Unified communications has the power to change the dynamics of housing associations for the better. This is the message that ONI has been working to demonstrate across the sector by introducing new technologies that help reduce costs, maximise staff efficiency and drive customer service excellence. But what is the next stage of transformation for these organisations and what impact could this have on our tenant communities?
We are working with our clients to help empower and encourage their tenants to participate in decision-making by widening their platform for communication and information exchange. The focus of this article is therefore to introduce one of our clients and to consider how their open approach to customer engagement is starting to change the way they view the traditional boundaries of their organisation.
Improving customer satisfaction
Simon Walton is the director of housing services at Broxbourne Housing Association. BHA was formed following an LSVT from Broxbourne Council in January 2006 and in 2008 was awarded two stars and ‘promising prospects’ by the Audit Commission. Customer satisfaction has also risen to 89 per cent.
Simon Walton said, “To have such an impact on tenant services and satisfaction within a relatively short period is testament to the hard work and strong sense of customer service felt by our customer-facing teams. This is a good platform from which we want to continue to move forward with our residents.”
BHA recognises the introduction of the Tenant Services Authority as another sign that their customer-focused strategy is the right approach for the continued success of the organisation. Their tenants have a huge stake in the type and quality of the service provision, and Walton has been keen to ensure that as many tenants as possible can engage with the organisation in its future direction.
He said, “We all engage with our residents so that they can influence our decisions around service and policy. But we should also be looking to provide the capabilities for our tenants to collaborate with us 24/7, using the tools some already use in their daily lives such as the telephone and the internet. We can also improve the social lives of our residents via a variety of networking sites, financial inclusion via comparison websites, and the general life improvements internet access can bring.”
So what is the role of technology here? Web 2.0 refers to the second generation of the internet that facilitates information sharing, interoperability, user-centred design and collaboration on the web. The advent of Web 2.0 has led to the development of web-based communities and the sharing of web applications which has made sites such as Facebook and Twitter so central to the lives of so many today. Embracing this kind of approach is a vision that BHA believes will be central to the housing sector moving forward.
Walton explained, “In the current climate, it is becoming increasingly important that housing organisations look for innovative solutions to deal with challenges we face, especially where they can deliver greater value to our tenants. We should all be reaching out and engaging with our residents – technologies driven by the web are uniquely placed to offer better solutions for some of our customers at a fraction of the cost.”
Wider interaction and collaboration
The end is nigh for the internet simply as a one-way transfer of static information. Today the web is an interactive portal where work colleagues, partners, customers and peers alike have the power to engage in collaborative transactions regardless of time, location or hierarchy. People anywhere can be involved in innovative processes that reveal new ideas, improve strategy and direction and help drive customer experience. In this spirit, BHA is looking at how the collective conscience of their tenants can be used as a resource to bring new ideas and innovations to the organisation.
“We see this as an opportunity to improve the breadth and quality of the services we provide, but this also has the potential to deliver so much more. We want our tenants to be creative, to be involved in online community forums, to deliver new services such as a ‘furniture exchange’ for example, or even their own business opportunities. There is a lot of talent within our resident base that we can tap into, providing new perspectives that we may not have had access to before,” said Walton.
For example, housing providers today can spend thousands on new logo or corporate branding. BHA believes a new approach could be taken to the traditional procurement route, with a brief made available online to anyone who wishes to work on the project, with rewards offered for the best work.
Simon Walton concluded, “As designs are created online, real-time feedback can be given openly, allowing everyone to interpret that into their own work. The end results for BHA could be far better than traditional methods and with ‘reward’ money, a more cost-effective method of procurement. More importantly for us, we could just as well be gaining the expertise of a tenant in our community or a design student working in El Salvador.”
It is clear that the best solutions are often a product of many minds and perspectives, and the internet is uniquely geared to help engage outside the traditional boundaries of a business. With its diversity and potential, there must be ways for the housing sector to harness the internet for the good of the individual housing associations and their residents. If you are interested to explore how this could work for you, please do not hesitate to contact ONI.
Nick Boon is social housing team manager for ONI plc.