Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Giving Voice

I've been been banging on about 'customer voice' for a while now, particularly in terms of Learning & Development and the places where we meet and discuss improving what we do. I've said for some time that the danger is that we talk to ourselves in an echo chamber, second guessing what works and what doesn't, without the input of either the commissioners of our work or the recipients.  We may very well do that within our individual service provision, but we rarely hear it in open debate with and from our customers. And it's the 'critical friend's' opinion that's missing, in my view.

I was reminded of this by a couple of personal and unrelated experiences recently where my voice was heard and I was able to influence outcomes.

Where I live, alongside a busy rail line, we have a small plot of land behind our garden, owned by Network Rail. In July we were advised that they planned to build a new electricity sub-station, comprising some four different structures and ancillary equipment, directly behind our fence line and overlooking our gardens and rear living rooms, and which we would overlook from our upper floor bedroom. Three properties were going to be directly affected, our's being the middle. No planning permission was required apparently, as it's their own land. However, we wrote to the Council and NWR itself and raised our objections, were invited to a neighbours' open evening and discussed the impacts with them and their contractors at some length. And there was the first hint that perhaps this wasn't a huge behemoth riding roughshod over their neighbours - they brought plans and talked us through them, they put personable, knowledgeable and articulate people forward to engage us in discussion and they listened to our concerns. Maybe this wasn't quite the fait accompli that we feared.

(As it happens, the build didn't start on the previously advised date and we never got any explanation). And then, last week, out of the blue, we received an email advising that they had taken many of our concerns on board and offering a second, revised plan, moving the structures away from our boundary and putting the largest of them furthest away from us. And we were invited to meet again to discuss the amended plan. We had that meeting this morning and, whilst there is little doubt that the sub-station will still be built, I was surprised at how amenable and creative the contractors were prepared to be in further working to soften the landscaping and visual impacts. We'll see how this all plays out in reality, but I am pleasantly surprised at how we have been seen and heard in this process, when they could so easily have just gone ahead without consideration of or discussion with their neighbours.
My other experience of customer voice being heard was today, when I switched our energy supplier via a comparison website which did all the hard work for me. By entering our post-code and our current use and expenditure on gas and electricity, the website was able to offer a range of alternative suppliers and charge plans, all of which showed larger to smaller savings over a year, and on a month-by-month basis. Actually making the switch was just as easy, merely adding a few more details, and they take care of everything for you.

So here's a great example of the customer being able to exercise informed choice in what was once a complex supplier market and convoluted process, enabled by the application of user-friendly technology.

Customers, consumers, passengers, neighbours, clients, learners, stakeholders - call them what you will in whatever field - nowadays expect and deserve to be heard and to have their needs and requirements met in hassle-free, relevant and personal ways. What are the implications for L&D? Are we listening? And, as importantly, are we capable of flexing accordingly?

No comments:

Post a Comment