• Challenging times, but many changes are here to stay beyond the pandemic

The last year has seen significant changes for the property services sector as it continues to adapt its services to manage the impact of lockdown measures. Ray Jones, Liberty's Group Managing Director reflects on what the property services business has learnt during a turbulent 12 months and the innovations that have enabled the Liberty team to adapt to meet the changing needs of clients and customers.

The pandemic has been as transformational as it has been challenging – for businesses in every sector. Restrictions brought about by COVID-19 forced us all to change the way we did things, some for the better as we found new ways of working that will likely continue long beyond the current situation.

The one-year anniversary of lockdown provided an opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months and look back to how we reacted and adapted.

At Liberty, we are proud of our smart and straightforward approach that enabled us to swiftly respond to ensure we remained able to provide high quality services to our clients and deliver the outcomes they needed for their tenants.

Overcoming challenges

The first lockdown saw workloads drop by approximately 15% in the heating and compliance areas of the business and around 35% in repairs, maintenance and construction due to temporary site closures, postponement of routine works and access challenges where people were shielding or self-isolating.

Clients’ needs also swiftly changed when, in line with Government guidance, only emergency work was allowed. But what has always been key is the absolute focus and need for work such as compliance checks to continue, so that we could continue to keep customers safe in their homes. We adapted our approach and service delivery models to individual client needs to reassure them that we were responding appropriately to Government guidance and implementing safe working practices to protect their tenants.

The changes we implemented have led to tangible improvements in the way we do things, with more first-time fixes, higher compliance and better access rates – all win-win outcomes for clients and their tenants and an ongoing legacy for the business.

Sharing best practice

Our smart and straightforward approach fosters a culture of best practice sharing. Teams from across the business are encouraged to share ideas and thoughts on what works well, and what could be improved with each other and with clients. This open and transparent culture allows the teams to share their knowledge for the benefit of clients and their tenants nationwide.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve worked to keep people at the centre of what we do. This has meant working hard to identify better ways of doing things, that enabled our clients’ tenants to feel confident and safe when allowing a Liberty operative into their home to complete work.

We did this by mapping out processes for every job, every call and every fix to identify improvement opportunities that would put the customer at the heart of everything we did. Improvements were trialled and when proven successful, rolled out wider across the country for the benefit of everyone.

Successful measures included proactive calls to customers before appointments, appointing multi-skilled engineers to enable one person to carry out installations, repairs and servicing and bringing in delivery drivers to transport parts to engineers so that a repair could be completed in a single visit therefore reducing disruption for the customer.

Implementing these steps improved our customer experience, with our NPS score at +59 in March 2021 ahead of a targeted +30, and kept gas servicing compliance for our clients’ tenants at industry leading levels throughout the pandemic, as verified by HouseMark. These interventions also make our service delivery more effective by increasing first time fix and property access rates, proving that putting people at the heart of decision making and focussing on continual learning can have benefits for everyone.

Partnership working

Partnership working has brought further successes that will ensure we are stronger as a business. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, we acquired staff and contracts from Warmer Energy Services (WES) when it entered administration, saving 143 jobs and ensuring continued service delivery for its clients.

Our collaborative style has led to successful long-term relationships being built with the former WES clients. Our approach was to carry out regular face-to-face visits, when allowed, so we could listen to clients’ issues and nurture an environment where communication was open and transparent. New processes and reporting for resolving issues were introduced and we created a ‘one-team’ approach to show clients that had transferred to Liberty that we were there to support them and to deliver sustainable safety for their tenants.

In addition, this collaborative and open approach has allowed Liberty to build strong relationships based on trust and high performance with clients nationwide. This trust in our ability has meant that over 15 clients have chosen to extend or renew their contracts with Liberty in the past 12 months.

Colleague wellbeing

I’m immensely proud of how the Liberty team has pulled together to support clients, their tenants and each other throughout the challenges of the last 12 months with the upmost professionalism and customer focus.

COVID-19 has had impacts on everyone that have gone beyond physical health, lifestyle changes or business restrictions. Because of this, colleague wellbeing was at the forefront of our minds as we quickly adapted to new ways of working, and we have worked hard to minimise the negative effects of this ‘new normal’ on the mental wellbeing of our people.

To support colleagues, we relaunched our mental health at work toolkit in October – which has since been visited by 150 people – to raise awareness of the support available through the business, which includes counselling, colleague buddy programmes and details of our staff wellbeing benefits provider.

We’ve opened lines of communication between staff, enabling people to engage with senior management through live webinars and video briefings. We’ve also looked at ways to fight loneliness, encouraging staff to keep in touch with others, whether using corporate Zoom accounts for calls with family and friends or creating ‘virtual banks of desks’ so remote workers can work alongside others in an online setting.

This positive culture of staff engagement is set to stay, and we hope to build on it further over the next 12 months and beyond.

While it is true that the pandemic has been a challenge on a scale none of us could have predicted, we can all draw out positives that will help our business evolve to meet future needs.

None of this would have been possible without the support of colleagues, clients and their tenants, everyone pulling together to steer us through this turbulent time – and that’s something to be proud of.

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