Housing Technology interviewed Keith Saunders, MIS-AMS’ new leader of customer support after, as gamekeeper turned poacher, he joined the software supplier in April 2017 after 30 years of working in-house at different housing providers.
Have you always been interested in IT?
Like a lot of people, I fell into IT almost by accident. Until April 2017, I had worked in housing associations for 30 years, starting as a fresh-faced 16 year-old trainee at Phoenix Housing in Stockton-on-Tees.
In the 1980s, when IT systems were just starting to become more common in the housing sector, I used to sit alongside the programmer from the software house we used because I was interested in what he was doing. I was one of only 10 people at my school who did computer studies, so it was a natural route for me to follow, even if unplanned. It wasn’t until the mid-90s that my role, in the newly-merged Tees Valley Housing Association, became purely IT-focused and I played a leading role in the implementation of the new organisation’s housing management system.
What is your new role?
I’m customer support team leader for MIS-AMS, based in Cheshire. Managing a team of ten first-, second- and third-line support staff, we provide full support, advice and guidance on all ActiveH desktop, web and mobile products for all customers, from the smallest to the largest with 56,000 properties.
How did you find your job?
It was almost by accident that I found my role at MIS-AMS. I’d applied for a role somewhere else via an agency that then tipped me off about this job. Within the hour, I had an interview arranged for the following day. I had an offer just over an hour after the interview and I started here the following week.
I remember a colleague during my days at Tees Valley Housing often talked about ‘good times being just around the corner’ and ‘it’s all in the timing’. He certainly wasn’t wrong on this occasion about the timing, although it’s a long corner from Teesside to Cheshire.
What’s the main difference moving from in-house to supplier-side?
I think the main difference is the variety of issues that you see coming through. As an IT manager, you are very focused on the issues that are affecting you, and while you might appreciate that others will be having different issues with the same supplier, you are only bothered about yours being resolved. As customer support leader, I have to understand that every customer is individual and that they are all as important as each other.
It’s a plate-spinning exercise at times, but one that is made much easier by having such a strong, customer-focused team around me. Also working for an IT supplier requires that extra bit of forward thinking. For example, we are all aware that GDPR is going to affect us in May 2018, but as the supplier of a housing management system to so many organisations, we must be one step ahead in preparing our systems for that.
For me, the main difference is the flexibility afforded to me to get involved in different things and influence what is going on within the organisation, as well as being able to manage the resources I have available to me in the way I see as most appropriate. I’m just 16 weeks in to the role and I love the challenges being presented to me both internally and by our customers.
What do you bring to the role that someone who hasn’t worked in housing can't?
None of the members within the MIS-AMS customer support team has been employed within a housing association; that’s where my 30 years’ experience really comes in to play. I understand what our customers are trying to achieve when they raise a query or if they want the system to work in a particular way.
I’m able to work through issues with members of the team and explain to them how a process works within the sector, and how customers might be trying to carry out a process on our systems. I’m also able to translate many of the acronyms and phrases used within the sector (and often used in the logging of support calls) into plain English.
What do you hope for the future?
We are working on our new ActiveH Web system. I’m hoping that this will give our customers even greater power to use our systems in the way that they want to, giving them extra flexibility to meet the demands of their tenants.
I’m also hoping to continually improve the support we offer to our customers, both in terms of performance and quality. I’ve joined a very high-performing organisation, but I want to move this on to the next level, and I know I have the full support of the management team here to enable me to do that.
How can customers work more closely with suppliers to benefit each other?
As a previous customer of many of the main suppliers in the sector, over the years I’ve seen the good and the not-so-good in terms of customer engagement.
From a support point of view on our ActiveH product, I can see real benefits arising from more conversations between customers and our support team, allowing us to resolve issues raised more efficiently through the understanding of the issue, and the details behind it. Support issues are often raised through email or web portals and not enough detail is given. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the customer, but also the supplier for not requesting it in the first place. I want to work with our customers to let them know what they can do to help me help them.
Keith Saunders is the customer support leader at MIS Active Management Systems.