Digital transformation to improve customer experiences in housing isn’t about the tech. It’s about creating advocates, staying curious and empowering employees.

Housing associations know all too well that their customers, as well as their customers’ expectations, have changed. Unaffordability of homes in the UK, access to technology across every demographic, and the fact that retail is the main benchmark that everyone bases good customer experience on, have all contributed to a seismic shift in focus.

For housing providers, technology is a key part of the answer to keeping up with the rapid pace of change. It provides customers with convenient and easy access to the information they seek or the options that will solve their problem. And fast.

But it’s not just about the technology. Using empathy-based design rather than process- or policy-based design focuses on the desired experiences of tenants rather than the digital mechanisms going on behind the scenes that enable them. Along with the vast amounts of data now available to housing providers, this actionable insight improves how decisions are made, and how quickly. As a result, the experiences of customers are transformed and the costs to operate are lowered.

Since 2012 I have been helping housing organisations to get value from their digital transformations and to make better sense of their data. And I’d like to clear up a misconception: ‘digital’ doesn’t just mean the technology. Digital is making things as easy as possible from a human perspective. It’s vital for housing providers to humanise their technology rather than using it to compound a process or a policy. Only then can they make a difference to how someone interacts with that technology.

Selling advocacy

While it’s useful to compare customer experience in housing with that in retail, it’s important to appreciate a major difference in what’s being sold. Because, unlike in retail, customer experience in the public sector isn’t about exciting technology or creative visuals to promote a product. It’s all about making an interaction less painful.

Yes, fix first time and resolution on first point of contact are vitally important. But so is knowing which lift is going to break down next and fixing it before anyone gets stranded on the 15th floor. Of course the customer doesn’t see this kind of improvement in their experience. But by using predictive analysis to make predictive repairs across its assets, housing providers are improving CX just as much as when their website gives their tenants what they need so they can leave as quickly as possible.

This kind of approach turns tenants into fans. And fans into advocates. And because word of mouth matters in housing, brand reputation becomes more and more relevant as customer expectations change.

Being curious

In How digital transformation delivers an experience led housing service, I share how becoming more efficient and delivering customer experience needn’t be mutually exclusive. Building insights, not assumptions, is critical to delivering a more personal, human experience for tenants.

Armed with these customer insights, housing providers can stay ahead of the rapidly evolving expectations of their customers. I believe the world of design thinking, which involves accelerating the pace of solution design, testing early and learning quickly from customer feedback, is part of the answer.

Design thinking is an iterative approach that starts with gaining a deep understanding of your customers. Who are they? What are their specific needs? What’s the context in which they will interact with your service? Developing prototypes that you can continually test with customers to refining the design is vital. To accelerate the change, design thinking is run through agile, iterative sprints, moving from ideation to design and testing with customers. This allows for proposed solutions to be tested in the market at pace to increase the level of certainty before any significant investment is made.

Employee empowerment

Design thinking can also have a positive impact on the culture and ways of working of housing providers themselves. Establishing cross-functional teams starts to reduce organisation silos, develop customer empathy and a wider understanding of business challenges that could improve the ability of functional areas to deliver a great experience.

This can start to encourage employees to gravitate towards responding to customer demand as opposed to their traditional business model. And it can shine a light on some organisational barriers that are impacting success. Empowering employees to incubate ideas and touch and feel the change can allow for a new culture to emerge and deliver an even more engaging experience.

Better, faster decisions

Savvy housing providers are using digital to re-think their design processes to better respond to the needs of their customers both today and tomorrow. Insight driven change, designed with the customer in mind, provides the whole sector with a framework to continue to redefine their relationship with their customers, the experience for their employees and their operating costs too.

We are proud to be sponsoring Inside Housing’s Customer Experience 2019 conference and exhibition. We are looking forward to being part of the debate that supports housing associations as they wrestle with the very real challenges of housing supply, delivering more with less and moving towards modern technology and infrastructure, all while re-defining their relationships with their customers and meeting their ever-increasing expectations.

Please come and see us on Monday 25 February.


Umbar leads our digital team. She has 17 exciting years’ experience in digital and has delivered end to end digital transformation in a wide range of businesses and sectors, from strategy and portfolio direction to digital innovation and culture change. Umbar is passionate about digital and its power to help organisations and their customers discover new ways of doing business and living their lives.