Remaining customer-focused in challenging times

When I was asked to write a blog about my experience of working with customers, my first thought was; “Where do I start?!”. As a Housing Officer, every single day throws up new challenges. I’m continually unsure about what I’m going to be dealing with the next day, especially as our customers’ expectations rise, so I have to be ready for virtually anything! Anyway, here is a snippet of one particular case I have found very challenging, but I endeavour to remain focused on what is best for the customer as an individual, and for Riverside as a business.

This particular customer, let’s call her Jo, is an excessive hoarder. We currently have a court injunction in place which stipulates she has to clear 10 bin bags per month. I have never dealt with a hoarding case at this level, and therefore had to attend training to ensure I was equipped with the necessary skills.

Jo was transferred to my patch in November last year. Having studied her case, I decided to meet her at the office to begin building our relationship and assist in clearing her property. Even though the initial meeting was slightly tense, I set out where we would start, what we were setting out to achieve together, alongside an action plan of agreed timescales which Jo would take the lead on. It’s all about giving the customer control back in her life and home, and helping her to help herself.

At my first visit to Jo’s two-bed property, it was clear this was an extreme case even looking on from the pavement; the garden was hugely overgrown and the external doors had never been replaced due to Jo not letting contractors in. Inside the house, I was astounded by the amount of clutter; boxes piled up to the ceiling, with only a very small pathway through to each room. Jo’s home had missed all scheduled works so there was no new kitchen or bathroom and the state of both rooms was the worst I’d ever seen.

To help build the action plan, Jo and I began looking at some of the photos I’d taken of the inside of my own house so she could see the difference. We then talked about how the hoarding began. Jo explained she’d been made redundant in January 2008, her sister had died two months later, she had become depressed and subsequently began hoarding. Jo’s mental health has sadly meant she couldn’t return to work. Jo did try counselling but found it stressful so we have put this into her action plan (with me suggesting I attend one of the sessions with her, which will obviously be her decision as it is a very personal experience).

Jo's garden after

Jo’s neighbours have complained about the state of the garden, so as a solution I booked one of my two volunteering days and alongside Your Place colleagues we cleared the garden, which made the exterior of the property look far better. Jo is making slow progress to improve the state of her kitchen and I visit twice weekly to keep things on track. I have ensured all smoke alarms are working and all exits are clear in case of a fire. I now attend contractor visits, such as the yearly gas safety check to ensure works are carried out as planned.

I feel this is only the beginning of a journey where we take two steps forward and one step back but I am customer focused and am hopeful of progress each month.

Cheryl Waslin Housing Officer, Riverside North

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