The need for increased digital engagement in the Housing sector


Oh my, how much has changed since our last Blog article on Idea Sourcing.  The Government has lost control to parliament, the MP’s are taking authority of the Brexit process and we are staring in the face of another general election.  As the world watches our appointed leaders bicker and dispute with one another, the humble citizens wonder if their voices are being heard and question if they could run the process better.  With all that has been going on over the last few months, it begs the questions – Is Customer or Citizen Engagement now an imperative in the consultation process and should organisations include the Customer or Citizen in improvement planning?

During recent discussions with several housing authorities it is now clearer than ever that organisations - both public and private – providing services to the citizen need to modernise the way that they engage.  To put it bluntly, organisations need to avoid the pitfalls being made by our friends (or enemies!) in parliament and adopt the mindsets of innovative commercial enterprises that see their customers’ opinions as a key component in their decision making.

Many housing organisations struggle to respond to challenges that their businesses and customers face quickly and efficiently.  Typically, when the customer makes contact it is to complete a simple task or provide some much-valued feedback.  Yet they have become accustomed to waiting on the phone in queues, being passed from place to place before completing a raft of paperwork that often leads to no service improvement.  This scenario must change and must change quickly or like many other industries that have faced disruption in the advent of the digital age, the housing sector will go through radical change and be threatened by new entrants that capitalise on the opportunities presented.

A recent survey revealed that 83% of UK citizens would like more access to public services via digital channels; and the further development of digital services is considered a priority for nearly three quarters of citizens.  Yes, the survey is public sector focused but the principle is also true for housing authorities.  Customers are looking for digital channels to engage and have their ideas heard.  Not lost in the ether of the call centre but consulted in a manner where collaboration is a key tenet, and feedback is consistently given.

The problem most organisations face when recognising the need to change is understanding what to do.  We often hear of organisations running leadership summits to thrash out some new ideas or small groups being established with responsibility for innovation across the business and in some cases, we are seeing new jobs roles such as Head of Innovation being created and handed sole responsibility.  However, we also continue to see a repeating pattern, namely the lack of a methodology or process to support the efforts.  In many cases there are also a lack of integrated business software tools that can help the process along.  An often-touted phrase in this regard is the principle of people, process and technology working in harmony to improve service levels.

What about the few housing companies that are introducing innovation?  Well, few have adopted a structured approach which is very surprising.  Innovation isn’t a thing we do once and forget about or something we can assign to a small group of people to own, it should be part of the culture, a consistent way of thinking.  One approach born out of a systems-based methodology, strives to do three critically important but inter-related things.  Firstly, engage everyone in the company in the process.  When people are encouraged to innovate, they remain engaged, when they feel empowered to use their brains and imagination creativity starts to flow and business transformation can take effect.  One study showed that over a six-month period when engaging a wider employee pool, factors such as courage, optimism and quality all improved.

Secondly, increase the speed to fail.  Not every idea will succeed but following a process that allows an idea to “fail fast” by identifying the reasons why that idea should not continue, allows the best ideas to find their ways to the top of the pile. Increased speed is important especially when considering the opportunities that digital transformation provides.  Digital tools allow you to create, validate, test and record outcomes in a fraction of the time of manual ideation processes.

Finally, have a set of steps that ensure risk is minimised.  The last thing we want is to introduce new ideas that increase risk into the business operations.  Research suggests that just 5 to 15% of innovation is successful, the odds of winning at a gaming table are higher!  So, if we believe that we need to innovate to stay in business we had better find a way of managing that risk in an appropriate way.

As housing authorities deepen their understanding of the capabilities of software that can deliver modern customer engagement, they will in turn make huge strides towards a digitally enabled future.  Customers want to be able to engage with their housing authorities in an easy and efficient way.  In today’s digital world this means offering mobile-first, online services, that can work with traditional customer service channels, in a consistent way.

Smartcrowds® from software company Bridgeall embodies these digital tools coupled with a proven methodology to help your business grow.  W atch out for our webinar discussing how one organisation in the housing sector can innovate through these proven techniques.


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