The housing sector is not short of opinions on digitalisation. Big, bold statements, arguments and counter arguments, not to mention buzz words that dominate transformation programmes and efficiency agendas.

We even look to data to align service outcomes to channels and make assumptions about which channel is best. The answer to that question is simple – the best channel is the one that meets the needs and preferences of your customers. The sector has a long history of chasing the football in a bid to put it in the back of net. What do I mean by that? – well firstly anyone who has watched kids start their footballing journey at school or for local clubs will have stood on the touch line and watched them all lurch after the ball and swarm around it in a bid for glory.

I have spoken before about how the sector is better at defence than offense, (I’m definitely drifting into American football now) but it’s true; think of all of the times the sector has had to react – the austerity years, the rent cut and the pandemic are great examples of how the sector responds. But that whack a mole strategy just doesn’t work in the current, multi layered, complex operating environment. There are too many moles to whack and systemic change is required. Broken systems, outdated, misaligned processes and patchy culture – now step back and consider that, in the context of the current agenda. We have less rent and income in real terms, we are living through a cost of living crisis, we are seeing materials, labour and services costs outstripping capacity. The cost of borrowing is high, we are about to embrace the biggest change to regulation for over a decade and the demands for asset investment are seismic – decency, safety, sustainability, all competing for that stretched £.

So why talk about the multi-faceted challenges landlords face when reflecting on how to meet the needs and preferences of customers? Well, you have to start with context – external context, operating context and internal organisation context. We all saw some early ball chasing in digital, some landlords talked about digital by default and actually made it difficult for customers to connect through any of methods. Then we had those who threw the kitchen sink at digitalisation, and went all omni channel. Great if those channels are aligned to customers’ needs and preferences, but less great if they are just multiple methods of contact.

The bottom line is it hasn’t worked, and the sector hasn’t got it right. Housemark data has told that story really effectively with a long-standing digital shift sitting for years at just under a quarter, spiking during the pandemic for obvious reasons, dropping off again and now creeping at a glacial pace at just over a third of all contacts. Of course, there are exceptions, but fundamentally the sector has been slow to change. There are many published reasons why digitalisation fails, here’s a few from a recent study – change resistance, knowledge of customers, cautious risk management, organisation agility and transformation and technology vision. So meaningful digitalisation remains largely in the ‘too difficult’ box, requiring systemic change.

There is a catch 22 for sure, as you need to understand customers’ needs and preferences to offer channel of choice and a customer experience that delivers trust, but if you don’t know your customers, it tough to know where to start.

I’m really excited to be speaking at Housemark’s, exclusive, sector leading Data Summit on 9 November with Prodo, where myself and Hannah Harvey, seasoned Chief Operating Officer will be showing you how. How the sector can quickly get arms around customer data to drive service experience and how real capacity can be unlocked to support complex agendas and meet the needs of those who are digitally excluded or have different needs.  Ultimately getting this right builds trust and the work we do with customers across the sector, tells us how important that is. Transparent, accessible, accountability engagement and service delivery – it’s easy right ? We can’t wait to explore this further next week, hope to see you there.

Amanda Leonard – Prodo sector transformation expert

Last chance to book your place at the Housing Data and Analytics Summit!

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