For Shirley, pictured above, just hearing a familiar voice during lockdown was enough to help her get through.

“I do spend time alone when I’m home because, sadly, I don’t see much of my family,” she said.

“Hearing a friendly voice on the phone, simply asking ‘How are you?’, was lovely.”

Shirley lives alone in her Kāinga Ora home in Christchurch. Covid-19 Alert Level 4 meant the 74-year-old could no longer catch up with friends or continue to pursue her hobbies and interests.

Those life interruptions were among the many reasons Kāinga Ora’s people from all over the country reached more than 42,000 customers through wellbeing calls during Covid-19 Alert Levels. Shirley was one of those contacted by her Tenancy Manager Renee when the global pandemic meant the Kāinga Ora customer team couldn’t spend the time in their communities they ordinarily would.

“To hear Renee’s voice was great – I’ve got over being scared of her because she’s my Tenancy Manager,” Shirley said with a laugh on the first day of Alert Level 1, as she and Renee were finally able to catch up in person for the first time in months.

There were other benefits to keeping in touch more often as well. It meant Shirley let Renee know about a fall that had affected her mobility. Kāinga Ora was able to put things in motion that meant, as lockdown restrictions eased, the process had already begun to arrange for an occupational therapist to visit Shirley’s home to advise on modifications to make it easier for her to get around.

“I’m pretty proud of the efforts made by my colleagues,” said Renee of the thousands of wellbeing calls made.

“Being able to look out for our customers is why so many of us get into this kind of work, and even just a simple phone call can make all the difference to someone’s day.

“The closer we know our customers, the better,” Renee said, “as it means we can support them better. Take Shirley for example – she’s the kind of person who wouldn’t want to make a fuss about her recent fall, but keeping in touch meant we could help in ways she may not have known about before.”

Two people sitting talking

Shirley and Renee catch up in person for the first time since before New Zealand entered Alert Level 4 due to Covid-19.

Kāinga Ora supports more than 200,000 people in more than 65,000 homes across New Zealand. Many have wide-ranging needs, from financial assistance to mental health support.

“Our nearly 280 Tenancy Managers ordinarily spend most of their working week embedded in their communities, so when we learned this had to be paused – for the safety of all of our people – we knew we had to do something to make sure we were reaching out and letting our customers know we are here to support them,” said Shannon, Kāinga Ora National Operations Manager.

As of June 15, more than 42,000 customers had been spoken with, more than 3,800 customers had received direct financial support and hundreds helped with food or medical needs.

Kāinga Ora’s Customer Service Centres also fielded about 96,000 calls and more than 57,000 maintenance jobs were completed across the country.

But the positive reaction from customers means the way in which Kāinga Ora works with its customers is adapting.

“Our customers have clearly signalled the importance of, and difference it makes, to work with someone from Kāinga Ora who genuinely cares for and respects them,” Shannon says. “Our people have always looked out for our customers, but kindness, empathy and understanding will become key to the way in which our customer-facing staff work.”

Managing customers’ rent payments will move away from a transactional approach to one focused on being kind and compassionate, and working to understand and help with the root causes that may impact people’s ability to live well in their homes, Shannon says. Financial capability training packages for Kāinga Ora’s customer-facing roles are being developed, in order to better help them support our customers.

Kāinga Ora is making changes to the way it serves its customers later this year, with a differentiated service response tailored to the individual needs of our customers and to ensure they have timely and positive engagement with the organisation.

Another positive change will be Tenancy Managers’ visits and inspections becoming better aligned with the customer’s comfort and availability, and be arranged alongside them, Shannon says. The focus will be on the household and their personal circumstances, not just the home.

Shirley, for one, welcomed the changes. She thought the wellbeing calls “absolutely” would have made a difference to those who received them.

“It’s just nice to get a call from another human being, who just wants to know you’re OK, because I think a lot of elderly people, during the lockdown, were a bit scared.

“Having been in my home for 30 years, I saw a lot of changes with [the former] Housing New Zealand. To sum it up, I’d say they’re all for the good.”

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Page updated: 23 June 2020