Suzanne Ralphson, head of programme delivery at Asra Housing Group, shares key messages from her company’s first digital open day, attended by more than 20 social housing professionals keen to drive digital transformation.
It was a privilege to welcome people from such a wide range of organisations across the country recently, to hear about Asra’s experience in pushing forward digital services. And there was a lot for us to learn too, from great businesses like GreenSquare, Midland Heart, Nottingham City Homes and One Manchester.
We shared five critical lessons from our part in the digital revolution so far:
1. Support from the top
A clear vision, unwavering senior-level support and clear, efficient governance structures are all essential parts of making the jump to becoming a digital first organisation. Knowing that Asra’s board and executive team are right behind us has empowered our team and other parts of the business to take an uncompromising approach, with free reign to sideline non-critical projects, re-engineer roles and retrain staff.
Resolute leadership from the top and strong decision-making have helped us to achieve a 10 per cent channel shift and be on track to reach 50 per cent by April 2019. Our communications and programme delivery teams now devote around 75 per cent of their time to digital projects.
2. Keep asking ‘why?’
Organisations wanting to transform the way they work through digital innovation need to be absolutely clear about what they’re trying to achieve and why. Is it about cutting costs, improving your customers’ experience, dealing with a merger or something else? It’s vital to keep on asking yourself (and answering) these questions. Otherwise, efforts can easily get distracted or drift off course. A project that’s just aimed at modernising IT systems will deliver very different outcomes to one that’s focused on transforming customer service.
At Asra, our aim was simply to improve the range of channels available to our customers and in so-doing reduce the cost of contact. So we started by getting a detailed understanding of the true costs of different sorts of contact with our customers. Compared to a letter (£10) or a phone call (£5), online transactions are a bargain at around 30p each.
We were also anxious to eliminate the need for some calls in the first place. By constantly asking ourselves ‘does this decision reduce calls?’ Asra has seen a 16 per cent drop in phone traffic, and 10 per cent of all our customer contact is now digital.
3. Involve everyone
Digital transformation is not just an ‘IT thing’. To achieve real, sustainable results, it needs to be a whole business issue, at the front of every department’s mind. Success comes from engaging with and mobilising the entire organisation to design and deliver the digital future.
The lively debate we had about whether to feature an online ‘refund button’ to alert customers entitled to money back showed how important this cross-function involvement is. It helped us realise that, by automatically telling a customer whether they’re eligible or not, it avoids unnecessary and wasted phone calls. So the button is there to stay, and we followed a similar approach in directing customers’ use of live chat.
By consulting with and listening to the full array of well-informed experts from every part of our business, we’ve made better decisions and been able to push ahead digital developments much faster and better.
4. Think and work visually
Using simple, visual methods to keep track of complex, multi-facetted projects helps stakeholders grasp what’s going on and be aware of the progress you’re making (or any delays and pitfalls). Enabling everyone to see the same, shared, real-time view of where things are at greatly reduces the scope for misunderstandings and competing interests.
At Asra, we’ve found the humble Post-It to be one of the most valuable tools for planning and working out tricky problems. There’s something uniquely accessible and empowering about being able to move those brightly-coloured stickies around until you find the right or best answer!
5. Keep it simple
This is probably the best advice for most things in life, but it definitely applies to digital transformation. You have to be sure that you aren’t creating new problems while you’re busy solving the old ones.
Whatever web, mobile, app or other system you create, it has to be as simple and intuitive as possible. Otherwise, you run the risk of shifting customers online, only to have them straight back on the phone because they can’t find or work out how to do what they want digitally. Simplicity should mean timesaving – a huge incentive for both customers and the organisation.
Asra’s housing registration process now involves just two steps, and our online rent statements automatically show payment reference numbers, to help customers keep track of transactions. Prominent ‘call to action’ buttons and logical, easy-view layouts help customers to navigate through their enquiries. For example, to guide residents contacting us about car parking issues, we show photos online of what people can expect, what’s acceptable and what’s not.
These five lessons have helped us to make huge strides at Asra, and we’re proud of our work as digital pioneers in the housing sector. But we’ve still got a long way to go and are keen to keep on sharing our journey with similar organisations.
Suzanne Raphson is head of programme delivery at Asra Housing Group.