Stand and deliver

With the likes of Amazon delivering modern services that meet the needs of customers at a time and channel that’s convenient to them. Can housing providers do the same?

I’ve been Peabody’s Director of Operations for Thamesmead and South Region since 2016 and have strategic oversight for delivering services to 15,000 homes across 8 London Boroughs.

It is an incredibly rewarding and challenging role, and comes with a high level of scrutiny.

As housing providers, we have an increasingly diverse range of customers. We need to offer a choice of ways to access our services to suit all types of customers – from the most vulnerable people right through to those who can pay market rent or own their own home.

Housing associations need to embrace new and advancing technologies to meet the different needs of these groups.

However, we must remember that technology is the enabler to deliver services, and to support and respond to challenges, rather than being the driver for change. It is a means to an end rather than the end itself. The end is for people to live in a safe, comfortable home and to be able to engage with their landlord easily and conveniently.

Achieving this aspiration is not easy. But it is our duty to do everything we can to reach it.  The standards we hold ourselves to are matched by our customers.

Their expectations are rightly increasing, amplified by social media and in the context of providers of logistical consumer services like Amazon or Uber. To adequately meet these expectations, housing management services need to be transformed.

Gone will be the traditional Monday- Friday, 9am-5pm hours, but rather 8am-8pm, including weekend working to meet local service needs and the expectations of tenants and homeowners. Increasingly customers also expect to be able to contact us 24/7. To meet this challenge, we are exploring chat bots and automation, to complement our human interactions.

Many of our customers want self-service to log and track repair requests; pay their rent or service charges; manage anti-social behaviour issues and participate in online forums.

This enables services to be more responsive and efficient and provides us with data to improve quality and reduce costs. The more we can do this, the more we will reach our operational goals.

The massive increase in data we generate is providing us with valuable insight to improve service delivery and tailored housing solutions.

As a sector, we are getting smarter at managing this data, and this is a major focus for us all as the foundation of providing a reliable, modern service.

Home to over 45,000 residents, Thamesmead in South-East London is the perfect place to test new approaches and technologies.

Our regeneration plans are based on a “whole place” philosophy, so it isn’t just about building new homes, it is about improving life for existing residents.

We are the main landowner and landlord in the town, with a 30-year plan and are therefore thinking about how people might want to access and receive services in the future.

Most of our customers now use smart phones and other devices to access services and carry out transactions more than they use them to make phone calls.

Building on the success of the likes of Amazon, we are developing apps to capture and report incidents and enter a dialogue with the customer to resolve their issues swiftly and conveniently.

New trial projects in Thamesmead are already delivering improvements.

One is a device which ventilates, monitors moisture levels and operates autonomously providing benefit within homes. Initial results show that this significantly reduced condensation, damp and mould growth, leading to healthier, happier customers.

Another is a device that compacts refuse at a selected level, notifies our teams via smart phone when bins are full and need emptying.

The results are cleaner, tidier neighbourhoods, increased efficiencies and reduced operating costs as we work smarter by not attending sites unnecessarily to empty bins.

As I say though, technology is only a means to an end. We are not forgetting the importance of personal contact.

We want to deliver top-quality services, but we also want to be human and kind. Not just for the most vulnerable, but for those customers who simply prefer to talk and meet rather than access an application or website.

In summary, the housing sector can learn a great deal from Amazon. We can make a lot of progress with new technologies to help improve our operations.

A combination of technology and face-to-face will help us reach our shared goals – delivering first-class, modern, reliable and responsive services for our customers.