Chris ProctorChris ProctorMay 20, 2019
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9min440

The very nature of social housing means customer service in the sector can be a more complex affair than in others. In a market which spans local authority homes and independent housing associations, what is the benchmark for customer experience in the industry?

The New Deal for Social Housing Green Paper was presented last summer and explored ways to instil a customer service culture within social housing whilst highlighting the fact that customer experience remains poor for residents. Similarly, The Hackitt Report highlighted customer service as a flaw and asked questions around what was needed to further encourage the professionalism in housing management to deliver a good quality service.

Creating a comprehensive standard for customer experience in an industry which straddles the ‘public’ and ‘private’ spheres is a challenge because it has never encountered competition. In other consumer-facing services, crowded markets mean that companies must elevate their standards to secure customers. A lack of commercial incentive in social housing, however, does not typically breed a customer centric outlook and arguably leads providers to simply follow the standard set by fellow providers. When you consider the non-competitive dynamics of the sector, it is clear that change is needed.

For the industry to transform its customer service, social housing organisations can no longer operate in a microcosm and must appreciate the wider social and demographic context in which their customers exist.

This means looking at the full picture of the resident profile. Some industries bodies are making moves towards this, taking note of language and talking about homes rather than houses and people instead of tenants. However, it must extend much further to be truly effective. Residents are individuals as well as consumers. The same people who rent and buy social housing also purchase products and services from a multitude of other sectors such as retail, banking and automotive.

 

Rising standards

Cross-sector interactions and technological innovations are constantly raising customer expectations which mean customers want faster, more efficient and on-demand services from brands. As a result, the social housing customer is always comparing their different brand experiences. Consumers expect the same level of attentive service from their local café as they do from their credit provider, and if they have a query or complaint, customer helplines, virtual online assistants and social media platforms make it easier than ever to engage with brands and share reviews online.

It is up to social housing to look to other industries and learn how consumers behave in these frameworks to establish a benchmark for customer experience. For instance, small steps, such as offering short appointment windows in which residents do not have to wait in all day or establishing ways to better maintain their wellbeing and safety to provide reassurance, could make great strides towards delivering a more customer-centric service.

This is not to say that all other industries are successfully transforming their customer experiences. Each sector, from transport to financial services, certainly faces unique challenges which makes customer satisfaction an ongoing process. However, they all recognise that customer experience is the essential differentiator if they are to increase customer satisfaction and retention.

Traditionally customer-oriented, competitive sectors such as retail have long been developing best practices in customer experience led by game changers like Amazon who have it embedded in their culture. Many brands now have CXOs (Chief Experience Officers) to enact this change and are looking to disruptive technologies to better understand and enhance customers’ service. 35% of Amazon’s sales come from personalised customer recommendations, a testament to the power of customer knowledge.

While not all these methods will directly function in social housing, the logic still applies. Social housing providers can embrace the same levels of customer obsession that retailers and others display, whilst utilising the latest technologies to better understand and anticipate customer expectations.

It is this difference which explains the root challenge for the social housing sector. Unlike retail, the growth of their business is not directly reliant upon reducing customer ‘churn’ and achieving customer excellence. However, if you expand your view of the outcome that customer satisfaction can achieve, perhaps customer experience should be the measure of success in the housing sector. With the customer at the core, the entire workforce will relate to the person who lives in the home they are repairing and with a better understanding of the individual they are serving, greater care will be taken and working standards will increase.

Many providers will agree that if they were to ask a team member their view on having to fill in a survey to prove they have completed their compliance obligations, they are likely to grumble and complain that it’s a nuisance. If customer-centricity is ingrained throughout the organisation, however, they would not only consider the completion of that survey as an essential element of the service excellence they deliver – they would also recognise the importance of keeping every person and every home safe. In this way, corners will not be cut and the customer will always come first.

 

Next steps for the social housing industry

If the industry is to make customer-centricity core to its approaches, it must begin by analysing its customer demographic. All customers expect reliable products from providers which they can have faith in. Personalisation, customer support, value-for-money, proactive not reactive service – this is what consumers are accustomed to receiving from services now, and social housing needs to evolve to meet demand. Indeed, the lack of an accepted definition of what customer centricity looks like in the social housing industry is a major barrier.

An industry-wide discussion and agreement of a definition of customer centricity is crucial as a starting point for benchmarking success. Without this, the disparate nature of customer experience within the sector will remain and very little can be achieved whilst that is the case. Learning from the technologies and techniques used in other sectors and harnessing the wealth of tenant data available will inform a comprehensive standard for better customer experience which increases satisfaction, and loyalty.


