Making London a City of Opportunity for All
A Good Home
Sense of Purpose
Feeling of Belonging
As a member of the G15, Peabody is one of London’s foremost housing associations developing sustainable communities in the Capital. Responsible for some 20,000 homes and 50,000 residents, Peabody has defined its mission to make London a city of opportunity for all by ensuring as many people as possible have a good home, a real sense of purpose and a strong feeling of belonging.
After first launching it’s Customer First agenda in 2007, Peabody chose to work with Mary Gober International (MGI) to further embed service excellence throughout the organisation. During the first four months of 2009, MGI trained all 600 staff, including directors and managers, in the unique Gober Method™. The Seminars were specially branded and designed to advance the Customer First programme.
Under the direction of Chief Executive, Stephen Howlett, David Lavarack, Director of Corporate Services, worked closely with Mary Gober to develop the Peabody programme. David says:
“Mary Gober is an international authority on customer service and has developed a very powerful and academically robust approach – The Gober Method – to improve the effectiveness of personal interaction with personal accountability and responsibility at its core. Already, her training has had a big impact on the culture of our organisation.”
David Lavarack went on to say:
“MGI made sure we experienced the best of the Gober Method, and understood that our main objective was culture change. They also knew that it was vital to keep the training alive. They worked with us on a number of sustainability activities to ensure our return on investment. The Seminars raised awareness of what good customer service looks and feels like, and provided tools for our people to use every day in a range of situations – sometimes quite difficult.”
The Drive for Cultural Change
Peabody always strives to offer the very best service to its residents and is continually seeking to improve. At the same time Peabody first launched its Customer First programme in 2007, it also launched 6 Peabody “behaviours” that asked employees to be:
- Continuosly Improving
Peabody wanted to embed these 6 behaviours and explained them to staff through a series of initial Customer First workshops in early 2008. But customer satisfaction surveys, mystery shopping results, and feedback from residents still showed that staff did not consistently provide the best service.
It quickly became clear that staff needed dedicated and tailored customer service training. David Lavarack explains:
“Staff understood the behaviours, but didn’t always demonstrate them. In some cases they were criticising other colleagues or departments when talking to customers. As Mary Gober explained, we needed them to get out of this ‘victim mode’ and to take responsibility and ownership in a range of situations, even when they didn’t have control over all the elements. In short, we needed to put customers back at the heart of Peabody.”
Karen Crawshaw, Assistant Director, Communications, agrees:
“We needed to understand more fully what customer service was about. We lacked self-awareness. For example, we didn’t realise that customers wouldn’t necessary understand some of the terminology we used. Also, different departments had developed their own home-grown ways of dealing with customers, and had their own timescales for responding. There was no consistency, so it was all very confusing for the customer.”
Both David Lavarack and Karen Crawshaw recognised that Peabody’s work on Customer First had primed the organisation to benefit from the services of a world-class provider of customer service training, Mary Gober International.
“We had the will to make it happen,” says Karen. “We were ready for it.”
Choosing & Working with Mary Gober International
In the summer of 2008, Peabody started a rigorous tendering process to find the right training partner – one that would bring Customer First to life and truly embed service excellence in Peabody’s culture. It received detailed applications from a number of providers, but MGI was the clear winner. It was chosen for what David Lavarack describes as:
“The quality of its thinking and methodology, its experience and understanding of the housing sector, and its ability to tailor a programme to Peabody’s exact requirements.”
David goes on to say:
“We could see that MGI would take the time to really understand our business and pitch the Seminars at a level appropriate for our diverse range of employees.”
Mary Gober and her team immediately set about working with Peabody to understand its needs and tailor the Seminars to Peabody’s Customer First behaviours.
David Lavarack says:
“MGI were fantastic. They were so thorough and took time to understand what we wanted to achieve. To ensure sustainability, MGI helped us integrate the new skills into our performance management system – in our
1-2-1s, 6-monthly and annual reviews.”
Karen Crawshaw was also impressed by their detailed preparation:
“They were determined to get under the skin of the organisation. For example, they sent many of us a series of questions and then interviewed us to make sure they completely understood our answers. In their research they discovered and showed us what we were doing well and what we could do better. Some of these examples were very revealing!”
