We need to get much better at using data to inform the way we communicate

Guest blog by Steve Hayes, Head of Communications at Citizen 

Let’s be honest - in housing we lag behind many sectors in terms of our ability to embrace data and technology.

Some housing organisations are doing fantastic work to use data to inform their decision-making and ultimately improve services, but these are the exception rather than the rule.

Our customers’ expectations of our services and our ability to make them intelligent, intuitive and responsive has never been higher. We must make sure we are not left behind by organisations in other sectors which continue to up the ante and find innovative ways to make customer experience slicker and simpler.

For many years in housing the sum of customer communication was sending regular letters, a quarterly newsletter - which forced customers to sift through 20-odd pages to find something relevant to them - and having the odd face-to-face conversation or phone call.

Thankfully this is changing, but it’s fair to say we still have a way to go.

Think about the times you have received a great service and then think about how integral communication was to your experience.

Organisations who provide the best service can only do it because they understand their customers. They have a mass of data which they carefully manage which shows them what their customers want, how they access services and what they are telling them.

This is the level we need to reach in housing.

At Citizen our journey is far from complete, but we have made significant strides. We recently introduced a platform called Rant and Rave, which is transforming our understanding of our customers and our ability to respond directly to their feedback.

This is transformational. We have gone from a place where we would only receive feedback if a customer went out of their way to tell us if they had a good or bad experience, to one where we now receive thousands of individual, tailored pieces of feedback every week via email, phone and text message surveys which follow their interactions with us.

As well as giving us long-term trends to inform our services, we can analyse and use customer data in the moment. We can immediately see where a customer has scored us 2 out of 5 or less along with their feedback as to why they scored us this and who they dealt with in our organisation so this can be addressed with that team member.

This system has added a new layer of accountability in our organisation and completely transformed the way we understand and deal with our customers. And it’s only with this in-depth level of understanding we are able to do this.

Understanding our customers is one thing, but we also need to challenge ourselves to use more intelligent ways to communicate with them.

The best organisations know exactly how many customers have read, watched or listened to their communication. They know what does and doesn’t work, which messages are landing, and which are not. This helps them to constantly adjust and adapt how they talk to customers.

There are relatively simple, inexpensive ways to achieve this too.

Email platforms allow you to professionalise your contact with customers significantly.

Think about it, if you send a letter to all your customers what will it cost? In our case, with 30,000 homes, quite a lot.

And what are we able to glean from that contact? The answer is not very much at all.

We don’t know how many people have read what we sent; we don’t know which parts of it they found most useful and we therefore have no indication of the return on a significant investment.

If we send bulk emails to our customers through our email platform, we can see how many people, and who, has opened them and the information they have accessed. We can approach the communication intelligently. And guess what, the annual cost of that service is about a quarter of the cost of one letter sent to all our customers.

In housing we have typically treated our customers as somehow different. Though they may be different in terms of the services they are accessing from us and there may be nuances around how we need to communicate with them, they are the same when it comes to their expectations of the quality, intelligence and ease with which that service is provided.

These expectations will only increase as other sectors embrace technology and use data more intelligently. The challenge for us is to keep up.

Hear more from Steve at HouseMark’s 10 Days of Data - a series of bitesize events that showcase the value and potential that data can bring to your business. ‘Using data to shape your success stories’  is taking place on Wednesday, 7 October. Find out more and secure your place here.

By Natalia Karska

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