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Good call

Despite it being the warmest year since records began, winter is finally here. As the temperatures drop, the number of calls to landlords will rise, with tenants reporting all manner of faults – leaky roofs, broken windows, heating problems.For most of these tenants, the first point of contact will be the call centre – and the resulting short phone call is pivotal in determining customer satisfaction for the tenant and, for the landlord, an efficient repairs service.Was the call answered promptly? Was the call agent polite and helpful? Did they understand the problem? Were they professional and reassuring? And, most pertinently, did their actions help solve the problem? ‘Yes’ to all those questions and you will have a happy tenant.The call should also please the landlord – for most, responsive repairs are their biggest expense, so correctly diagnosing the problem at the first point of contact is fundamental to fixing the problem first-time.A survey by housing analysts HouseMark concluded that: “Call handling is a crucial part of the repairs process, both in terms of specification and satisfaction. A well-handled call achieves value for money by enabling the right operative to attend at the right time and complete first time, satisfying the tenant. Poor call handling can result in misdiagnosis, missed appointments and avoidable contact as dissatisfied tenants have to call multiple times to get the work done – all adding to the overall costs of the repair service.”*The ‘first-time fix’ is somewhat of a holy grail for social landlords, as Martin Byrne, Operations Director for Mears 24/7, understands only too well.“Mears 24/7 is our specialist contact centre dedicated to serving the housing maintenance sector. Our job is to minimise the call-outs to our customer. For 70% of our calls, we don’t send out a repairs team and that’s because we, as a company, understand repairs and maintenance – it’s what we do – so our call centre agents are trained in repairs and maintenance and know all the right questions to ask. We can diagnose genuine emergencies and avoid sending out expensive out-of-hours repairs services needlessly.”Mears 24/7 works with local authorities and housing associations across the UK. Last year alone, it successfully resolved 600,000 calls from residents.Most of its contracts are for out-of-hours services – typically 4pm-8am – and are seamlessly rooted from the client’s number through to one of its three call centres.“We live in a 24/7 culture now,” explains Martin, “so tenants are accustomed to being able to contact services early in the morning, late at night and at weekends – whenever is convenient for them.“But it’s not practical for organisations to man the phones out-of-hours – what if they only get four calls? What does the person do for the rest of the night?“We offer economies of scale – because we have lots of clients with similar services, we can increase our resources so our clients don't have to pay staff to work through the night to handle only a handful of calls. These vital calls can be handled by our teams of multiple agents for a fraction of the price of paying a full-time agent. For the client, that means we can offer a longer service period and take pressure off core operating hours – you don’t get everyone trying to call in their lunch-break.”Regardless of when tenants call, an intelligent phone system automatically recognises where a caller is so the call-handler can respond appropriately and with guidelines set by the client. All in all, it’s a better customer experience.“This is why we see ourselves as part of your team,” says Martin. “Your contact centre should be integral to your overall performance.”Working in partnership can also reduce risks by offering business continuity.“We have three call centres in different parts of the country, two data centres and a huge amount of phone lines, to ensure our phone are always up regardless of what happens.“So in event of something happening – or even if they are just out of the office at a conference, for example – we can re-route their customers calls to us.“And as our seasons become more unpredictable – with frost in August and a heatwave at Halloween – we’ll be here, whatever the weather.”


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