is a positive development, the approach needs to be expanded and improved. An ongoing commitment to focus groups and regular ‘tracker’ surveys is needed, as would the assurance that the company will set in place the means for sharing and using the intelligence gathered. A carefully designed annual tracker survey, for example, will indicate where progress is being made and where more effort is needed.
  2. The second area concerns complaints/redress and is again an area that can provide an insight to the needs of customers. In addition to recent improvements in handling, it remains important that a culture of openness is encouraged so that all staff readily report the compliments and complaints they receive and are supported to use them as an opportunity to share learning and drive improvement.
  3. The third concerns training and development. To build on the Leadership Development Programme, arrangements will be reviewed for the majority of staff, particularly those at the front line who have daily contact with tenants.
  4. The above will inform the development of a customer service strategy which sets out the vision of the company, and the scope and standards of service customers can expect. It would also be clear about the company’s relationship with patients; recognising the link between patient care and the physical environment. Such a strategy is referenced in our 2014/15 Business Plan. The Customer Board will be an effective forum for testing the emerging strategy with customers.

Conclusion

While the company has made considerable progress, there is clearly more to do if it is to demonstrate its worth and build a reputation as a truly customer focussed organisation. The areas for improvement outline above are aimed at building upon the progress made and guiding the company in its next development phase.

Contact

If you would like to find out more or discuss anything about the company’s proposed customer services strategy, please email Jeremy.peters@property.nhs.uk or call 01223 597505.

Keep engaged with progress on Twitter @NHSProperty and by subscribing to NHS Property eNews.