Most housing providers would agree that they have their customers (residents) at the core of everything they do. Their whole purpose is to deliver valuable services to maintain a high quality of living for their residents. But we know customer expectations are changing as tenants become more connected and digitally savvy. Civica reported that: “Tenants expect immediate access to services via the internet and apps on their mobile device. And this demand for self-service cannot be ignored, people want to use public sector services that are compatible with their lifestyle. Social media has fast become the chosen method of communication for Generation Y and the Leadership
Forum agreed housing providers should respond accordingly.”
Therefore, it’s not surprising that 82% of residents expect the same levels of customer service from their housing providers that they would demand from big brands like Amazon and Royal Mail.
There has been a focus on improving the customer experience within housing with particular attention given in the government’s white paper. Before the pandemic it was reported by Inside Housing that the sector has a way to go in improving customer services: “According to Jo Causon, Chief Executive of the Institute of Customer Service, the UK average for getting it right first time is just over 60%. The average for the social housing sector, however, is 17% lower than the average.” This UKCSI figure has now increased to 79.9% as a UK average, we hope to see social housing improve with this too.
How can digital transformation help with customer services?
Research tells us, 87% of companies see digital transformation more as an opportunity for efficiency and less as a customer facing requirement. The truth is that these are intrinsically linked. Customer experience can be a key driver in all transformation programmes – listening to what customers need and building portals and processes to serve those needs can transform the experience and lead to fewer complaints and rework.
Here are our tips for delivering customer centric transformation in housing:
Every transformation requires strategy
Some housing providers will have embraced Artificial Intelligence (AI) through Chatbots, and residents may begin seeing these advancements as the norm. The idea that one company can provide seamless and efficient technology is enough to create the expectation that every company is capable. Residents will now be much more familiar with engaging with their bank, utilities and, potentially, retail companies through digital channels meaning that this way of transacting has become the norm for them.
But digital transformation isn’t about keeping up with the Joneses. Before rushing to implement the next new and flashy technology, organisations must develop a well-thought-out strategy that keeps the end customer top of mind. This strategy shouldn’t require a dramatic shift within the organisation, either – instead, organisations need to take time to properly integrate digital into an existing strategy or risk wasting time and resources implementing tech that doesn’t deliver customer value.
Housing providers will always deal with a diverse range of customers and will therefore need to take an ‘omni-channel’ approach providing excellence regardless of the channel customers choose. These channels must be seamlessly linked and encourage customer engagement.
Transform transactional relationships into emotional ones
Companies that solve their customers’ problems by understanding their personal goals and challenges can connect with them on a deeper level. This creates a path toward changing the nature of the customer relationship.
Yes, the government’s Charter for Social Housing white paper states residents should be encouraged to input and shape social housing services. But embracing customer voices and listening to the reasons behind their needs should be more than a tick box exercise.
Once you understand your customers’ goals and challenges, you can be laser-focused on them and be able to spot trends and common themes.
Understand your customers and their journeys
Knowing your customers and mapping their customer journeys has always been essential to any business strategy, and housing is no different.
You must understand the customer at a level where you can address their needs. It is important to know what people are thinking and what they are feeling. It can be easy to fall into the trap of seeing the customer as an entity within the process, but people are complicated and display varying needs and behaviours. Top transformation strategies incorporate this complexity and deliver multiple solutions to accommodate them.
Keep in mind that your customer journeys are not static — they will evolve as your other markets and technology change. Make sure to update your customer journey at least once a year to stay relevant.
Put the customer first
Remember the old saying, “Give the customer what they want?” Today more than ever, this notion is on target. When you are designing customer-facing experiences, do not start with an “if we build it, they will come” mindset. This could lead to dangerous assumptions and create an opinion-centric design that works for you but not for your customers.
A better strategy begins with what the customer wants and then determine what to offer and how to offer it.
The key to meeting evolving customer expectations is not only to champion customer-centricity in your organisation but to also lead others by practising what you preach.
Most core transformation programmes focus on customer experience but improving operational efficiency and reducing operational costs are also achievable and should be pursued. Existing legacy environments are often the main barrier to progress. A way around this is to view transformation as an organisational—and not just an IT—endeavour. Start with strong change management and people management strategies aligned at the organisational level. Once this is done, all business areas can be brought to a common platform with unified digital experience leveraging data from all customer touchpoints.
Providing proactive, customer-centric products and services and building a unique and seamless customer engagement experience is the goal. If you need help in laying out your strategy contact us today.
Nine Feet Tall will be hosting a virtual panel event on Improving Custiomer Experience in Housing on 6th October. You can book your place here.