Paul Swannell, Sales director at Localz, discusses traditional feedback methods, the benefits of real-time feedback, and how to collect useful feedback data in housing
For many years, the measurement of customer satisfaction (CSAT) has played an important role in the housing sector. Most Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) publish annual CSAT targets – both for repairs and ‘overall satisfaction’ – and they publish attainment against those targets.
Given that most RSLs have more demand than they can cope with, rents are largely regulated, and the concepts of upsell, cross-sell and repeat-purchase don’t apply, you might ask “what are we actually trying to achieve by measuring satisfaction?”
For repair and maintenance appointments, there are many good reasons to gather tenants’ feedback. Here, we’ll ask what could be, or should be, derived from the feedback process. We’ll then explore how to collect satisfaction ratings that are representative and actionable, rather than just an annual statistic.
Traditional feedback methods
Putting aside the (sometimes controversial) variations in how CSAT is calculated from the available data, there is significant variation in how feedback is collected.
Often, it involves monthly surveys of randomly selected customers using phone, email, or even mail. Putting aside the cost of this approach, the response rates are low, and as time passes, we know that negative experiences are recalled more readily than positive ones.
It’s also largely unactionable feedback – certainly on a case-by-case basis for repairs – because the experience happened days or weeks ago. And the comments are seldom linked directly to a job ID or specific colleague.
In some cases, repairs operatives are asked to hand their tablet to the customer before they leave, asking them to complete a questionnaire – effectively asking “how did I do?”
For obvious reasons, tenants are less likely to give sincere feedback while the operative is still in the room. And in light of the pandemic, it’s less appropriate to physically hand a device to tenants.
That’s where automated, real-time feedback comes in. Landlords and contractors are increasingly using technology to trigger an automated feedback request via SMS once a job has been completed.
“By proactively collecting feedback soon after a repair appointment, landlords stand to increase satisfaction – both on the day of service and in the future”
It might seem counter-intuitive that automation can improve engagement and bolster customer support. But applied intelligently, this approach allows you to provide a consistent service, proactively look after tenants’ needs, and focus resources where they are most useful.
Benefits of real-time feedback
To get the most value from residents’ feedback, it’s worth thinking about which benefits you’d like to achieve. Outlining your goals will help you to identify the best time to reach out, the appropriate channels to use, and the most useful questions to ask.
Here are some ways that automated feedback contributes to your overall customer experience goals:
1. Improving tenant satisfaction
Living in a poorly maintained property is stressful for tenants, and results in low levels of trust and satisfaction. Repair appointments are also one of the few face-to-face interactions that residents have with your organisation.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that day-to-day repairs account for over a third of housing complaints every year, according to the Housing Ombudsman:
“Living in a home in a poor state of repair can have a significant impact on residents; this can cause stress and frustration, and damage the ongoing relationship with their landlord, as residents are faced with the issue every day. Delivering a good repairs service should, therefore, be a high priority for landlords.” – Housing Ombudsman, Room for improvement: Spotlight on repairs
By proactively collecting feedback soon after a repair appointment, landlords stand to increase satisfaction – both on the day of service and in the future.
In the immediate term, your repairs team can deal with pressing issues before they deteriorate. It may be as simple as contacting the tenant to provide reassurance and arrange a further visit.
In the longer term, consistently collecting feedback will help you to identify recurring challenges – for instance, a lack of appropriate materials, or issues with a specific contractor. This will make it easier to optimise services and demonstrate improvement over time.
Positive feedback is equally useful, as it allows you to replicate services that are working well. And by gathering feedback for individual jobs, you’ll be able to identify high-performing teams and contractors.
2. Streamline allocation of resources
Despite best efforts, it’s unlikely that every visit will result in a perfect fix. By asking for feedback immediately after the appointment, your team can quickly deal with setbacks that might otherwise have escalated.
