Customer engagement can mean different things to different people within social housing. It could include activities such as customer satisfaction surveys, raising complaints or expressions of dissatisfaction directly with the housing provider. It could also include being a part of board or committee or attending local customer events. But to understand how to effectively deliver meaningful customer engagement within housing, providers should start by evaluating this from a strategic level: considering how customer engagement aligns or resonates with your corporate objectives and vision, and how it is developed as part of your organisational culture.
This discussion was the starting point for our resident engagement shared practice session hosted last week by IFF Associate Director of Housing, Kate Roberts, with guest speaker Matthew Weekes, Head of Customer Engagement at Peabody.
And, with the Tenant Satisfaction Measures and new consumer regulation just around the corner, getting customer engagement right is crucial.
Inclusivity and flexibility are key
Customer engagement should be inclusive, accessible, flexible, and future proofed. How customer engagement is applied within your business should set customers on an equal footing, rather than an old-fashioned paternalistic approach to delivery whereby the organisation decides the ways in which customers should be engaged with them. Customers should have the opportunity to lead on strands of customer engagement and only require assistance from the organisation at times when it is appropriate.
Understand your customers
Starting out on engagement design requires some self-reflection, with landlords needing to understand who their customers are. Evaluating what opportunities are available for different customer groups and if they are currently represented in the voice of the customer within the organisation.
Providers also need to understand how they currently interact with customers and how accessible routes into engagement are. One key element of understanding where you currently stand in terms of engagement is to evaluate your tone of voice in communication with customers about engagement.
Consider how you communicate
Another key area of comms to consider is how providers feed back to customers who do engage with them. We talk a lot about “you said we’re doing” rather than “you said we did” as it is so important to keep customers informed and engaged throughout improvements, rather than creating “dead air” whereby customers may feel you are doing nothing.
Sharing his experience of resident engagement, Matthew Weekes talked through the joint project IFF and Peabody carried out in late 2020 – early 2021, to help shape Peabody’s resident engagement strategy. Twelve months on, the findings are beginning to develop into clear tangible changes, with Peabody seeing ever-increasing levels of customer engagement through new routes and on new topics. The information has also helped to shape Peabody’s organisational culture in relation to customer engagement – opening up new opportunities for customers to influence decisions that impact them that may have previously been made purely by staff. Importantly, Matthew descried how their strategy continues to develop organically as Peabody test and learn from new innovative approaches.
Following the presentations, we opened up the floor for housing practitioners from providers across the UK to discuss their own good practice and their challenges. With several questions along the theme of adapting engagement processes to effectively deliver through a variety of channels, particularly for those customers who are not able to, or choose not to, use digital channels. We discussed the need to ensure that routes into engagement are accessible and flexible.
Adapt the channel and timing
As we learned through the Peabody research, and with other customer engagement projects, customers want to be able to engage not only by their preferred channels, but also at times that work for them. Gone are the days of all engagement activities taking place in the middle of the day when most people are working. On the flip side, organising face to face events in the evening could restrict those with childcare or caring responsibilities. How many people truly want to give up their precious evening chatting about pets policies for 2 hours?
Realistically, giving customers the opportunity to ‘tap in and tap out’ will encourage more customers to want to be engaged. Ask customers how and when they want to be engaged and ensure that the occasions that require more in-depth engagement are justified. Give committees and boards greater confidence in decision making by using text or online polls to gather quantitative opinions from your wider population and then present this information to the more focused group.
Another concern that was raised by attendees was about how to effectively engage customers in high rise blocks in one of the biggest conversations right now – building safety. One attendee talked about how residents in their high-rise blocks were limited in terms of technology, which made it challenging to engage with them. Again, using multiple channels can help with this. Creating resident champions who can go and visit or petition residents for opinions in an estate can help. And having a drop-in box for customers within or close to their own building can also help to gather opinions.
Throughout the session the themes which kept arising were around flexibility and accessibility. It’s time to refresh customer engagement in a way that all customers feel they have the opportunity to engage and that their views are valued.
Need to develop your resident engagement strategy?
If you want to understand more about how IFF Research can help you with your customer engagement strategy or processes, contact us to arrange a chat.