“The customer is always right” isn't meant to be taken literally and may seem like an overused phrase, but it underlines a fundamental component of running a business: putting customer experience at the centre of a company’s practices.
Spillers Mill is a great example of customer centricity in action.
Purchased by Howard Group in 2015, the historic flour mill contains 19 luxury apartments and is located opposite Cambridge central train station in the heart of the visionary CB1 gateway regeneration project. Howard Group added this piece of Cambridge history to its residential portfolio by acquiring the unbroken freehold of the high-end and individually designed apartments at this iconic mill building.
Stephanie is responsible for managing the day-to-day implementation of effective property management across the portfolio, working closely with the Group’s tenants, agents, contractors, suppliers, and residents which includes those at Spillers Mill.
She is passionate about customer service and experience: “We genuinely care about our residents,” she says, “they’re a bit like family to me. We are the ‘landlord’ of the property in the sense that the ultimate responsibility for Spillers Mill lies with us, but in reality, it’s the people that are the heart of any building and that is what drives us to care for their homes and improve their day-to-day living experience at every opportunity.”
One of Howard Group’s six guiding principles is ‘we are always approachable and have a culture of mutual respect’. Stephanie feels it’s this commitment, which runs throughout the organisation, that builds trust between the residents and Howard Group: “The old adage of ‘treat others how you want to be treated’ is a golden rule that is more important today than it has ever been. It’s about having empathy and understanding for others,” says Stephanie.
“For example, we had a couple in the mill who had a baby and were in the middle of their tenancy. Naturally, they wanted more outside space for their little one and therefore wanted to move. We agreed to close down their tenancy early with no penalties as soon as we secured a new resident. On the flip side, we had a resident who was due to leave the mill last April, but due to COVID, their plans changed and they wanted to stay. So, although we had originally put the apartment on the market, we subsequently took it off, and worked closely with them so they could remain until their plans were clearer again.”
Stephanie adds: “We’ve had some really kind letters from residents expressing their thanks for us going the extra mile which is lovely, but for me, this high level of service and support is how it should and must be, rather than merely a nice to have.”
Another of Howard Group’s guiding principles is around loyalty and nurturing relationships. Stephanie feels that she is living and breathing these values with those residing in Spillers Mill: “The mill is their home and if something is wrong and needs addressing, I am always available. I want to resolve any issues straight away. If that can’t be done, I’ll have a direct and transparent conversation with the residents to explain why, give a definite resolution date, and do everything possible to find a temporary fix in the meantime. Our focus is on the people who breathe life into the building and we are 100% dedicated to our responsibilities and integrity in the way we carry them out.”
Stephanie gives an example of a resident who was worried about people not wearing facemasks inside the building at the height of the COVID outbreak. That day, specially-designed signs were ordered from an engraver, which were in keeping with the style of Spillers Mill respecting the beautiful heritage of the building, asking everyone to wear them.
She says: “There’s definitely a family feel. We genuinely want these lovely people to feel that we’re not just any landlord; we are there to help them at every opportunity. In previous years we’ve even thrown Christmas parties! We couldn’t do that this year so we made them goody bags instead.”
Howard Group will continue to develop this approach with its commercial tenants too. Huw Jones, a consultant to Howard Group, recently wrote about how the pandemic has accelerated a significant step-change in the tenant-landlord relationship and acknowledged that a more open dialogue can reap rewards.
Stephanie concludes: “We want to build this exceedingly high level of customer centricity into our commercial business too. Traditionally, the commercial relationship has been more ‘we are the landlord, you are the tenant’ but things are changing rapidly to a more consistently open manner across the portfolio which is fostering stronger, more collaborative connections with the people who make up the businesses.”
Stephanie began her career at a chartered accountants in London before moving to Lloyds Bank to work in commercial and corporate banking.
After spending 15 years in a customer-facing role with the electronic banking team, Stephanie amassed a wealth of skills in customer relationship management. Working with medium to large companies, from corner shop chains to the BBC, on a one-to-one basis enabled Stephanie to build a skill-set based on empathy, trust and putting the customer first.
“I want to give the customer the best experience possible, based on understanding and mutual respect,” says Stephanie. “Even small things like answering the phone within three rings are engrained into my DNA.”
“My focus is on building relationships and I always look for what I can offer our customers. I’m on their side. This approach is what attracted me to Howard Group – the sense of inclusivity, the focus on customer experience, and the family feel of the culture.”