How COVID-19 has shaped our customer support

17 weeks ago, everything changed.

Households isolated, shops, businesses and schools closed their doors, and millions of people got to grips with the ‘new normal’. For many organisations, including Radian Group, COVID-19 presented a unique challenge: how do we continue delivering exceptional customer service at a time of such unprecedented uncertainty, as well as adjust our operating model and environment quickly and effectively?

I’m incredibly proud to say that our colleagues have risen to the challenge and have supported our customers, communities and each other during COVID-19 in ways that will shape our organisation going forward.

Three months on, as the country begins to take its first steps towards recovery in the wake of the pandemic, it’s an ideal opportunity for us to take stock of our key learnings and successes and what these will mean for our customers in the future.

 

Buddy Club scheme success

Prioritising the health and wellbeing of our customers has been one of our guiding principles throughout the pandemic. A fundamental part of this has been establishing our Buddy Club, a new framework that provides regular companionship and support to our most vulnerable customers through regular phone calls. Not only does this aim to tackle the isolation and loneliness felt by so many during COVID-19, it provides bespoke support to customers where they need it most. Sometimes this is just a chat and a connection; other times it might mean we work with our partners in the community to deliver food or medicine.

The Buddy Club has given us a greater insight and understanding of our customers’ needs – not just during COVID-19 but how we can support them in the future. To date, with a Buddy Club team of over 100 colleagues making more than 4000 phone calls, we’ve realised how valuable the Buddy Club is to our customers. The scheme has been a huge success for both customers and colleagues and we’re actively looking at ways to incorporate this into our operating model in the future.

 

Domestic abuse taskforce

Cases of domestic abuse have spiked nationally since the start of lockdown, with specialist support providers such as Refuge reporting increases of 950% in website traffic and helpline calls rising by 66% compared to pre-COVID figures.

The safety of our customers remains paramount and, in response to this increased risk, we launched a domestic abuse taskforce to offer extra support and guidance during – and beyond – COVID-19. Our specialist teams have increased telephone advice, referrals and signposting to specialist support agencies, as well as rallying to provide emergency accommodation for anyone that may need to escape their current living situation.

In line with government guidance on social distancing and personal protective equipment, we also ensured our frontline colleagues continued to deliver essential repairs such as lock changes or installing fireproof letterboxes to increase the safety of customers in their homes.

As the nation moves out of lockdown, it’s predicted that more people will be seeking safety. Our taskforce remains committed to providing critical support and meeting this increase in demand.

 

Financial advice and support

The economic impact of COVID-19 has been felt by millions of families and businesses across the country. Knowing the pandemic would affect many of our customers financially, we were one of the first housing providers to pledge not to initiate any action for rent arrears or pursue any evictions as a result of arrears during the pandemic.

We adopted a more proactive approach, supporting customers before they got into financial difficulties and helping them to sustain their tenancy. To bolster and enhance the teams who provide financial support to customers at this critical time, we were able to redeploy colleagues from other roles and provide more customers with advice on tenancy sustainment, welfare and benefits.

This proved an important step as, since March, the team has received and successful triaged over 700 Universal Credit claims – averaging 173 per week. To put this into context, the team usually receive around 40 in an average week.

The increased requirement for welfare support has provided learning opportunities for our teams. It’s clear that the need to remain responsive and flexible for the foreseeable future is important as the nation begins to recover economically.

 

The importance of flexibility

Moving to a virtual way of working overnight as a result of lockdown and ensuring that our systems, processes and technology were able to support these has been challenging but rewarding. Customers have been happy to connect with us virtually over these last few months and we’re keen to maintain the momentum of our digital customer relationship.

The launch of our self-service portal during June has provided our customers with greater choice on how they do business with us, enabling customers to access our services, information and to contact us when it’s convenient for them. Connecting virtually through a number of different channels will also have a significant positive impact on our carbon footprint going forward.

 

Our teams

Finally, none of this would have been possible without our incredible teams. Our colleagues have ensured our customers have remained safe and supported in their homes, providing advice and essential support, as well as delivering emergency and critical repairs. As the nation takes its first steps towards recovery, we remain committed to engaging with and supporting our customers every step of the way.

 

– Sam Leigh, Chief Operating Officer, Radian Group