Although recognised as an area of outstanding natural beauty and unique environmental, maritime and industrial heritage, Cornwall is also synonymous with damp atmospheric conditions that encourage condensation. Recognising this, Coastline Housing Ltd, the largest social property landlord in the Kerrier District of Cornwall, introduced an innovative customer service programme designed to address condensation issues in the 3500 properties it manages. Its aim was to raise tenants’ awareness of the causes and problems created by condensation and offer a responsive service that would provide solutions and protect both the health of its tenants and that of its housing stock.

One year on feedback from tenants has revealed satisfaction levels in excess of 95%.

So what exactly are the two companies doing?

Working with condensation, damp and mould control specialist Airtech Environmental Systems, Coastline developed a strategy founded on educative, environmental and energy saving principles. At the same time the ambitious programme had to make use of the most up to date energy saving technology to meet Coastline’s objectives in a sustainable and efficient manner as well as meeting continuous improvement objectives.

At a ground level the programme covers responsive inspections, recommendations, supply and installation of products for planned maintenance and improvement work on all makes of ventilation equipment – not just Airtech’s. However, it is the communications and customer relations system that has made the difference. Together the two companies have focused on implementing a professional approach and delivering very high levels of customer care.

At an early stage in the programme awareness training sessions were held for Coastline staff. Briefings by Airtech covered how to identify causes of damp in housing stock, the health implications, what tenants can do to prevent the occurrence of condensation and how the various techniques used to alleviate the problem work. These sessions were found to be extremely helpful and important to Coastline for ongoing staff development. Easy reporting of problems by tenants is a cornerstone of the programme. Coastline customers have the option to register a problem on its website or call the customer service department.

All condensation related problems are passed to Airtech via email. For Mark England, Head of Technical Services at Coastline, being able to electronically pass customer reported issues this way has been a ‘great time-saver’ and has allowed his staff to be more effective when dealing with property issues of this type. Customer services personnel liaise directly with Airtech, on a daily basis if necessary, and are confident that once they have passed the customers’ reported problems they will be dealt with as quickly as possible. “Airtech have the specific technical expertise to diagnose the cause of any problems within our homes and provide useful advice to customers where simple lifestyle changes may help to eradicate a problem,” adds Mark England.

In effect the agreement provides a single point of service to customers who have issues in respect of condensation, mould growth and ventilation.

Joanne Thomas, Customer Service Advisor at Coastline Housing said: “The arrangements with Airtech are really good. It is so quick and easy for us to report any problems to them once the customer has called in. All we have to do is email a work order with the details of the home and problems and they make an appointment to visit the customer. Comments from tenants noted Airtech staff as being ‘friendly, helpful, and always able to provide useful advice.”

Energy saving

Opportunities to reduce the carbon footprint of its stock and save energy (and of course money) for customers were key drivers for Coastline. For this reason they fit Airtech Energysaver™ fans as part of the specification for planned maintenance. The performance of these fans is enhanced by adding Energysaver™ Cowls – a patented product that has the capability to make any extractor fan up to 20% more energy efficient. Further value is added by a 10 years warranty on products and ‘no charge’ recall services should any issues occur.

Coastline also has provided all homes with up to 12 low energy light bulbs and water saving devices provided by collaborative working with South West Water. These energy saving devices are delivered at no cost through a HeatCare heating maintenance partnership with Blue Flame who are also very keen to work with customers to help to reduce customer household bills.

Education & security

Educating tenants on the causes and effects of condensation has been addressed during service calls and supported by specially prepared printed material. Information articles, written by Airtech, have been published in a customer newsletter ‘Coast Lines’. The messages given out here are reinforced by a jointly produced dedicated customer information condensation leaflet issued to all homes. This focuses on providing simple, easy to follow, practical advice on how to keep homes free from mould growth and condensation. Airtech also provide customers with mould eradication kits and advice how best to use them.

Coastline issue Airtech staff with identification cards and everyone has undergone Criminal Records Bureau checks and signed up to Coastline’s Contractors’ Code of Conduct which sets out the type of behaviour which it expects from all contractors visiting its customers’ homes. Over the past year customers have become familiar with the Airtech logo on vehicles, on corporate work wear and through publicity. All of which has raised customers’ confidence in the service provided.

Customer comments

Feedback reveals customers like the simplicity with which they can lodge a survey request via the Customer Contact Centre. For Coastline the key benefit here is fast tracking the problem through its outsourcing system that enables fast inspection of the property. Any remedial works are quickly identified and scheduled, through a local Airtech office, opened in October 2006.

Commenting on service delivery Coastline customer Miss Pellow of Ponsanooth in Cornwall said that she was very pleased with the work that was carried out at her property. “The Airtech contractors were very helpful and sorted out the problem I had with the damp in my property with the minimum of fuss. It only took one call to Coastline Housing. I have had a fan replaced in the bathroom, there was no mess left and they worked very quickly. They also left me with a mould eradication kit and several information leaflets on how to control damp in the future. So far, so good and no mould has returned,” she said.

“Airtech has also risen to some interesting challenges that we have set them in terms of looking after fans,” adds Mark England. “For instance we challenged them to provide a more customer-friendly method of cleaning fans rather than the common advice to ‘wipe with warm soapy water’. The response was to develop product-specific ‘wet wipes’ which will allow our customers to remove dirt and grease safely and simply.”

“It has been both challenging and enjoyable to work with a progressive organisation such as Coastline. We’ve spent many hours in discussion and significant time developing and fine tuning our service to meet the brief,” comments John Davison, a director of Airtech Environmental Systems. “I’m pleased the programme is working well and Airtech fans are now the specification choice for Decent Homes Improvements Works in the Kerrier area. As a result of this success we are now providing surveys for all Void Properties (empty dwellings) in Coastline’s portfolio to ensure that when a home is let potential causes of condensation and mould growth have been dealt with. We have also been engaged to assist in Radon control.

We deal with social housing tenants throughout the UK and increasingly we’ve noticed that tenants with landlords such as Coastline who subscribe to our energy saving package are happier than most and their attitudes towards their landlords are much more favourable than others.”

Mark England believes the success of the programme speaks for itself in terms of its efficiency and popularity and says: “Further expansion of the agreement is currently being worked on as we look to increase efficiency by combining other tasks into existing property visits. Alongside this we will continue to seek innovative ways to extend the services provided to our customers, so watch this space!”