Delivering a digital customer service for a Scottish housing association

Our priorities are straightforward: we want to deliver excellent customer service. Delivering more of this digitally will enable this as well as the ability to do more to support those customers who need extra help” says John Davidson, CEO of Almond Housing.

Scottish housing association Almond Housing has a long and successful history of providing quality homes for social rent. Almond employs 50 brilliant colleagues, and together they’ve been successfully transforming the social rent landscape in West Lothian for over 25 years, reaching over 2500 customers.

But they have little experience with digital transformation. So, where do you start?

Successful start

John Davidson continues: “We thought we had done all the right things in developing our ICT strategy. In 2018-19, we procured and implemented a new Aareon QL housing management system. It was mostly successful, but we felt we were not providing colleagues with the right tools, capturing the customer’s contact information, or offering the customer a different way of engaging with Almond. We recruited an experienced IT Manager (Mark McGregor), who has enabled us to progress and identified that we needed an improved system. However, we still didn’t have the expertise we needed to do it all ourselves”.

Meet Golden Marzipan

John first came across Golden Marzipan during the lockdown, attending some insightful Breakfast Briefings on the topics of the day including digital, agile and customer experience. Almond commissioned Golden Marzipan to review the current systems and help them select a CRM system.

Before the project started, Golden Marzipan completed a digital maturity assessment. This helped Almond benchmark with others and prioritise where (and how) they should invest their resources.

Prioritising projects

After, the short review and report, Almond had a roadmap of projects for the next two years. Initially, this seemed like a long and daunting list. The implementation of Aareon QL highlighted the inconsistencies of adoption, realising benefits and achieving value for money. A project prioritisation tool helped to differentiate between the competing demands of departments, systems, and skills gaps. Their final roadmap highlighted whether the project should be ICT-led or business-led.

Supplier engagement

Almond now had an assessment, some priorities, and a plan for the next couple of years. What they needed next was some confidence to start moving forward. “Golden Marzipan helped us clarify what we wanted from a CRM system and then facilitated some discussions with different suppliers. We recognised that the grass wasn’t necessarily greener with a different system, and so we regrouped and put in place the foundations for good project management”.

People and culture

Steve Dungworth, co-founder and Director of Golden Marzipan, says that many smaller housing associations don’t always have the necessary experience and skills to undertake large digital transformation projects. “For us, making changes is about building capacity and capability within the organisation. This means focusing on the softer side of projects: people, culture, and skills.

This is why we built our digital maturity framework and assessment that looks at things in the round. “Technology is only useful when it’s used for a clear purpose and benefits your customers, residents, and users.”

A change of approach for Almond Housing

Last month, the Almond team started on their new project to update their housing management system and review their ways of working on getting the best out of their CRM module. The project is led by Sandy Young, Director of Housing Management. Sandy points out that by working with Golden Marzipan, there has been a different approach that has engaged and involved colleagues. They started by challenging themselves on how to get the best from the system by reviewing what they do and why.

This is just the start,” says Sandy, “now we have more confidence to manage suppliers and systems, we’re excited about the opportunities to deliver more services digitally to our customers.”

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