FRIDAY 28 MAY 2021 11:59 AM


Steve Hayes, head of communications at social housing provider, Citizen, discusses employee and customer engagement, and the importance of establishing a clear brand purpose before leading effective communications.

Communication, especially with our colleagues, is too often seen as a nice to have, sort of fluffy add-on to our core work. Here is the fundamental problem with that approach – if you focus solely on communication with your customers, you forget that their experience is to a very large degree a direct reflection of how engaged your colleagues are.

The only way to provide first-class customer service, particularly in large, diverse organisations, is to make sure people have a clear sense of how their work contributes to a bigger picture and wider purpose – whatever it is that they do. This means they are more engaged, productive, and ultimately more likely to provide a service that leaves customers satisfied.

We must invest the same level of resource and strive for the same degree of professionalism in our communication with colleagues as we do with our customers. At Citizen we’ve done a lot of work to up our game around our communication with our customers. This has included introducing a new customer experience platform, which gives us real-time intelligence on how our customers rate our services, and new improved mechanisms for making our communication with them sharper, more professional and more responsive to their needs and preferences. But most of our communication with our customers happens on a person-to-person level.

So, we can have the shiniest website and the most beautifully branded emails we want, but if our colleagues are not engaged, their interactions with our customers will not be as positive as they can be and this will be reflected in the services they receive and their satisfaction.That’s why it’s been so important for us to invest the same energy and resource in keeping our 1,000 staff informed, engaged and inspired – particularly during the pandemic, when the risk of people feeling disconnected and disengaged has been higher than ever.

At Citizen we’ve been through a huge amount of change over the last couple of years – rebranding, amalgamating and initiating several transformational projects. These have all asked a lot of our colleagues in terms of their time, energy and resilience. A regular flow of interesting, informative and structured internal communication has been integral to keep our colleagues engaged during this time. We’ve done a lot of work in this area – investing heavily in our intranet; including developing a new app for hundreds of our colleagues who work out in the field. We’ve also introduced new regular, interactive communication channels to keep colleagues updated on our progress against our strategic objectives and found new ways to profile the successes of individuals and teams.

During the pandemic, finding new ways to do this has been vital. We’ve used live Q&A sessions to great effect, told fantastic stories about the work colleagues have done to keep services on track in the most challenging circumstances, and made sure we haven’t lost sight of the need to keep people in the loop on the progress of our wider agenda. We’ve also done all we can to replace the softer interactions colleagues are missing out on and support them through regular, virtual mental and physical health sessions. Crucially, we have subjected this communication to the same level of scrutiny as we would our communication with customers. We have personalised it; we have professionalised it and we’ve asked as little of our colleagues as possible and brought the information to them.

In short, we’ve done everything we can to make each individual feel like the hugely important contributor that they are. While it’s right we do everything we can to improve our communication with our customers, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that our ability to do this hinges on our ability to engage our teams. Because communication is not just our website, our corporate emails or our social media channels – it is every single interaction that our colleagues have with our customers. To engage our colleagues effectively is to engage our customers effectively.

Whatever you do, engaging your staff around your purpose should be seen an integral part of your work. Let’s not see this as fluff or a nice to have. Let’s make sure we keep our colleagues engaged and that they feel part of a bigger picture. Because it is our customers who benefit if we do and suffer if we don’t.

Citizen is shortlisted at the Internal Communications and Engagement Awards. You can book your table at the event here.