Tailoring the Programme
Both Karen and David were impressed by MGI’s readiness to tailor the Gober Method to Peabody’s exacting requirements. David says:
“They understood that we needed this to be a bespoke programme, based on Customer First and branded accordingly.”
“The Seminar was tailored to our needs and was in no way ‘off the shelf’. We were clear about what we wanted, and MGI were great in delivering it. They were very flexible, but also great guides. At one point they could see that we were trying to add too much content to the course, but they told us so diplomatically and worked with us to find creative solutions. They coped amazingly well with our different and sometimes complex demands.”
The result of this preparation was that, between January and April 2009, MGI trained all 600 Peabody staff in 28, ‘Customer First using The Gober Method’ Seminars.
To ensure that the new skills became genuinely embedded as part of Peabody’s culture, all 137 Peabody line managers tbecame Customer First – Gober Method coaches.
First, they were individually coached by an MGI Consultant while delivering service. They then attended a 2-Day Train-the-Coach Seminar.
Finally, an MGI Consultant observed them coaching a member of their own team in a 1-2-1 session to qualify them as an accredited coach. This ensures that they will carry out performance management reviews, using a framework that is consistent across the organisation.
MGI tailored the Train-the-Coach Seminar to Peabody’s exact requirements, basing them around its Management Expectations, which spell out how the organisation expects its leaders to manage “people, delivery and change”.
Working with MGI, Peabody also changed the process, and the form completed by managers and staff, used during 1-2-1 sessions. This enables them to review, for example, how well staff use the Gober Method when communicating between themselves and with customers. These initiatives will ensure that the Gober Method remains central to Peabody’s culture long after the initial training Seminars have ended.
In the future, all new staff, as part of their induction, will attend the Seminar and be coached by their line manager in their 1-2-1′s.
Working with MGI, Peabody has also changed the process, and the form completed by managers and staff, used during 1-2-1 sessions. This enables them to review, for example, how well staff use the Gober Method when communicating between themselves and with customers. These initiatives will ensure that the Gober Method remains central to Peabody’s culture long after the initial training Seminars have ended.
An Immediate Impact
Feedback on the seminars from staff at all levels has been excellent. Comments include “engaging”, “valuable”, “brilliant”, “exciting” and “fantastic”. The MGI trainers are described as “professional”, “upbeat”, “open” and “approachable”. Karen Crawshaw says:
“People really have a good day. The pace is good and the content sound and practical.”
David Lavarack says the seminars have made an immediate impact on organisational culture:
“Employees started using the Gober Method language right away. They are now much more conscious of how they communicate with each other and how to provide good service. There is also far more consistency across the organisation.”
Karen Crawshaw points to the staff bonding that resulted:
“Staff support each other more, and the language of service that we all now use is a great reminder of a positive experience we shared.”
Stephen Howlett, Chief Executive, says:
“The training has been very successful, stimulating and exciting. Success like this doesn’t happen without a great deal of thinking and effort. I very much appreciated the tailored approach to Peabody and MGI’s knowledge of our organisation.”
The training has only just finished, but Peabody has already been re-accredited by Investors in People. Peabody is also working with MGI on how to change its regular customer satisfaction survey to measure the impact of the Gober Method on the organisation’s levels of service.
The Mary Gober Experience
“MGI are a great bunch of people to work with,” says David Lavarack. “They are professional and knowledgeable in every way, challenging where they need to be, and have bags of experience. They can help you design a customer-service programme that suits your organisation’s particular needs. Their training is so effective because it gets to the core of the human psyche, addressing the fundamentals of how people communicate with each other.”
Karen Crawshaw adds:
“MGI’s consultants were helpful and constructive and their training was really practical, so you came away with a toolkit to use right away. They also demonstrated the Gober Method in all their communication with you, constantly reinforcing it.”
David and Karen were also impressed by the way MGI’s consultants complemented each other and were determined to embed culture change:
“They really were excellent in every way,” says David. “Some had worked with housing associations before, but more importantly, they had complementary styles.”
David’s advice to other organisations is succinct:
“Tailor your programme so that the training becomes your own, while retaining the power of the Gober Method. And, most importantly, make sure you invest in sustaining it.