The Communication Conundrum

One of the most mystifying elements of working in/for/with a social landlord is the masochistic tendencies our beloved sector has in relation to customer communications. In particular it is the largely futile practices of customer newsletters that earn my general ire. Even then it’s not the actual concept that bothers me, it’s the lousy execution.

Other than an exercise to keep already busy comms people tied up, unless there is a strategic reason for doing newsletters, brochures or e-shots there is no point in producing them. One of my favourite quotes of all time is largely attributed to Rear Admiral Grace Hooper and is beautifully displayed below. This often seems to be the case for the constant stream of irrelevant items that get sent out to our customers. The frustrating thing is these attempts at engaging with our customer base are largely not worth the effort because they are a shotgun approach as opposed to a targeted one. With our efforts consigned to the dustbin as soon as they are delivered. But, with a bit of refinement, they could deliver a number of business objectives.

Taken from Fighting “We’ve Always Done It This Way” in Workplaces & Baseball by Mark Graban (2014).
Taken from Fighting “We’ve Always Done It This Way” in Workplaces & Baseball by Mark Graban (2014).

To understand my point I will give you an example. I’m one of those sad people who spends their spare time in a big building full of sweaty people repetitively lifting, and then putting down, heavy objects. To help my body recover I regular order whey protein supplements. I’ve used the same supplier for years for a number of reasons;

  1. It’s cheap
  2. They regularly have offers I can use to make my purchases a little bit cheaper
  3. They email me, but only about relevent bits/offers (spoiler alert, this is the key bit)

Whilst some social landlords are heavily concentrated in particular geographical locations (you lucky guys and girls), increasingly many housing providers are not. If you are insistent on sending out information, you need to make sure it is relevant. To do that you need to pay better attention to your data. Sending out newsletters filled with job seminars/workshops to your over 70s population is probably not going to yield great results. Similarly hitting up your u35 population with your next nit-wear/crochet classes isn’t probably going to be a hit either. Although you can never account for hipsters, who just may well love that type of thing.

However, what you can do is look at all customers who reported repairs on boilers/water-pipes last year and make sure any communications they get include tips on how not to shock their boiler into action this winter. Similarly, all of those households who have reported mould/damp/condensation issues can get a handy guide to reducing the impact of those aforementioned issues. Crucially you can do this electronically by either A) emailing said comms out or B) texting with a hyperlink. Both are reliant on smartphones/computer access. Both won’t hit all customers but this approach will save you a lot of money (which you can then use to still hit that small group who have neither via post).

Probably the most apt example of the power of targeted comms I can use is the fact that there’s a person in the south of England who now has a job because of a targeted text out by my organisation. The text literally cost pennies, the results, if not life changing, were life helping.

In sum by doing the above you can:

  1. Save money by reducing postal mail outs (if you haven’t already)
  2. Increase interest in your ‘message’ by providing relevant targeted comms
  3. Change someone’s life for the better

But for god’s sake, don’t just carry on doing the same old thing. Because trust me, it needs to change.

You can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.


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