Suppliers to the public sector are all used to the usual March/April flurry of customer activity – using up the ‘leftovers’ in the old budget or getting on with long-awaited projects as soon as the new budget is available. But this year, suppliers have been experiencing even more interest than usual.
There seems to be more to this than simply budget timing and our customers are telling us that there are three key reasons.
First, the last two years of uncertainty and constraint mean there is now some real catching up to do. After the announcement that the TSA was to be disbanded, there was a long period of uncertainty about the priorities and focus of future regulation. It is now clear that landlords can develop their own priorities and plans for resident engagement and service delivery, without the previous framework of the Audit Commission’s Key Lines of Enquiry and the like. This new environment took time for them to recognise and respond to, but now there is a real sense of liberation as they take ownership of their plans and move forward with energy and enthusiasm.
Targeted service delivery
Second, there is an increased focus on targeting services effectively. To many, this means profiling their customers; understanding which combinations of profiling criteria can be used to predict their customers’ needs and behaviours, and then tailoring the services offered to meet those needs and behaviours. The aim is not just to improve the accuracy and cost effectiveness of the service delivery process, but to ensure those services are truly meeting the needs of their residents.
Value for money
And third, in the current economy everyone is striving to get the best value from the limited funds they have available. In the context of resident involvement, customer feedback and targeted service delivery, this is best achieved by: effective data capture, processing and interpretation; making good use of staff time; minimising the cost of service delivery; and maximising the benefits to residents. In many cases this means carefully selected investment in systems to support their service delivery teams.
Profiles that matter
To varying degrees, all landlords have collected profiling data on their residents. This has been driven by the need to provide evidence that residents of different diversities are being treated equally and fairly. This ‘six strand’ data on gender, age, ethnicity, etc is fine for that purpose but often of little help in identifying the needs and behaviours which determine residents’ service requirements.
In the commercial world, retailers, for example, are keen to know our interests, lifestyles, economic status, purchasing history, or reading and viewing preferences in order to predict our buying habits. They can then target their marketing at those of us who are most likely to be interested. The challenge for landlords is to identify what information they need to collect about residents in order to predict their service needs.
Residents will need reassurance that any data collected will not (in fact, cannot under data protection rules) be used to bombard them with advertising from third parties. Using software to ‘join up’ information collected from profiling and other surveys, with the existing resident database and build up a picture of interests and preferences is a good start. But more research is needed to increase our understanding of what really matters.
Efficient use of data
The use of more sophisticated databases within housing management or data warehousing systems is increasing, but it is the ease of access to the raw data (‘What are Mr Smith’s interests?’), to consolidated reports (‘Mailing list of all those interested in A and living in B’), and to analysis and interpretation of the data (‘What distinguishes the users of service X from the users of service Y?’) which is often the weakness. Front-line staff will need to easily access and use this data as part of their daily routine in the future.
So, in summary, in a difficult economic climate, landlords are increasingly prepared to invest in meaningful customer profiling and use the resulting data to help them achieve greater cost effectiveness and service delivery excellence.
Alan Marshall is managing director of Arena Partnership.