03 Jan 2023

Customer engagement – Do you want easy and cheap, or to get it right?

Engaging with customers is one of, if not the most difficult problem to solve.

The easiest option is to rely on electronic means – via websites, emails, texts. These are cheap and quick solutions, with incoming results often being handled by a computer program. But there are some questions you should be asking yourself.

  • Is the target audience a fair and honest reflection of the diversity of your customers?
  • Are the results a real reflection of your customers views and opinions?
  • Are the same customers always responding?
  • Are the responses clustered and not from a wide area of your stock coverage?
  • Can those with additional needs get involved, such as the aurally/visually impaired, non-English speakers, individuals with learning disabilities, etc?
  • Do customers really wanted to be contacted in the way you’re reaching out to them? Have you asked them and are you using this data effectively? You may hold email addresses or phone numbers for customers, but these may only have been given for a specific reason, such as managing their accounts or from reporting a repair.

Recent reports show, on average, only two-thirds of customers over a certain age have access to the internet.

  • Do you know who they are?
  • How do you engage with those without access?
  • How many with access only use it to stay in contact with family and friends, especially since COVID-19?

There has been no better time to ask your customers how they wish to be contacted – whether this be by letter, text, call, email, online, or even the old-fashioned face-to-face approach. This will help you get a real and definitive database. If this information is something you already have, how regularly do you check in with your customers to double-check they’re happy with the information you hold? For effective and accurate decision-making, the latest information must be used.

It's also really important you explore any additional help your customers may need – such as large type, braille, a phone call due to a visual impairment, or interpretation to a language of their preference. Making these changes can help your customers feel valued and would do a lot to improve the trust between landlord and customer which has been lost over the last few decades.

There is no ideal solution – these exercises are not cheap, quick or easy, and although there will always be those who get in touch when they need something like a repair, as the saying goes, ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t know’.

Gathering correct information on your customers will give you the opportunity to ‘target’ your surveys/communications to certain groups/areas, such as age, tenure, location, so you can get more accurate statistics for future planning and strategies.

It may be a lot of work to undertake, but by contacting customers in the way of their choosing, you will receive more accurate and relevant replies, which over time, will far outweigh the initial outlay.

Remember, your business is homes. Your customers rent your homes, so they are also your business. Their voice is important and MUST BE HEARD.

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Written by Stephen Mackenzie

I am retired, a Yorkshire Housing customer and live alone in South Yorkshire.

Member of Yorkshire Housing Customer Voice and Review Committee, for which I am climate change champion. Ass CC champion I speak with management on their work towards achieving healthy, safer, energy efficient homes and environment and make sure the voice and views of the customers are part of their decision-making.

Chair of the Yorkshire Housing Climate Change and Housing Standards Group. A group of like-minded residents discussing YH's approach to retrofitting our homes and local environment and the best way to engage customers. Recently we added their Homes Standards strategy for discussion, review and recommendations from the customers perspective.

A member of the original Northern Housing Consortium Tenants Climate Change Jury.

I have a special interest in customer engagement and collaboration between landlords and other agencies towards achieving net zero targets.