London-Based Housing Organisation
This London-based Housing organisation is an ‘arms-length’, management organisation that looks after council properties in its borough, employing staff across a range of customer support services.
Giants was approached by the organisation to provide a package to complement previous customer service training received by 60 staff working in the area of ‘new tenant relationships’. Giants would promote and supporting behavioural change in everyday interactions with customers.
Focussing on their areas of delivery, the aims were to give staff confidence in handling difficult situations, improve their general communication skills, further embed the customer service ethos, and reiterate the organisation’s values.
Prior to the training day, Giants’ Artistic Director and Trainer, Jennie Buckman, met with Team Leaders to identify recurring themes and problems the training should address. After observing front-line staff in action, Giants constructed a set of specific scenarios designed to increase awareness, and provide basic tools to channel personal strengths. Particular emphasis was given to ‘hard to crack’ crisis situations.
Training Day Specifics
The training day was led by Jennie Buckman, with the support of the housing organisations’ Service Improvement Officer and Training Personnel.
The session began with a series of simple, theatre-based exercises designed to focus on personal listening and observation skills. The morning session continued with exercises and work-related improvisations exploring practical ways of handling complex issues. The afternoon session focused on ways of helping extremely distressed tenants facing challenging situations. The tenants were played by experienced actors, who had been coached on their roles prior to the workshop. This offered participants the best possible opportunity to try different ways of helping them.
Participants were led to summon up their personal resilience, their empathy, and follow their professional instincts. They were continually challenged about their intentions, and encouraged to explore their reading of non-verbal communication, and make use of the full range of their personal skills. Self-reflection and team participation were encouraged without prejudice throughout the day, as were contributions from the actors.
Observers and participants in the scenarios shared their experiences, and were offered the opportunity to try different approaches for handling the same situation. The housing organisation’s training personnel contributed to the learning by summarising key aspects of policy and practice, and consolidated the acquisition of new skills by showing how the experience addressed key service delivery issues.
Summary and Conclusion
The workshops showed how participants and experienced training staff successfully use different strategies, reflecting their own personalities, to handle difficult situations.
For example, during a highly emotional scenario one officer proved so naturally empathetic with a distressed resident that she crouched on the ground to be on the same level physically. Afterwards, the actor playing the resident said she felt supported, listened to, and willing to negotiate with the officer. Another participant subsequently argued that the officer had made a serious mistake, and had potentially put herself in danger. Discussion highlighted that the officer had in fact done a mental risk-assessment before acting on her own empathetic instinct. In the same circumstances, it would have been unnatural and unhelpful for the other participant to behave in the way his colleague did, and he would need to employ a different approach that worked for him and the resident. He was offered the opportunity to try this out, dealing with the situation in his way, and was pleased to find that he was equally successful in controlling an emotionally-charged situation.
Many of the delegates were wary and skeptical at the start of the day, fearing they would be asked to ‘act’. However, their commitment and willingness to get involved soon took over as they warmed up. Delegates found they were actually enjoying themselves and growing in confidence. In particular, it was noted their appreciation of others palpably increased.
This training programme did not suggest a set formula or tick-box algorithm, or rigidly set how staff should interact with their customers. Instead, it offered more realistic and long-lasting ways of learning.
The workshops were greatly enhanced by including the organisations’ key training personnel alongside Giants, as they provided important interventions based on their intimate knowledge of the organisation’s policies.
The staff team leader attended the workshop. Although her own interventions were primarily focused on the organisation’s established rules and procedures, by the end of the workshop, she was very moved.
“I am so proud of my team; I never realised how talented they were!”