For many years, the measurement of customer satisfaction (CSAT) has played an important and high-profile role in the housing sector. Most RSLs publish annual CSAT targets, for both repairs and ‘overall satisfaction’, and they publish their attainment against those targets. There’s a regulatory imperative behind this and, of course, CSAT provides a useful barometer of ongoing performance and quality, but what else could be, or should be, derived from gathering feedback? And what can be done to ensure feedback is representative and actionable, rather than just an annual statistic?
Why ask for feedback?
The high profile of CSAT in social housing is interesting, especially given the contrasts with the commercial sector. You can read reviews of almost any product or service these days, and we know that CSAT in many walks of life has a direct impact on sales, reputation, retention, referrals and so on. But given that most housing providers have more demand than they can cope with, rents are largely regulated, and the concepts of upsell/x-sell/repeat-purchase don’t really apply, it raises the question, “In housing, what are we actually trying to achieve by gathering feedback?”
Of course, most RSLs are genuinely committed to providing a great service and want to measure their CSAT for all sorts of good reasons. We also know that happy customers cost less to serve, that long tenures are cost-effective and that advocacy and reputation have tangible values. So how can you make sure your customers’ voices are heard?
Putting aside the (sometimes controversial) variations in the way CSAT is calculated from the available data, there are also variations in the mechanisms by which feedback is collected. In many cases, it involves monthly surveys of randomly selected customers using phone, email or even post. Apart from the significant cost of this approach, the response rates are low and as time passes, we know that negative experiences are recalled more readily than positive ones. It’s also largely unactionable feedback, certainly on a case-by-case basis for repairs, because the experience happened days or weeks ago, and the comments are seldom linked directly to a job ID or a specific colleague.
In some cases, repairs operatives are asked to hand their tablet to the customer before they leave, asking them to complete a questionnaire – effectively asking “how did I do?”. For obvious reasons, this approach is unlikely to be particularly accurate when the operative is still in the room.
What’s in it for the customer?
When you think about the objectives behind gathering feedback, the interests and motivations of the customer really should be paramount. If customers become conditioned to their feedback being listened to and acted on, they are more likely to take the trouble to provide it, and their perception of their landlord will be dramatically improved – “These people are actually listening to me!” If they think that their feedback simply ends up lost in an annual statistic, why should they bother in the first place?
What makes for good feedback?
- Timing – ask for feedback immediately after the experience (repair, housing officer visit, lettings appointment, etc), but not while the colleague is still at the property. Prompt feedback requests get more responses, better reflect the moment and, importantly, mean that actions can be taken quickly and efficiently in the case of problems.
- Keep it simple and convenient – ask for a rating out of five, plus what was good and what needs improvement; just three questions. The more questions you ask, the fewer the responses. Make the process easy and use a channel that’s convenient for the customer to use.
- Make it actionable – perhaps the most important aspect of all. If customers don’t think you’re listening, they won’t bother. If you use automated back-office alerts for poor feedback, you can act promptly and therefore at a lower cost, and your customers will be delighted (and amazed). This also avoids survey fatigue.
- Make it personal – ensure feedback is linked to individual colleagues so you can identify training needs and spot trends, either good or bad.
- Assess frequently – look at your feedback ratings, by function, team and individual, all the time so you can make changes quickly; an annual ‘ta-da!’ moment for the past year’s stats will not support dynamic change.
- Ask everyone, always – don’t just ask a random sample; by definition, you’ll leave gaps and will dilute validity.
- Use technology to make it affordable – you can’t phone all of your customers all of the time; it’s too expensive as well as being invasive and ineffective. Make feedback an automated part of a digital communications process linked to every appointment.
In summary: timely, simple and actionable mass feedback will provide a real-time guiding light for your operations and, above all, will support an amazing customer experience. After a problematic experience, if you react quickly to make amends then you’ll turn a disgruntled customer into a long-term advocate.
Paul Swannell is the sales director at Localz.