Your call – how we’ve adapted customer support

You might have heard about the calls we’ve been making to our customers since lockdown started, and maybe had one yourself. Here’s a bit more on why we’re doing them, and what they’ve shown us.

Sharon helping out with some welfare calls

Like most people in the world, our way of life at Onward has changed drastically over the last few months.

As a housing provider, making sure our customers are safe and happy is our number one priority – something which became a whole lot more challenging when we couldn’t go out and visit them.

We’ve adapted our services in a few different ways since coronavirus arrived, and one that’s seemed to have a big impact – both on our customers and on our teams – is the introduction of automated welfare calls.

What started out as a way to check in on our most vulnerable customers has grown into something much bigger, and we’ll be learning from them long after lockdown has ended.

How we’re doing it

We started by sending out automated text and voice messages to customers letting them know we’re still there for them and to reply if they needed any extra support during this challenging time. Colleagues would then pick up any requests that came through and get back to the caller.

We’re doing another round of calls from Monday, and have a team of colleagues at the other end of the line to support you if you need us. So far, we’ve made over 55,000 calls with 16,000 responses and just over 1,200 requests for support.

Why we’re doing it

Kieran working hard on his hub of knowledge

The aim of the calls wasn’t to get anything or ask our customers to do anything – we were just checking in. We found that using automated voice technology was the quickest and easiest way to stay in touch and to let you know we’re still here for you.

We’ve had some really positive feedback so far and we intend to continue to check in from time to time in this way.

We’ve had lots of different types of requests coming out of the calls – from support with shopping, to foodbank information, support collecting medication and general financial and benefit issues caused by the pandemic. Colleagues in our Income and Financial Inclusion teams have been able to provide lots of guidance and advice around many of these issues, which is great to see.

We also wanted to stay in regular contact with customers who felt isolated and just wanted someone to chat to. We’ve set up regular one-to-one calls in these circumstances and they’ve been incredibly rewarding.

What it’s shown us

The best thing that’s come out of the calls is the strengthened relationship and positive feedback from customers. It’s been lovely to get the opportunity to check in with many of you and to talk with you about some of the challenges you’re facing with the pandemic.

Faye enlists an extra pair of paws

We’ve also been able to put customers in touch with other resources, like local hubs, where appropriate. This isn’t just for support during lockdown but to help them feel more in touch with their local community, which many said they felt previously isolated from.

We’ve seen how resilient our customers are. We expected a rise in requests for advice and support, particularly as services such as repairs had to change in the short term, but actually many of our customers have managed to find ways to adapt and support each other. Over 90% of the customers who responded to our welfare calls told us they were OK and didn’t need any assistance at the time, which was great to hear.

There’s also been excellent feedback from customers who previously haven’t engaged with Onward. Many have said they really appreciated the calls and that lockdown had made them feel more isolated.

On top of all of this, we’ve been able to connect with, and understand more about, local services across the region. It’s been great to see new and strengthened partnerships emerge for our communities – some of which we may not have known before – as many of these organisations provide amazing services that can support our customers and their wider communities. These partnerships will continue to grow during and after the crisis too.

Examples and quotes from our team:

  • “One customer was in a bit of a panic and scared by the whole situation, having to shield due to his age and health. While he was OK in terms of food, he was feeling very lonely and isolated as he didn’t have much family and simply missed having a chat to someone. I talked to him about a local befriending service and he warmed up to the idea, so I arranged for a volunteer to give him a call. On following up, he said he absolutely loves his weekly call and is so grateful we put him in touch with this service as it’s made a massive difference to him and helped him through the situation.”


  • “One of my call backs asked for support because she had just taken her daughter and grandchild in to live with them due to domestic violence. She said she was struggling for food and even nappies for the baby as the daughter had not had a chance to register her change of address. I referred the customer to a local foodbank to receive weekly food and nappies. I also spoke to the local Children’s Centre who also donated and gave advice on how to register online to receive further help from them. She said: “Thank you for the link and for all the ringing round you’ve done for me too, I really appreciate it.  Thank you for everything – my daughter said to say thank you so much too, we’re both made up with the support we’ve had from you and can’t thank you enough.


  • “One customer was in the forces and now suffers from PTSD.  He received our automated text and pressed the button for a call back. He was really pleased that Onward took the time to ask him if he was OK or if he needed support. During the call he admitted he was struggling to cope with lockdown and being cooped up in his flat. Although he did not want to be referred for counselling, he felt that my calls were helping him a lot. I have now had many conversations with him and continue to call on a regular basis.”

What next?

After a short break on completing our last batch of calls, we’re planning to resume them as of Monday 15 June, so we look forward to speaking to some of you then.

We’re also regularly updating our coronavirus resources section on our website, and if you need support around this or anything else you can get in touch on 0300 555 0600.

Let us know if we can help through our Contact Us page

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