How HomeServe has had to adapt to ensure it is there for customers
The boss of home repairs firm HomeServe today paid tribute to the efforts of his staff to ensure essential emergency work is carried out in people’s homes.
Field engineers and call centre staff have continued to work in homes in Shropshire and the West Midlands throughout the coronavirus lockdown.
The firm's chief executive officer Greg Reed, who has himself been shielding and working from his home in Edinburgh because he is diabetic, said he was relieved that only one of West Midlands-based HomeServe’s 800 engineers had tested positive for coronavirus during the lockdown when they were going out, often to houses where people had symptoms and were isolating.
All of HomeServe’s call centre workers, including those at head office in Cable Drive, Walsall, have been working from home since the ‘stay at home’ message came from the Government. The company made an early decision to keep everyone on on full pay.
Mr Reed, who e-mailed all existing customers at the start of the crisis to explain how they aimed to keep them and their staff safe during the crisis, said: “We managed to get everyone out of the office fairly quickly and got all call centre staff working from home – about 1,500 people have been working from home in total.
“It was no small task, many didn’t have the ability to work from home before and were just used to working from desktop computers, but it all went well and we never stopped taking calls.”
Mr Reed said that the majority of HomeServe’s members had realised that the business was working in a difficult time.
“We have got two million customers and there were just a handful saying they didn’t care about the pandemic and just wanted us to come and fix minor difficulties. For the most part people understood and realised we were worried about our guys and we were able to register the claim and arrange to sort them out later.
“We did hundreds of jobs where people had symptoms and our engineers went in to the home in full PPE. We had 100 volunteers to do ‘code red’ jobs and they all had to be clean shaven for the masks to fit properly.
“It was very dangerous to go in to a house with some with coronavirus symptoms and I am so proud to work with those guys. It is amazing we had just one positive test overall during the lockdown,” he said.
Mr Reed said the management team had met online every day since the crisis began and he had also been talking to three or four of the engineers as well each day on Google Meet.
“We had a lot of engineers shielding and I called as many as I could to say 'How are you doing?',” he explained.
On April 20 HomeServe launched a special offer for NHS and social care workers where it would send an engineer to their home free of charge to fix home emergencies – plumbing, drainage and heating – any time until the UK lockdown was over. The aim was to enable those key workers to focus on the crucial work they were doing to combat the pandemic.
Richard Harpin, founder of HomeServe, set aside £1 million to cover the cost of those repairs.
Mr Reeed said: “It really was a race against time when all this happened. We got everyone out of the office and made sure engineers were doing the right jobs and had the right personal protective equipment
“Once we got through that we realised the business was performing pretty well and really wanted to help an do something meaningful.
“Richard gave the money and the engineers began delivering for the customers.
“It is the best kind of charity when someone really needs it,” added Mr Reed.
“There are three million NHS and social care workers, so you have to be a pretty big and strong company to take that on. The response of our team was incredible and some of the feedback has been really emotional. Our engineers were so proud to help.
“We have a company that has a culture where people really care - this is something really special,” added a proud Mr Reed.
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Mr Reed said that HomeServe was now moving towards whatever ‘normal’ was going to be and was now full steam ahead on the backlog in its traditional membership work.
“The initial Government guidelines did say only essential work could be done in homes. If it could be rescheduled without doing damage or harm we rescheduled it.
“All central heating, leaks and sanitary work was done, but things like boiler services not due to the summer we requested that the customer be advised to reschedule it and arranged to call the back.
“The engineers did a great job of following guidelines, including using personal protective equipment and putting up barriers where they were working in customers’ houses. We got all the processes in place for engineers to stay safe. They were told if they went anywhere and they didn’t feel safe that they should leave and we would deal with that from the office,” explained Mr Reed.
The company is looking at how its call centre operation will have to adapt and many will still be able to work from home in the long term if they wish.
“For now the idea is to do as much home working as possible while there is still no vaccine in place.
“We have reconfigured the offices with one-way systems and removed IT equipment so people can’t sit close to each other.
“Everything has been deep cleaned ready for a small group of people to come back in the office from June 1.
“Those returning will only be those who have a reason to be back in the office and we will encourage most to work from home for the time being.
“We have had managers who could work from home and flexibly, but previously only a few dozen call centre agents had worked from home.
“Putting so many call centre people at home was a bit of a worry when we first did it, but we had no choice. People stayed productive and were able to receive calls and coaching and training.
“Going forward, if people do want to continue working from home we will probably find a way to let them, but there are people who work for us that don’t want to work from home for a number of reasons.”