Ultimately, this will result in increased value for money. Staff can resolve issues on the day, before the problem gets worse – reducing the need for repeated calls and visits. And armed with information about what went wrong, mobile workers will be better equipped to complete the job.
In cases where the job has gone to plan, a well-timed digital feedback request can remove the need for a follow-up phone call. This frees up your team to focus resources where they are really needed – especially during times of limited capacity.
3. Work on improving first-time fix
First-time fix rate is dependent on a range of factors. Will the resident grant access? Is the job more severe than first thought? Did you send the right technician for the job?
Thankfully, some of these variables are in your control. For instance, you can reduce the chance of a no-access visit simply by increasing communication with tenants. But if first-time fix continues to pose a problem, it’s important to identify the blockage.
Prompt feedback from residents can supplement information from field technicians to provide a full picture.
For instance, you might discover that a visit marked as ‘no-access’ was the result of a miscommunication. Or perhaps a job was noted as ‘unsafe to proceed’ because the tenant didn\’t have adequate time to prepare.
Regular job-based feedback will help your team to identify frequent problems and adapt processes accordingly.
4. Demonstrate compassion and build trust
Many housing associations have a publicly stated goal to be a trusted service provider for tenants. To this end, The National Housing Federation’s ‘Together With Tenants’ initiative emphasises that relationships with tenants should be based on openness, honesty and transparency.
With this in mind, landlords should consider increasing operational transparency around repair appointments – for example, with real-time tracking and two-way communications.
Where feedback is concerned, housing associations are expected to proactively seek and act upon residents’ voices: Tenants should be able to speak openly and feel that their landlord is listening.
Appointment-based feedback allows RSLs to apply this approach at a job-by-job level, demonstrating that tenants’ experience is a priority across the whole organisation.
5. Monitor changes to service
Whenever your service model undergoes a significant change, it’s important to keep track of tenants’ experience. Under normal circumstances, changes might include a new scheduling system or engaging a new contractor.
As the global pandemic progresses, services have to adapt rapidly. Tenants may be dealing with longer waits, increased anxiety, and new social distancing measures.
In these uncertain times, regular feedback acts as a barometer of how performance has been affected. What’s more, reaching out to tenants demonstrates a genuine concern for their needs.
How to collect useful feedback
Once you know what you want to achieve, you can think about the practicalities of asking for feedback.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but the following considerations are a good place to start:
1. Think carefully about timing
Trigger a feedback request immediately after the experience (repair, housing officer visit, lettings appointment, etc), but not while the colleague is still at the property. Prompt feedback requests get more responses, better reflect the moment, and let you take action quickly in the case of problems.
2. Keep it simple and convenient
Ask for a rating out of 5, plus what was good, and what needs improvement; keeping it to just 3 questions. The more questions you ask, the fewer the responses. Make the process easy and use a convenient channel for the customer, such as an SMS with a link to a survey.
3. Make it actionable
Perhaps the most important aspect of all. If tenants don’t think you’re listening, they will feel that you have wasted their time.
Consider using automated back-office alerts for poor feedback. This will help your team to act promptly – and therefore at a lower cost – when issues arise.
4. Make it specific
Ensure feedback is linked to individual colleagues so you can identify training needs and spot trends in performance.
5. Assess frequently
Make it easy to view feedback ratings frequently – whether that’s by function, team, or individual. An annual ‘ta-dah’ moment for the past year’s stats will not support dynamic change.
6. Ask everyone, always
Don’t just ask a random sample; by definition, you’ll leave gaps and will dilute the value of feedback.
7. Use technology to make it scalable
You can’t phone all customers all the time; it’s cost-prohibitive, as well as being invasive and ineffective. Instead, make feedback an automated part of a digital communications process linked to every appointment. Our clients have been able to streamline operations by redistributing staff who were previously calling customers after an appointment.
Housing Digital stakeholder Localz is a mobile workforce solutions company that provides customer notifications, live ETA tracking, two-way communications, and real-time feedback around housing appointments.
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