Operational priorities in a post-COVID world
Where should our operational priorities be in a post-COVID world? Housing professional Stuart Davies offers some thoughts.
In late March I was involved in the research and launch of CIH’s new approaches to housing management report. The conclusions were all completed in a pre-pandemic world and it got me thinking about how priorities during COVID-19 might help guide a post-pandemic housing service.
I think most organisations in ‘lockdown’ have fared well, moving at incredible pace organised around what I see as three key themes - customers, colleagues and tech.
Many organisations featured in the new approaches to housing management report had already embarked on programmes which encompassed these themes. But we need to work harder if longer term we are to continue to be viewed as trusted ‘community’ based organisations rather than remote landlords! As a starting point here’s my thinking:
In lockdown, many organisations have done more than the emergency repairs and compliance work. They’ve switched out of a debt collection mode and into greater financial advice and community-based support. It’s a move to a targeted service that identifies and helps those with vulnerability for whom isolation presents specific challenges.
Post-pandemic, we need to question whether our organisations are set up with customers as a primary driver, or organised to support historic function, geography or future development growth relegating the relative importance of the customer.
Increasingly many living in our homes expect contact at a time that suits them, shifting from traditional contacts to a relationship based across multiple channels expecting swift response and regular updates about how and when things will be resolved. Other more vulnerable customers still need a face to face service, so our operating model has to cater for and better understand all our customers.
We must be focused, flexible and proactive; customers must be our key driver. We must ingrain that focus in a way that sees opportunities for feedback as a key ingredient to service excellence to the point that colleagues recognise its importance rather than thinking of a survey at worst as an annoyance and at best as an addition.
And we must use that feedback to offer a more personal service, improve and target customer support where its most needed. This is what consumers are used to receiving outside of social housing – it’s what we need to evolve into post-COVID.
When the pandemic hit, organisations quickly established risk-based safe approaches to work which recognised what needed to be done by whom. Many were transitioned to home working and offered trust and flexibility to get on and do what was needed.
Good housing management post-pandemic has to take that ethos further, its firmly rooted in an approach based on delivery of outcomes where professional judgements are being made against processes which aren’t rigid. And that judgement for me needs to be orientated around customer loyalty.
We need to recruit, retain and train on values, professionalism and the use of initiative. A flexibility of approach together with our sector’s values can also act as a powerful magnet to attract fresh young talent.
Organisations invested in mobile kit and moved office-based contact centres to home working in days! Geared up teams to work remotely and exponentially increased their use of video conferencing. All done largely seamlessly and at pace.
Post-pandemic our tech must become a real enabler. It must remove not put up barriers. Too many organisations still work on a multitude of systems, requiring separate interventions that lead to handovers which frustrate good service and actively stop us from delivering for the customer. Getting to a position where there is only one version of the truth and a transparency of interaction with the customer is hugely important.
We must ask ourselves is the tech enabling customers to help themselves? Are systems freeing up resource to be better targeted or does the limit of our tech mean it’s still a one size fits all offer? And without tech that enables, it is difficult to achieve insight. How can we see trends and move quickly when we are looking at data which is being questioned internally and may already be out of date?
So in the coronavirus crisis the things that we’ve concentrated on to drive our ‘lock down’ response - customers, colleagues and tech – are the same things we should use to drive our long term strategic operational endeavour. If we can do that effectively no matter what the uncertainties of the future post-COVID world, we will see a sector well connected to its customer. A sector rightly seen as a key component in any social and economic recovery rather than as some have characterised us in the past as part of the problem.
Stuart Davies, has worked in the social housing sector for over 30 years, with over 20 years as a Director, previously as MD within the Aster Group, Neighbourhood Services Director at Spectrum and most recently as Divisional Director at Sovereign until April 2020.