The Future is Here, and it isn’t Garlic Bread

It is something of a cliché to say that social housing and technology do not always go hand in hand.  We either end up spending a lot of money trying to fit square pegs in round holes. only to forget about integrating the ‘next big thing’ when a new fad hits, or we go foetal and hope the server huggers in IT will sort things out.

We also don’t really get the whole innovation thing others have sufficiently ruined the use of the term but it should be re-stated that as a sector we use the ‘I’ word far too often.  It is not innovative if you suddenly start doing something that has been common place in other business sectors for years.  In case you were wondering about some examples (I know you were) please see below:

  • Your website – Just because it no longer looks like it was built when Windows 98 was king doesn’t mean it is innovative. What is its functionality like?
  • Your app – You probably overpaid for this bad boy and it probably doesn’t do what you want it to do.  What it can do is push a lot of emails out instead of linking with your back office systems. Still you’ve an app, you’re cool…right?
  • Your housing management system – When did you last look at this behemoth? At a time when you might have been merging doesn’t count.
  • The way you undertake satisfaction surveys – No, moving from paper based surveys isn’t super kawaii. It is about 5 (maybe more) years too late.

Now that I have your attention…

The above shouldn’t really be news to you, if it is and you are senior/well paid can I have your job?  But as a sector we are often happy to be seen as ‘close followers’ (a better term would be belated followers) rather than ‘early adapters’ or ‘true innovators’ (sorry, I promise to buy a thesaurus soon…).  Those who tend to think/promote different approaches get set upon in something akin to the villagers and Frankenstein in erm…Frankenstein.  People who spring to mind are Nick Aitkin at Halton, Peter Marsh, Peter Hall and anything from the Bromford Lab.  This is odd as our business model has for decades been one of the safest out there.  Which in theory should have enabled us to step out into some big balls R and D.  Alas not.

Like most social landlords Orbit, the organisation that very kindly keeps me out of mischief, carries out satisfaction surveys on the services it provides.  Typically this is done via phone, a costly approach that provides rich but limited data.  As part of a drive to improve the services we provide and I do sincerely apologise for the bullshit bingo here.  We are currently in the midst of trialling a real-time multi-channel feedback approach.

Sounds great, but what does that entail exactly?

Instead of having a time lag between service interaction, surveying and results, something that is useful for long-term trend analysis but not great for service improvement.  All of the above is now condensed into a 24-48hr period (mostly, we’re still working out the kinks and for some services this won’t be possible).  Gone are the 21 questions, a simple 1 – 5 scale prod and a ‘how was it for you bae‘ type question are all that remain. Method of contact is linked to either A) the way in which customer got in touch or B) their stated preferred choice. This enables us to get the customer’s viewpoint in their own words in the manner that they’re most comfortable with.  Even if it is just to say that we’re shit (I feel contractually obliged here to say that we really aren’t that bad!).

Here comes the geeky bit…

The real exciting thing about this project is the thinking that has gone behind the software.  Algorithms Black magic sort out meaning and context from the feedback we receive and will attach sentiment scores accordingly.  For example feedback like “Nice workman, but the job was not finished” will have a positive score for person/staff and a negative for job/repair/work. You then take these bits and define where they sit under thus enabling the quick identification of areas for improvement. The results are instantaneous, quantifiable and easy to interpret.  Quite simply it is chuffing brilliant.

Crucially instead of being locked away in the dark dungeons of the Performance Management/Business Excellence/Improvement Teams it is easily accessible to all and sundry. Check it out here.  I must give major props to the guys and gals over at Rant and Rave our partner for the pilot and the developer of the software we are using.  It is a thing of simplistic beauty.

To be clear, what we are doing is not innovative, this tech has been around for a while. This is about using what works, no re-inventing the wheel.  Regardless if early results are anything to go we will have significantly improved our understanding of our customers, the way we work and the services we provide.

If you feel so inclined you can follow me on Twitter here or find me using the handle @ngoodrich87, you can view the rest of my blogs here.


3 thoughts on “The Future is Here, and it isn’t Garlic Bread

  1. They say necessity is the mother of invention. Until recently, there’s been no necessity to change things in the social housing sector. That of course no longer the case, hence the sudden interest in all things Innovation! In the private sector staying still and (here’s my entry for bullsh*t bingo) ‘allowing your competitors to eat your lunch’ is a sure way to go out of business.

    I was chatting with Paul Taylor (of Bromford Lab fame) yesterday about how little competition there is in the market place for social housing systems. There’s a few key players, all with huge behemoths of systems that don’t iterate fast enough to keep up with our increasingly diverse needs. There’s a situation ripe for disruption!


    1. Very true! What is interesting is the increase in data warehouses and business analysis tools on top of housing management systems. Suggesting that current housing management systems are either unable to be adapted or too cumbersome. Here’s hoping for a great leap forward!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The Customer Kerfuffle | The Housing Blog

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