Chris ProctorChris ProctorAugust 14, 2017
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8min629

Artificial Intelligence has long been talked about as ‘game changer’, however, unlike some tech ‘hot topics’ the hype around AI is rapidly being backed up with credible and highly valuable applications; significantly, the service management sector, where attention has traditionally focussed on primarily increasing efficiency with a CX facet, rather than reimagining the problem and their optimal, holistic solutions.

What Is the Problem?

When we think about CX across our businesses, there is a danger that we play around the periphery; we define optimal customer journeys, communication channels, messages and engagement; this is certainly true in Field Service Management. However, often, we are seeking to find ways to make something ‘bad’ better.

Let’s take an example. One Tuesday, you wake up, climb into your shower only to find that your boiler has died. You call your service provider; you get through in seconds, they talk you through the triage steps; you restart the boiler, increase the pressure. Nothing.

The operative is empathetic, reassuring and dispatches an Engineer; but they wont be with you until tomorrow morning. The Field Service Management system kicks in.

You get confirmation of the appointment time, you get an opportunity to feedback on your experience, but you’re still in a towel, cold and late for work. You take the morning off from work to wait for the engineer; you have messages telling you when they’ll be with you and a map showing their progress. They arrive and are the embodiment of polite and professionalism. But. The widget at fault has caused others to fail. It will require a second visit, another half day at home, more inconvenience and no shower.

All the understanding, apologies and flowers might make the experience more bearable, but you are still inconvenienced and only the flowers will hide the growing the inevitable smell.

What if I told you that there was another day?

Artificial Intelligence in Service Management

Indulge me whilst I play out a Sliding Doors alternative that AI allows in Field Service Management.

Sensors attached to your boiler relay its vital statistics to the Field Service Management system in real time. Subtle variations in normal operating parameters are detected and fed through a deep learning neural network; the algorithm highlights the approximate time to failure and triggers an engineer appointment, allocating the replacement parts typically at fault and any ancillary components that may need replacing.

Utilising usage information from the boiler, an optimum appointment time is suggested and transmitted to the customer.

On Sunday you receive an email from your Boiler Service Provider. They would like to have a look at your boiler as part of your maintenance package. They suggest the next day at a time that is oddly highly convenient, you click to confirm.

You get an appointment confirmation, mapping of the operative’s location and they arrive on time, while you’re catching up with the soaps. They change a small widget in your boiler and they’re away. Tuesday morning comes; you have your shower and get to work on time.

All the actions are fed back into the FSM system and further train the algorithms.

How to Use Artificial Intelligence Intelligently

Of course the key benefit of an AI solution in this, and any other context, is that the more you use it, the more it learns and the more intelligent it becomes.

It is not about taking over the roles of humans, but allowing them to do their roles more efficiently and effectively, freeing them up to take on more jobs in a day or focus on other core parts of the business. Even the rarest faults and issues will be highlighted allowing an immediate fix, from an engineer turning up at the right time, with the right tools, at the right place.

This Predictive Service Management (PSM), as described in action above, rather than the traditional, Field Service Management (FSM) approach has yet to be fully exploited and the potential consequences on your customer experience strategy could be huge.

How Does This Impact CX?

As PSM is continually learning; building relationships and establishing performance levels from a broad spectrum of data sources.

By eliminating faults before that they actually occur and impact your customers, your customer satisfaction rates will rise dramatically. There will, undoubtedly, be a period of education needed where organisations will have to communicate effectively to customers that even though there is no evidence to the eye that there is a fault on their product, there is, and a fix is required. Once this period has been completed customers will be fully on board and confident that when an organisation calls to conduct a proactive fix, it will be saving them a huge amount of inconvenience further down the road.

The deep learning means that it is not just faults that can be identified but issues such as site access, which now, on the whole, are not picked up and cause issues for engineers and customers alike. This of course optimizes uptime, maximises efficiency, eliminates cost (for you and the customer) and all adds up to great customer experience.

The variety of sectors that this type of solution can fit is huge. The one aspect they all have in common though of course, is the level of competitiveness. Losing customers to rivals because of poor customer service is an avoidable situation, but one that many organisations continue to struggle to solve. In the services industry particularly, having the ability to solve customer’s problems before they even have any impact is a true game changer, giving those that embrace the technology first a huge advantage, and leaving those that do not way off the mark and struggling to recover.

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