Written by IFF Research

How is customer experience (CX) changing in social housing?

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Customer experience (CX) strategies are designed to take into account more than just the mechanical process of delivering services to customers. They should consider how each interaction works best for customers, taking account of their needs, expectations and personal circumstances to build a delivery model that is as effective and low effort as possible.

In our previous blog, we looked at how housing organisations can get started writing and implementing their own CX strategy. We looked at the links between CX and customer service, how research supports your CX journey, and shared best practice examples of CX strategy from social housing providers.

In this blog, we spoke with Jo Causon, CEO of The Institute of Customer Service about how customer experiences and expectations are changing and how a global pandemic impacts what ‘good CX’ looks like in practice.

What is the current state of CX and customer satisfaction in the UK?

Covid has changed or at least accelerated some of the ways in which  people view the world; from the way we see ourselves, our communities, and the environment  around us – including our families, neighbours, and our homes. Unsurprisingly then, the last few months have seen some fundamental changes in CX and customer satisfaction.

In the initial stages of the pandemic, many sectors were doing quite well, with most reporting an increase in customer satisfaction. Organisations tried to go the extra mile, were resilient, and reacted quickly to paramount challenges such as deploying a remote workforce. Projects that would normally take two years to undertake and embed, such as getting the tech in place to enable working remotely, took in many cases just a few days. Consumers were thinking service was better than anticipated during the months of April and May. IFF Research showed similar results in our lockdown analysis.

In June and July, when lockdown started to lift, customer expectations began to increase, and now we are seeing a decline in customer satisfaction.  The initial uptick from the early stages of Covid is now experiencing a flattening or even a decline.

Jo explains, “Covid-19 has accelerated some trends and there have been some changes within that context, for example the July 2020 UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) is showing flatlining and declining of customer satisfaction levels across 13 industry sectors. The index is experiencing its lowest point since July 2017”.

Where are we heading?

Heading into winter, with a second lockdown in place and no let up on the pressures of Covid, customer satisfaction levels are likely to continue to decline.  “There’s a dawning realisation that we’re not suddenly coming out of Covid, we’re just learning to manage through it and discovering new ways of delivering”, Jo explains.

Globally there is a much greater consumer focus on:

  • My home
  • Feeling safe
  • Advice and knowledge
  • Opportunities for value for money and saving money
  • Being local and a sense of “my community”

All of which are particularly salient in the social housing context.

There is also a general trend toward “de-urbanisation” where people don’t get on a commuter train to travel to work in city or town centres, instead, they work, shop and socialise locally. Could social housing providers respond to and facilitate this trend for their customers by building community and work hubs for example?

Digital engagement with customers now has an increased focus, but there is also a need to maintain relationships centred on empathy, understanding, and knowing there’s someone to talk to when residents are worried.  Organisations need to understand there will be more residents that are vulnerable, but don’t see themselves in that way. Jo explains that while digital services are critically important there is also a need to maintain relationships with empathy. There is a balance to be struck between technology and humanity, and there is a requirement for both.

Learn from shared best practice at the panel discussion and Q&A

Watch Jo and CX experts from across the social housing sector present their case studies and take questions from the audience.

How do we respond to this new environment and improve CX?

The most important factor in improving customer experience is the voice of the customer.  Ask yourself, “Does the customer have genuine opportunity to provide input and shape our services within the context of our purpose?”

At this stage in the pandemic, organisations must know what they are doing well and what works, and think about activities that are simply unsustainable. To deliver value for money, you will need to think about what’s important to your customer and focus on that.

Getting the customer experience right is critical; transactional service measures like right first time, doing what you say you will do, complaints handling, and timeliness of your processes is key to good CX.

Additionally, there is a need to measure how an organisation makes an individual feel.   These could be quantitative measures, exploring sentiments like:

“Do I think that this organisation has my best interests at heart?”

“Does this organisation demonstrate the trust levels that I would expect it to?”

“Does the organisation design it services and experiences around me?”


“There are two sides of the satisfaction coin, you’ve got the metrics side measuring the housing function, which is important. If you don’t get that right, then you’re not even in the game.  Then the flip side is the things that help differentiate are much more about the relationship, how you make residents feel, ethics and customer focus flows from those qualitative factors.”

Jo Causon, Chief Executive of The Institute for Customer Service

What sets high-performing organisations apart?

There are winners and losers in customer service, and in the UKCSI there are consistently high performers in the Top 10. What sets these organisations apart is their external focus and ability to deliver on essential aspects, consistently getting it right first time, responding withing appropriate timelines, making it easy to interact with, as well as demonstrating openness, empathy, clarity of communications and a sense of doing the right things. These are organisations who have serviced, rather than sold.

The Institute helps housing organisations benchmark against other providers and outside of the sector too. This out of sector comparison helps to give a broader perspective on how residents feel about your services compared to other service providers; residents don’t benchmark their housing associations against other housing providers – but rather against retailers, public services, utilities and the like.

CX advice from across all sectors

Jo explains that when she looks at high-performing organisations, they have a number of things in common:

Leadership commitment

Does the board really understand what we’re talking about when we discuss CX?

Boards require a clear purpose, need to know who they are serving, and to measure their legacy – not just activity and outcomes. Housing organisations talk about stock and property – which is fine if your goal is purely building homes. But it’s important to think about your customers in a wider sense and to listen to residents to get your customer experience right.

Measuring and understanding complaints

Organisations at the top of their game are relentless in measuring complaints. A complaint is not just a statistic – they are obsessive with it. They are genuinely curious about understanding the underlying issues and seek to improve and learn so the situation doesn’t arise again.

Horizon scanning

Top organisations are externally referenced, constantly thinking about what’s going on in the wider world and how their customers are being impacted. Great CX and great organisations keep their lens externally focused. They consistently scan for great ideas or what is going on in their customers lives.

No silos

The structure of these organisations is really important, and they work to eliminate silo mentality for an end-to-end customer experience.

Using research for insight

They use research for insight purposes – to be curious and investigate, not just to confirm information. Jo’s advice is to “Try and suspend your beliefs. When you see data that you don’t agree with, see it in the sense of insight which is actionable.”

Jo explains that employee engagement insight is critical. For every 1% increase in employee engagement, there is a corresponding 1% increase in customer service satisfaction.

“There’s a direct statistical correlation between how engaged your employees are on this journey and the outcome that you’d expect to see in customer service.”

Jo Causon, Chief Executive, The Institute of Customer Service


As customers and consumers, we are going through a major shift in how services are delivered and perceived. This is causing a ripple effect in how expectations are changing, and ultimately impacting satisfaction and performance at organisations inside and outside the housing sector. What we do know is digital is here to stay, as well as new expectations around forming stronger, empathetic relationships with customers. High-performing organisations in the UK focus their activities on anticipating customer needs and continually improving their performance, adapting and learning as they go. The social housing sector can adopt these important best practice initiatives, refreshing what we do and how we do it, to better serve and satisfy our customers at a time when “house and home” has never been more important.

Learn from shared best practice at the panel discussion and Q&A

Watch Jo and CX experts from across the social housing sector present their case studies and take questions from the audience.