HACT CEO Andrew van Doorn explains why, instead of collecting data to show how good they are, housing providers should collect data to improve their offer to residents
The publication of the government’s White Paper last November was heralded as a step change for residents. One of the seven commitments in The charter for social housing residents focused on residents being able to expect to have their voices heard by their landlord. What, though, does this mean in practice?
The White Paper rightly praised the work that the National Housing Federation has done through its Together with Tenants initiative, as well as other campaigns led by See the Person and the Chartered Institute of Housing.
All of these are commendable. All are needed. But there is much more that we, as a sector, can do if we want to put residents at the heart of our decision-making.
Traditionally, the sector has tended to rely on customer satisfaction as its headline metric. Bonuses are paid according to customer satisfaction. Objectives are driven by it.
While everyone does it and everyone buys into it, everyone knows that it doesn’t tell the whole story. It provides executives and boards with a comfort-blanket measure. But, on its own, it doesn’t deliver business improvement.
Put simply, rather than just collecting data to demonstrate how good you are, you should be collecting data to improve how good you are.
How, though, does the sector make this shift?
Toward the end of last year, we published a feedback framework for housing associations. One of its aims was to help social housing organisations re-align feedback as a tool to better deliver on their responsibility to residents and transparently demonstrate to the regulator that they are meeting and exceeding standards.
The framework is divided into five simple stages. The first stage asks, why are you collecting feedback?
Understanding this is fundamental. This will ensure you have the right resources in place, whether in the people you employ and the skills they have, as well as the systems you use. It’s not enough just to employ a head of customer voice or customer insight team. You need to ensure they have the commensurate skills and that their role is valued and recognised across the organisation.
The second stage asks, who are you collecting feedback from?
You might think the answer is straightforward. And you’d be right. You’re collecting it from residents. The challenge, however, is to ensure that you have standardised ways of collecting this data. This means that the way the incomes team define core customer data is the same way used by the community investment team when they are inputting their information.
We’re currently developing the data standard around resident feedback and customer complaints which will help this process of standardisation within organisations and across the sector. Your aim is to enable everyone in the organisation to have a single point of view for every resident.
This not only reduces mistakes caused by people entering the incorrect data, it also means you can trust your data and use it for deeper business insights. Some organisations are now looking at more sophisticated approaches to segmentation.
Rather than just segmenting your residents by age, ethnicity, gender, and employment status, they’re also segmenting according to their needs and behaviours. This means that they can deliver services according to the needs of all their residents rather than just those who respond using traditional methods.
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The third stage of the framework asks, how are you collecting resident feedback?
Traditionally, this has involved transactional or satisfaction surveys. We know that a number of organisations are reviewing these approaches, looking at how they can use resident sentiment analysis, for example, to provide insights about residents’ behaviour.
You also have to be mindful of other factors as you revise your approach, including GDPR issues, the implications of the Market Research Society’s code of conduct and how you demonstrate that your approach meets the requirements of the Equality Act. What’s clear is that a reliance on surveys may not deliver the insights that your business needs.
“Traditionally, the sector has been good at counting things, rather than looking at the outcomes we are trying to achieve”
Think about how many surveys you are asked to fill in on a daily basis. How many of them do you actually respond to? And if you do, is it either because you’re dismayed by the level of service or have been invited to say something positive about it?
Similarly, there are questions about the timing of surveys: if they happen two weeks after the event, what validity do they have? How much can you remember about an event that happened that long ago that has value to help the organisation improve its service?
The fourth stage of the framework asks, what metrics are you using?
Ideally, these should be related to outcomes rather than outputs. Traditionally, the sector has been good at the latter – that is, counting things, rather than looking at the outcomes we are trying to achieve. By having an outcome based approached with your metrics, you will be able to conduct a root cause analysis of any issues that might be arising.
One of the issues in using traditional feedback metrics is that it is out of date, point in time data, which doesn’t allow you to make the improvements you need. We need to stop expecting one metric to tell us everything we know. We need to develop a suite of metrics that give visibility of customer experience at different touchpoints and in real time.
The fifth and final stage of the framework asks, what do you then do with this feedback?
If we are serious about resident voice, about putting customers at the heart of our decision-making process, we can’t just use resident feedback for benchmarking purposes. The purpose of feedback should be to improve services, demonstrating to your residents that you listen to them and respond accordingly.
And this is why it’s also critical that residents are informed about the improvements you make as a result of their feedback. Closing the resident feedback loop is a crucial part of this framework.
There is some debate within the sector about whether we should be talking about resident feedback or customer experience. Our sector is unique in that our residents are not customers in the traditional sense. But we should be striving to ensure that the customer experience they receive from us meets and exceeds their expectations, compared to their experience as customers in other sectors.
The work that the Disruptive Innovators Network are doing around customer expectations is one notable innovation in this area.
As a sector, we need to move from a traditional, customer satisfaction-based perspective to one that not only uses every data interaction but enables residents to shape the service that they receive.
Our framework, and our supporting diagnostic services, are there to help you bring customer experience into the heart of your decision-making.
- To find out more about HACT’s framework, customer feedback diagnostic and consultancy services, and resident feedback customer complaints project, contact Matthew Grenier
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