5 Reasons Why Your Data Needs An Overhaul

If this article sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve written about data before. Still, it seems as a sector the message isn’t quite getting through. So, once more unto the breach my friend.

1 Accept Your Data Isn’t That Great

Despite holding a huge array of information Social Landlords remain poor at maintaining it. A bit like a teenage boy encountering his first bra. We fumble around in the dark a bit, tell ourselves other people struggle just as badly and hope we haven’t completely put off the poor lass trying (and failing) to unclip that tricky double clasp.

2 Get Your Data Out of That Silo

No doubt there are a number of people in your organisation who get data. Sadly they tend to fall into 2 groups. 1) The Smeagols, their ‘precious’ is not to be messed with. You can look at the data, but you can’t touch it as you’ll mess things up. God forbid if you want to amend anything. This OCD approach to keeping data ‘perfect’ helps no one. 2) The hardcore geek, frantically trying to keep order but unable to get buy-in from anyone outside their team. Siloed away this potential resource is perennially ignored until it’s end of year reporting time. Getting all parts of your organisation to understand the importance of data, and guide them how to use it is essential. Otherwise you might as well go pee into the proverbial wind.

3 – Your Training Needs a Refresh

Let’s face it, when people start a new job they are bombarded with information. A week to 2 weeks of ramning home compulsory training and corporate indoctrination is not the best environment to induce learning. Alas this is when people tend to get their system/data use training. And frankly you can give people all the training in the world and they will ignore it and just copy the person next to them.

4 – Customer Segmentation is a rule of thumb, not an absolute

Like Tamagotchis, Pokeman and Yoyos odd trends in data come in and out of fashion. Customer segmentation is a perfect example of this. It must be said that CS is a very useful tool. But, and it is a big but. CS is a guide, it is not definitive. In legal speak it is a burden of proof that is on the balance of probabilities, not something that is beyond all reasonable doubt. Remind senior staff this when they start throwing buzzwords around. It is embaressing when you go to external events and hear people chat crap on this topic. Stop it. Stop it now. Ps it wasn’t anyone from my organisation, thank the maker.

5 – Bad Data In, Bad Data Out

Strange as it seems if you pump your housing management system full of crap, it will give you crap. Whilst most data systems have validation rules you can put in place, you’d be amazed at how creative people get when wanting to get round things they find burdensome. It’s not just Investment Banks and expensive lawyers who can find loopholes. This ties into point 3, I would back it up with carrots and big nasty sticks to ensure compliance.

So there you have it. If this is sounding horribly familiar, unlucky. But acceptance is the first part of the grieving process. After which you might start to resolve the issues at hand.

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The Customer Kerfuffle

 

It is clear this Government favours a shift to providing homes for home-ownership and not rent. Whilst many have (quite rightly) raised concerns about the future direction of the sector/provision of housing for the most vulnerable. And others have (again, quite rightly said for God’s sake let’s just get on with it). A significant side effect will be the change to both the internal organisation dynamic and the relationship between the business and the ‘customer’.

Sadly Elizabeth Spring was largely ‘on point’ when noting the disjuncture between social rent tenant, their ‘voice’/ability to influence and how others often see them. The majority of social landlords do try to give the customer a voice, but to varying degrees of success. Sometimes it is a cynically superficial process. Often where that is the case it reflects the culture of the organisation and those who work in its upper echelons. Happily this is not the case where I work.

However, as the push towards providing for ownership gathers pace, so too will be the temptation to water down the voice of those who ultimately pay our wages. The current regulator focus is certainly not on the customer experience. I doubt after this Government puts in place whatever is required to clear off our debt from its balance sheet it will suddenly do so either. When home ownership is the new driver who cares about tenant scrutiny? Particularly when the majority of future customers may well own and not rent their property? Certainly not them. Beyond the post purchase defects period there is little need for contact between buyer and seller.

But this needn’t be the case and it was heartening to see Sally Gibson’s piece arguing for how residents can be/and are being included. Regardless, for organisations managing this transition will be key. One of the most frustrating things about social housing is the lack of its ability to move at pace when required. If you haven’t picked up Boris Worrall’s promo piece for the IT in Housing Conference and Exhibition I suggest you do. He wasn’t wrong when noting that external stimuli (in this case the 1% cut in our rents) is often needed to push the sector to do, well anything. Noting that any refocusing/business transformation needs to zone in on a user experience  is probably not a bad shout either. But this moment of ‘existential clarification’ also needs to go further.

As a sector we have always been too paternalistic in our approaches to our relationships with customers (note the deliberate use of the plural form of relationship). They tend to hover somewhere between thinking we know what is best for the customer and treating them like a naughty child. To change this it is absolutely necessary to put that customer voice front and centre. We just need to re-write how we do that.

I am lucky enough to be part of a team that is overseeing a fundamental shift in how my organisation accumulates customer feedback and uses it (that is the key part). It is goddamn light-years ahead of where most of the sector is at. Yet many private organisations have been using it for years. Our core business model hasn’t changed a lot over the years, something that has stifled our creativity somewhat. But the context in which we operate, the hows, the wheres, the whys, these have evolved substantially. Until we accept that political change, digital change and customer influence have moved way beyond where they were many moons ago we will continue to find ourselves out of kilter.

A move towards building more home ownership and shared ownership properties (whether we like it or not), and a hefty cut in the rents we can charge may be the nadir we need as sector to finally re-adjust how we interact with our customer base. Necessity, as they say, is truly the mother of invention. As Terrie Alafat has stated, we need to (yet again) rise to set of tricky challenges. Hopefully we can come out on top, leaner, fitter and better at what we do. Otherwise it will be a very long 5-10 years with this lot in charge.

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