The deal with social housing: it’s not about the money

// heating and ventilation

In a society where money has become so central to our lives, we now place it above health and happiness; it has become the global currency by which we are judged and judge others. When it comes to business, deals are often won and lost on price, masquerading under the term “best value”, but David Stanley, Intergas Heating’s UK Technical Service Manager, says savvy social housing providers are more interested in long term relationships that deliver longer term benefits.

We’ve been working in the social housing industry for over eight years providing boilers for domestic heating systems, and we’ve seen and felt the effects of government cuts, local authority belt-tightening and their ramifications on the more vulnerable. But it’s always been the same; when times get tough, it gets even tougher for those who need help the most. Except that really isn’t the case now. There will always be organisations that want to pay cheap and end up having to buy twice, but the majority take their duty of care responsibilities very seriously and make “peace of mind”, for all concerned, a key part of the negotiation with suppliers.

“Peace of mind” comes in many forms like length of warranty, product reliability, hassle-free repair, ease of maintenance and accessibility of spares, but this the hard, cold transaction; you pay me x and I’ll give you y in return. That’s understandable, we’ve all got targets to meet, budgets to protect and we always need to make money go further but, from our experience, true “peace of mind” doesn’t come from the deal, but from the relationship. Where’s there’s a meeting of minds, a shared vision and, let’s face it, where you both respect and get on with one another, you’ve created the ideal environment for that transaction to become a platform for growth and development. Eventually that relationship becomes a little like an on-going brain storm, a green light for thinking differently, where new ideas to deliver the service more profitably and beneficially are discussed, amended, adopted; where possible issues can be flagged and addressed before they become a problem.

So, are boiler manufacturers suppliers or business partners? Well they could be either. A supplier is often selected through a traditional bidding process or product trial and provides goods or services for a specific period, conforming to standard terms and conditions. When the transaction ends so does the business relationship. A business partner, on the other hand, develops a relationship based on mutual trust, openness and shared risk and reward that delivers an advantage.

Business partners often collaborate in areas you wouldn’t think possible; these are more fluid, flexible ways of working that depend on honesty and integrity to succeed. Of course, not all business relationships fall into these two specific categories. Many range from a single contract with clear-cut deliverables to long term open-ended arrangements that sometimes involve new technologies. However, the partnership model comes with distinct benefits on both sides: you can gain efficiencies, achieve mutually beneficial cost reductions, increase customer satisfaction and you get used to thinking differently, acting smarter. At the most basic level though, you have to prove yourself, be there for your client, go the extra mile. When you’re needed, your client must know that you’re at the end of the phone or that you’ll get in your car and go there. And of course, a solid business relationship is always based on professionalism: if you have a schedule, you must stick to it; if you make a promise you must keep it; excuses don’t cut it and always disappoint.

When Intergas first launched in the UK market, the collaborative way of working was not the norm; but thankfully the old fit and forget premise, was consigned to the dustbin years ago, which is good news for everyone, especially the customer.

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