How to Become an Award-winning Digital Housing Association

Are you a small housing association feeling like digital transformation is nearly impossible to achieve? Or maybe you know where you want to get to, but you’re finding it hard to reach your destination? Then, keep reading!

This week’s Golden Marzipan Breakfast Briefing was an opportunity to celebrate an award-winning digital transformation journey from a very ambitious and digitally focused housing association. We were joined by John Ghader, CEO of Prima Group.

Driven by a need to streamline processes following a merger, feedback from staff who reported feeling like they were ‘on a treadmill’ and a review of customer profiling that suggested services could be more tailored, Prima Group set about bringing their digital vision to life. 

BB S3 E12 John Ghader from Prima Group

John firmly believes that being a small housing association should not be a barrier, nor an excuse to successfully implement digital transformation. He says: “under the current changing demographics, the needs and requirements of our customers demand this”.

John gave us a rundown of some of the changes that Prima Group have made to secure their award-winning spot during the latest Breakfast Briefing. Here’s just a glimpse into their transformation journey.

Customer engagement

Customers were able to use the Prima Customer App to access services ahead of the pandemic. However, usage immediately spiked during the first lockdown with almost 863 residents (from 2700 homes) using it regularly. Prima observed that customer contact through digital channels such as webchat and social media doubled during this period, representing almost 40% of all customer contacts. John added that their digital services don’t replace face-to-face and it’s certainly not a cost-cutting measure for them, they were simply responding to what their customers wanted.

The growing popularity of the customer app has enabled Prima Group to realign resources to put more into frontline services. During the lockdown, they have undertaken almost 3000 welfare calls and supported community initiatives such as local food banks all within their existing resource.

John also described how they’d started using SMS text messaging to engage customers and a large cohort of customers had now signed up for this. They use SMS for repairs, but also to enhance the move in experience and to gain feedback from customers.  

Going paperless and knocking email on the head!

Changing the way they communicate was a big part of John’s reflections. As well as bolstering their social media presence, Prima Group also rolled out a customer e-newsletter, keeping customers regularly updated whilst saving on print costs.

In terms of internal transformation, they rolled out Office 365 and the use of Teams and they saw a reduction in the use of email as colleagues switched to Teams messaging and Yammer. Although John admits that this was also driven through staff recognition and reward.

A contractor portal linked to repairs and maintenance is another new addition at Prima Group. John reported how this had massively reduced the back-and-forth nature of these communications. The contractors get the order and if there’s any variation they can come back, simply sending a quick photo or video of what’s required, and the surveyor can approve it there and then. This has helped Prima Group with its right-first-time approach.

Working differently

Customer information has been moved to the Cloud, enabling customer contact colleagues to seamlessly work from home. This hybrid approach has led to improvements in performance with the number of abandoned calls dropping significantly.

In May 2020, the viewing and signup process moved online. Prima adopted video viewings with potential customers, and they enabled digital signatures on tenancy agreements using Signable.

Recruitment also went online, using video for interviews and the on-boarding process. A total of five posts have successfully been recruited this way so far.

Making better use of their existing system, Prima implemented a new asset management module in QL. They transferred all the data over from their previous system and this has enabled them to cleanse the data so they now know where they are with the stock condition and can target investment more effectively.

Making the most of tech

In July 2020, they introduced AR (augmented reality) video calls with XM Reality. This enables them to undertake virtual inspections and diagnose repairs without the need to send a surveyor on a home visit or for the customer to wait in for an appointment, keeping everyone COVID-safe. Whilst this was initially met with some concern from customers who thought it might be intrusive, it has been implemented with an overwhelmingly positive response. It’s also reduced the organisation’s carbon footprint and enabled them to successfully challenge disrepair cases leading to financial savings for the business. Due to its success, Prima is now rolling this out to other parts of the business including dealing with ASB.

Over the last two years, drones have also become part of Prima’s essential toolkit. Used initially for roof inspections and new developments Prima Group are now using them to create video neighbourhood plans and John reports that this is working well.

Colleague wellbeing

It’s not all about digital though, Prima hasn’t forgotten that it’s a people business. The group regularly measures the Happiness Index amongst colleagues, and they have introduced virtual coffee breaks, yoga, and monthly virtual gatherings to aid colleague wellbeing. Staff feedback has been positive, and they are taking this learning into a future hybrid model of agile working.

And there’s more …

These are just some of the changes that Prima Group have made over the last few years to put them in this award-winning spot, but they’re not resting on their laurels. As John said, “we are still on this journey, and we don’t have it all sorted”. He concluded by emphasising that although they are looking to automate as much as they can in the future, this will not be at the expense of the human touch. “We are a community-based association, we just want to make sure that we’re catering for new and existing customers.”

Thinking Differently

If you are looking to move your association on a digital-enabled transformational change journey, then call Peter at Golden Marzipan for an informal chat. Our team of advisors have broad experience in delivering digital transformation and we’d love to talk about how we could help you today. Contact Peter at peter@goldenmarzipan.co.uk.

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