Customer experience is a hot topic right now. The social housing white paper has firmly emphasised the drive to put customer priorities first and many social housing providers are revisiting their practices to ensure engagement sits right at the heart of service delivery. But how do you do this in practice and has the pandemic changed the customer experience and engagement landscape?
On this week’s Golden Marzipan Breakfast Briefing panel, we had some heavy-weight experience to answer these questions and more. Speaking to a full-house, we were joined by Jenny Osbourne MBE, Chief Executive at TPAS (Tenant Engagement Service), Denise Raine, Director of Acuity, ARAP, and Lynne Mills, Golden Marzipan Customer Experience Consultant.
Has the pandemic impacted customer engagement?
Jenny started the conversation by stating that digital engagement has been a game-changer during the pandemic and that it’s here to stay. She went on to talk about some of the important issues landlords need to consider relating to this including ease of use for digital engagement and access to participate online. She also touched on how digital engagement had changed the dynamics of tenant involvement with both the democratisation of groups and the shift in authority. She’s heard many tenants report how they used to dread entering the HQ of a housing association, going up three floors to the “big boardroom”, only to find a table full of staff waiting for them to discuss partnership. As she describes: “That’s gone now hasn’t it? Everyone is now at home and entering the same space at the same time. That’s got to impact conversations and change behaviour.”
For Denise, digital communication has also moved to occupy first place in terms of market research. Her business is undertaking far more video interviews with tenants and she described how this had been a really powerful tool in understanding the customer journey: “You can see the emotions and not just the blank text, so we have a richer environment to work with”.
Lynne was clear that the pandemic had heightened the need for a blended approach to engagement with tenants. She felt that it was all good enabling the transactional stuff to be done online, but that doesn’t take away the need for human contact. In an interesting observation, Lynne reported that where tenants had a good relationship with their landlord, they had been far more understanding about the challenges housing associations had faced in service delivery as a result of COVID, concluding: “Digital is important, but it doesn’t take away from relationships and customer experience.”
Culture or operations: How do you transform customer experience?
Our panel agreed that a cultural shift is the most important element in successful customer experience and that it has to come from the top as it’s very difficult if it’s about officers driving change up.
Jenny reported that TPAS are seeing a shift in this, with more Boards seeking out the customer voice. But all three speakers made the point that this needs to be hard-wired into the DNA of your organisation so that it doesn’t fall apart when your CEO moves on. It needs to filter through from decision making right through to all elements of operational service delivery, said Lynne. “A lot of businesses will just concentrate on training the customer services team when it comes to experience, but that’s wrong. You need to train everyone in the important customer service traits or it [cultural change] just won’t happen.”
That being said they did all agree that although it starts with culture, you have to have good systems to back it up. Denise summed this up: “It’s very difficult to deliver exceptional customer service if you do not have the tools and the information flow across the business”.
When asked how you can get engage tenants at a strategic level, the panel once again agreed that it’s about culture. Being transparent and truthful, so that relationships and trust is built is vital. It’s about getting the small stuff right, as no one is going to engage in a conversation about something on a strategic level, when basic service delivery isn’t right.
What can you do today to improve customer experience?
According to our speakers, there are many ways you can immediately start to improve your customer engagement, here are some of their top priorities:
- Start from the top. With your Board and the Executive team relook at your strategic plans to ensure the customer is at the heart of everything you’re trying to achieve. Challenge yourself by asking whether your plans work for you and your tenants and if the answer no, revisit them.
- Undertake an honest appraisal of how you operate. Test your communication channels and see how well they work. If you face an unusual call volume every Monday morning, it’s not ‘unusual’.
- Improve your communication. The biggest area of dis-satisfaction is where customer issues or enquiries get lost in a black hole through lack of communication. Act on this now and look at every tenant contact you’ve not got back to yet and give them an update
- Look at your systems. Following on from point three, the common reason for things getting lost in a black hole is that systems just aren’t talking to each other and things fall through the gaps. Evaluate how well your systems work together.
- Go back and re-focus on tenants. What are they telling you is their priority and is this what you’re focusing on? This will be part of regulatory inspections – you’ll be asked what have tenants told you is important and you’ll need to demonstrate that you have systems in place to deal with these issues
- Who have you not heard from? Make sure you’re engaged with a broad group of tenants. Deafening silence doesn’t mean they are OK. Turn it on its head by asking what they are telling you by saying nothing at all?
- Have a good chat with your engagement staff. Ask them what’s going on and what customers are saying. Review the resources you’ve invested in customer engagement and assess whether you’ve made it as easy as possible to hear from tenants
- Ensure there’s awareness. The majority of your customers are in the ‘be aware’ group. So as a minimum, make sure they know that they can get involved, how they can get involved and make it easy via your website
- Look outside the sector – Organisations that are great at customer engagement are always more than happy to share, contact them and see what you can learn.
- Review the customer data you collect. A lot of organisations collect tons of data on customers, but they don’t really do anything with it because it becomes overwhelming. Review your customer feedback strategy to re-focus and get really useful insight.
Transforming customer experience and engagement is achievable. If you want to navigate new ideas or you’re feeling a little stuck, Golden Marzipan can help. Get in touch for an informal chat, contact Peter Lunio at firstname.lastname@example.org