Things are changing...

Right now across the social housing sector in the UK, many organisations are in a panic about how they are going to be able to meet the new regulatory requirements on Tenant Satisfaction Measures (TSMs). These prescribe a series of 12 survey questions and ten pieces of organisational data that every housing association should measure to understand if they are performing effectively. From my conversations with other housing associations, I can see that some are viewing this as little more than a tick box exercise, something that has to be processed transactionally as one would with a shopping list. 

But what if the social housing sector could use this moment to revise our entire approach to our customers? To inject a bit more care and meaning into how we assemble and use this information?  

On the front foot

For the last three years at Futures, we have been asking our customers some deep questions about how they feel about our services: everything from the ease of dealing with us, how helpful and friendly we are, to how much we’re trusted to do what we say we will and the perceived value for money of our rent charges. Around 2,000 customers a year have taken part in this survey – many times higher than the prescribed minimum participation rate set by the regulator – and the results have been rocket fuel for improvement activities that we have been able to deliver. For example, we have: 

  • replaced our entire repairs booking and scheduling system with one which enables better end-to-end visibility of customer repair jobs from our staff, in response to feedback about our customers needing more information on the progress of their repair jobs. 
  • created a new Tenancy Support team to bring together a number of different support functions in response to the range of complex needs customers had told us they had, including needing more help with skills, confidence and wellbeing as well as managing financially. 
  • restructured our Customer Services team to provide greater specialisation for certain types of expertise and free up more time for taking calls, in response to customer feedback about the time taken for us to respond to requests. 
  • introduced a range of online self-help tools covering a wide range of answers to frequently asked questions (including videos), in response to customer feedback about frustrations at having to wait in a call queue to ask simple questions. 

Had we not put the time and investment into gathering this depth of feedback, we would not confidently be able to say that we have truly listened to our customers. Nor would we be able to identify the difference made by any improvements. Evidence shows that this is working – comparing our overall customer satisfaction level with the average of 30 similar housing associations across the UK shows that we have been consistently above average for over a year.  

How we measure up

We’ve also recently been recognised in our efforts to improve the service to our customers by becoming finalists in this year’s UK Customer Satisfaction Awards, for the category ’Best use of insight’, alongside a number of national organisations. I’m delighted that the work we’ve done to create a culture of improvement is enabling us to hold our head high against organisations that presumably have much larger budgets and resourcing than us as a non-profit organisation. 

Only five of the 100 or so finalists in these awards are organisations that offer social housing. Yet, according to the regulator, there are currently over 1,600 registered providers of social housing in the UK. This suggests to me a huge opportunity for housing providers to take this moment to do something different. 

It is clear to me from the years that I’ve worked at Futures, that there is so much we can achieve by putting the customer at the forefront of our service and process design. While I’m under no illusion that there is still more to do, I’m excited to work for an organisation that genuinely wants to do better. 

The way ahead

Therefore I’m happy to say that at Futures will be taking a ‘TSM plus’ approach to the new regulation – not bound by the minimally prescribed standards but going beyond them, continuing to ask a wide range of questions to a wide range of customers, and continuing to measure the things we have learned matter to our customers over the last three years. I’m eager to use this knowledge to make a real difference, and to convince those in other organisations to free themselves from simply ticking boxes!