The digital revolution of the last century has brought endless benefits for most of us. Technology has put devices on our desks and in our pockets that allow us to video chat with people around the world, pay bills, share pictures of our lunch, check the weather, book a flight…the list is endless. We have choice and power at our fingertips that was unimaginable just a generation ago.
In the workplace the changes have been just as revolutionary. As leaders we now have boundless data and insights that can tell us in minute detail what our customers are doing and how we are performing. This is really powerful in helping organisations to improve and deliver on their promises. We don’t always get it right of course, but if we don’t we can also see where and how we get it wrong.
But surrounded by all this data are we at risk of losing sight of the real picture? Knowing how quickly your teams have answered the phone is great – but did the person on the other end hang-up thinking we’d done a good job? Numbers can tell us a lot – but do they really shed light on how people feel? And are we so tuned into charts and statistics that we also lose our emotional connection to what we do and how it affects our customers?
I work in housing as you hopefully know. In the UK we tend to see homes first and foremost as a commodity – something to be bought, sold and traded. And when you have thousands of homes, as my organisation does, that feeling can all too easily be reinforced. However, we all live somewhere and inevitably the place where we spend so much of our time becomes important to us. We develop a connection – feelings for our home. When things go wrong and our home doesn’t meet our needs, or becomes a source of stress or even fear, then of course that is bound to affect how we feel.
So as housing providers we cannot afford to lose sight of our customers’ emotional relationship with their homes. If their home is making them and their family miserable, that is going to cast a cloud over their whole lives. It’s something we truly must not ignore. The media has been swamped with horror stories this year where landlords – often housing associations – have failed to deal with poor housing. I’m sure the majority are working hard to tackle the technical issues causing these faults. But if the occupants feel the need to share their misery with the papers, then we are clearly missing something as a sector.
I can’t confess that we have all the answers at Futures. But we’re trying and we do put listening to our customers front and centre. We get the data but we are also trying to understand the feelings of our customers too. This year we’ve piloted a new approach using video. We asked an independent company to support customers to make video diaries about themselves and their relationship with their home, their community, and us as their landlord. We also commissioned a series of more in-depth interviews with those who felt more comfortable in front of the camera.
The results may not be ‘scientific’ or measurable – but they have taken our knowledge and understanding of how our customers actually feel to a new level. Some of the footage was shared with our Board recently and the response has been fantastic. There is often talk of ‘back to the floor’ exercises for those in senior positions. This turned the tables and brought the ‘customer perspective’ to the heart of the boardroom.
Not everything we heard was positive or comfortable. But we listened and most importantly what we heard has had an effect in new and powerful ways. So by all means value your spreadsheets and charts – but don’t forget that lived experiences don’t always crunch down into numbers.