Communicating with customers: how, when and getting it right

Lisa Naylor, Local Authority Practice Consultant

February’s practice exchange focussed on customer communication, providing great insights and ideas for improvement

About the network

Our Local Authority Practice network has been running for over a year and comes together monthly to discuss a relevant topic, exchange good practice examples, share ideas and sense check plans for future work.

The network consists of 22 local authority homelessness services across Great Britain. Crucially, it brings frontline officers and strategic staff together in the same space. It allows us to hear different perspectives on shared challenges and gain knowledge from our peers and other areas of the service.

Choosing this month’s topic

People who are homeless are more likely to have communication needs than the general population, and these communication difficulties can be a real barrier to accessing services. We wanted to discuss how getting better at identifying and supporting communication needs can lead to better outcomes for service users.

We know that in over-stretched services, good communication strategies are sometimes perceived as a “nice to have” rather than an essential component and can fall down the list of priorities. Combining this with ever expanding communication mediums, post-covid uncertainties and an unclear picture of how many people have the necessary equipment, knowledge and skills to access digital services effectively; and the search for potential solutions becomes very complicated. 

What the network had to say

Through our discussion at the practice exchange, the following good practice was identified:

  • Include services users in decisions. Their input is vital in making the right choices. Ensuring you have a strong network of lived experience input, from a variety of sources means they will reflect your customers more accurately
  • Moving back to our offices will give more opportunity to return to some face to face meetings which are essential for, at the very least, vulnerable customers. Keeping the option for telephone only appointments will also help those who prefer this method and keep travel costs down for customers and speed up availability. All attendees agreed having choice is the key component here
  • We need to circulate information more widely on service realities. Choice can only be exercised properly by customers if this is given with some context. Deciding on one thing versus another is tricky, knowing the implications of decisions really helps to bring forward a clear pathway and doing this collaboratively builds trust and stronger relationships
  • Everyone needs training on trauma informed care/psychologically informed environments. The whole organisation, not just frontline staff to ensure the right strategic decisions are made; based on a real understanding of the impact of trauma. Time must also be given to staff to work in these ways once trained.
  • Gaining better data about our customers and from our internal services to support the use of different communication methods can help us make more informed choices. Having good data also allows us to make a strong case for any improvements or changes needed in the service, both internally and to funders.
  • Good pre-prevention communication can make a real difference to our services in the future. If we communicate well with people in our areas before their situations escalate, we can stem the flow of homelessness into the system, easing pressure on LA resources and exposing people to less traumatic experiences.

How to get in touch and stay up to date

You can access the full notes from this and previous practice exchanges on our website.

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We are always keen to collaborate, hear feedback or have a conversation so please get in touch if you want to discuss anything shared in this blog.

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