The rules of engagement: a modern approach to empowering the tenant voice

10th October 2018

The rules of engagement: a modern approach to empowering the tenant voice

The latest Social Housing Green Paper raises many important questions, particularly around tenant engagement and empowerment.

Summed up succinctly by the following statement:

“We will consider how we can re-balance the relationship between residents and landlords to ensure issues are resolved swiftly and residents’ voices are heard.”

As the theme for Housing Day is ‘Tenant Voice’ I’ve been reflecting on what we’ve learnt over the past 18 months in our quest for a more modern approach to tenant engagement and how we’ve used the Green Paper as a catalyst to keep improving.     

Beware of ticking a box at a cost 

Two years ago, we were in a different place with our ‘Voice of the Customer’ programme and although it certainly complied with government standards, on reflection, it wasn’t leading to the value we needed it to for customers or the business.  

A mixture of face to face customer panels (always the same voices), outsourced surveys with low completion rates and a clunky online forum, it was outdated and reactive.  

In short, we were ticking a box at a cost.  

The launch of our fully digital service RHPi (rolled out to all customers in April 2017) was the perfect opportunity to shake things up and turn up the volume on our customer’s voice.  

Diversify to amplify 

An issue with our old customer panels was that the same people would come along all the time and although we valued their input they were a very small representation of our customer base. They were also getting low attendance, so we decided to stop them and move our engagement to a digital discussion forum linked to our website.  

However, this just moved the problem – we were again hearing from one group of customers, just this time through a different channel.  

We knew we had to diversify to amplify the voices of our broader customer base so that there was something to suit everyone. Our starting point was to hold customer focus groups to ask the question: how do you want to engage with us? From there we built our Voice of the Customer programme which blends face to face, digital and analytical tactics including:  

-          Face to face customer panels.

-          Customer mystery shoppers (testing our digital channels).

-          E-state champions (customers who are the eyes and ears of our estates).

-          My RHP discussion forum (run through a Facebook group).

-          Real-time surveys.  

Through this diversification we’ve seen much higher levels of engagement from customers which has in turn led to better business results as we’ve been able to focus on the improvements we know matter most to more customers (e.g. our customer satisfaction has gone from 77% to 85% in the past 18 months).     

Silence is golden 

It’s great hearing from customers that do want to get involved, however there is a silent majority out there who are content with our service and are happy to be left alone. And that’s ok.

We still want to learn about their customer experience however, and our secret weapon to do this is data.  This is essentially using the voice of the customer to gain feedback, without them ever having to speak. That’s why we’ve upped our game on our web analytics and have introduced Mouseflow. This is a web analytics solution that will provide us with detailed insights on our customers’ experience of interacting with our web site and crucially this includes where their user journeys fall over or are sub-optimal in any way.  So we’ll know where things have gone wrong for them or where they’ve come up against a blocker without them needing to tell us – and we can use the information to target the things that matter most in the continuous improvement of our web services.  

Close the loop 

This might sound obvious, but if you ask for your customer’s thoughts on something, close the loop and follow-up with what you did about it. We used to just do this for the big stuff but we’ve started collecting all sorts of ‘you said, we did’ examples however big or small. Afterall, something that was easy to fix for us might have been causing the customer a lot of problems.  

And don’t just share it with the customer who gave the feedback, get it out there to everyone (including employees). We now do this monthly through our website and social media channels and its been received very positively by customers and builds trust and confidence for them to get involved again.  

Information is power 

The Green Paper states:  

“For residents to be empowered they need good information on how their landlord is performing compared to others”.  

This has made us step back and really look at the information we put out to our customers. We share our annual report sure, quarterly performance statistics and complaints reports but being honest with ourselves, we knew it wasn’t enough.  

We welcome challenge from our tenants to improve our performance but to be able to do this they need enough information.  

We’re therefore in the process of overhauling the whole ‘how are we doing?’ page of our website to provide heaps more insight and information. We realised we were reporting on the information we wanted to get out there not what our customers are interested in.  

We’ve been using our various engagement groups to check-in with customers about what different statistics and information they’d like to see and are making changes accordingly. 

So what is a modern approach to tenant engagement? For me, it’s about flexibility – both for the customers so they can choose a way that best suits them to connect and have their say, but also for us as a business – making sure our processes are dynamic enough to flex and change as our customer’s preferences change.

And a great starting point is to simply ask the question: how would you like to use your voice?

David Done, OBE, Chief Executive of RHP. Keep up to date with my latest news by following me @DavidDone1

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