Embattled Persimmon offers a cautionary lesson in reputation management

Some house-builders, it’s fair to say, have reputation issues.

For most of us, our home is the most valuable asset we’ll ever own, so, understandably, buyers don’t take kindly to shoddy workmanship and ever-slipping standards.

Quality is the primary compliant - a report from the House of Commons public accounts committee published just this week highlights concerns about quality in new-build housing estates. The report, Planning and the broken housing market, urges the Ministry of Housing to outline how it will work with local authorities, developers and other parties to ‘prevent, penalise and compensate for poor residential build quality.’

In the same week, Theresa May used her speech at the CIH Conference to press the need for mandatory, universal regulations on national standards for house-building.

It’s a sentiment that will be warmly received by those who have purchased a new-build and fallen victim to poor aftercare and a less-than-perfect property.

But will house-builders sit up and listen? 

For those still failing to grasp the core principles behind reputation management - and the value of reputation - Persimmon’s handling of troublesome Facebook groups should offer a cautionary tale. It has simply plunged the company further into the mire.

It appears that, for some house-builders, reputation hasn’t been first order of business on anyone’s agenda, which can only be described as careless. Perhaps in the absence of a solid communications strategy, the advice that has been given diverges somewhat from industry best practice.

In a nutshell, on Saturday The Times reported that Persimmon had somehow managed to gain administration rights to a Facebook group named “Persimmon Homes Unhappy Customers” - swiftly renamed “Persimmon Homes Customer Care.” Its 14,000 members found that they could no longer comment. 

The article reported that Persimmon is “attempting to build its reputation after coming under fire for poor building standards and the payment of excessive directors’ bonuses” - yet assuming ownership of an active, hostile community of detractors is not the way to do that, whether genuine customers or not. 

While the possibility that some contributors aren’t Persimmon customers must be frustrating, when dealing with reputation, any distinction between ‘current’ and ‘non’ customers is irrelevant; unhelpful at best. 

This heavy-handed effort at silencing critics is sure to be met with increased ire. Indeed, a new group - now named Persimmon Unhappy Customers - was created almost immediately, which has now also been taken over by Persimmon.

Fuel to the fire. 

The closure of this latest iteration was of course followed by the creation of a further two groups, and the escalation of the incident risks drawing further negative media attention. At the very least it has done nothing to endear itself to its critics.

The groups will simply continue coming, more determined to be heard than before - bringing an army of new supporters with them. 

People want to be heard, to be listened to. They expect accountability from corporates, whatever the industry.

Building reputation - and repairing a broken one - takes time. It’s not an overnight quick-fix and certainly won’t be achieved by assuming ownership of customer-controlled forums in an attempt to silence critics.

Engagement is the answer, taking the time to listen to and understand grievances and act on them, seeking a positive resolution. 

Where are the Persimmon advocates - presumably happy customers do also exist, content with their new homes and the customer care they’ve received? Persimmon must draw on those stories as an antidote to the negativity. 

Of course, the ultimate answer to its woes is to deliver good quality homes, to expected standards, and without neglecting aftercare - but perhaps that’s one for another day.