We must get a deeper understanding of customer needs if we are to help them through the challenges of today

Deborah Owen-Ellis Clark, 19 July 2023

Aiming to always do the right thing is part of a culture. It’s a philosophy that puts customers, colleagues and clients at the heart of everything we do. This is underpinned by our commitment to make sure everyone is welcome, everyone is important, everyone is supported, and everyone can thrive.   

To borrow a phrase from Places for People’s Chief Executive, “We don’t always need to be right, but we always need to do the right thing.” Especially today as our customers seek to weather macroeconomic storms.  

Challenges on the horizon   

With an unsettled political landscape, fears for the economy, and well-documented increased living costs, there is an acute need for housing associations to support customers through this.    

It’s not just about the four walls in which customers live it’s about understanding exactly who they are and what they need from us, so their homes are safe and secure and we can support them in leading healthy lives.   

In the past year, we’ve seen customers being faced with astronomical energy cost rises, the consequences of ageing housing stock and rising inflation, and whilst we all provide great initiatives, we need to do even more to understand who our customers are and use our networks and platforms to drive change.    

At Places for People, we strive to have meaningful dialogue with our customers to allow us to take action to help people when they need it. We are constantly evolving to get to the centre of our customers’ challenges be that through our Service Improvement Group, which meets monthly to consider changes we can make to improve services for our customers or our National Customer Group. Established in 2020, the latter has a strategic overview and influence on critical issues, policies and strategic priorities affecting customers in affordable housing.  

It’s only by listening intently when our customers tell us what’s happening in their homes that we can take that insight to positively influence change at the highest level and break down the stigma against social housing.   

As the Chair of the recently formed NHF’s - Customer Experience and Housing Management Group, I’m committed to addressing this matter head-on. 

Customer journey    

How will businesses gain that deeper understanding? The key is being transparent and willing to listen to home truths and share those amongst our peers.  

Many of our lessons learned this past year came from customer complaints, satisfaction surveys, and focus groups. Robust data management is likewise essential in allowing us to work better with our customers. This helps to provide a greater understanding of needs and helps us to identify seasonal trends and better prepare for economic changes.  

A willingness to engage is what will truly make a change. We need to nurture a grassroots, in-house, cultural shift one in which our colleagues are empowered to make swift decisions to help customers. I’m excited that we have this new cross-sector group which exists to lead, inform and influence the work on housing management, customer service and resident engagement, and hopefully, influence wider change.   

This group is ready to make a lasting impact and will play an essential role in shaping policy decisions and member engagement on the new consumer regulation regime. We’re ready to shape measures in the Social Housing Regulation Bill, Renters Reform Bill and aid in the response to the recommendations of the Better Social Housing Review around customer service and resident engagement.   

To share your insights contact Jo Allen, Head of Member Relations.