Customer Annual Reports – A Million Pound Waste of Time – Blog Update #ukhousing

Annual Reports cost Housing Providers millions but are a joke to most customers

A customer mailed me last week about our latest reports. Here’s a snippet…

” I think these reports are largely a waste of time. The first priority of the tenant is their own home. As I have said before, if there is something wrong you will hear about it soon enough. Beyond that I doubt whether many tenants have any deep interest or sense of identification with the institution which is providing their housing. ”

So last Wednesday we tried an experiment. Conduct a consultation on Twitter and Facebook, and at our Customer Influence Group meeting,  about whether Customer Annual Reports-  in 2011 – are a vital part of business transparency or outdated and outmoded.

Forget the regulation for a minute. When was the last time YOU looked at any annual report from a service provider? Your bank? Local council? Amazon? Marks and Spencer? The UK Government?

Our stats from this year show only 1.6% of residents showed any interest in a full version annual report. Online or in print.

Lets play with some figures.

Suppose the average Housing Association spent £30,000 (very conservative guesstimate) on performance reports and magazines to residents. Then take the fact that 1,200 HA’s are on the books of the National Housing Federation. That’s 1,200 x 30k = £36,000,000.

Thirty Six Million Pounds A Year. On Annual Reports and Magazines.

Thats the sort of thing that should make the Audit Commission and other consultants who told us this stuff really mattered to residents hang their heads in shame.

Social Media on the other hand allows not just a monologue but a multilogue.

So in our experiement the other night we fused a physical meeting, twitter, facebook , email and postal comments – and used all of it to help us make a decision. I’ll post the results later in the week

Here’s some more views of customers – our transcript from the other night……twitter transcript

Project E-bromford…….Broadband Pilot

Pilot aims to get 200 households onto low cost broadband

Some great news to start the week.

We’ve just heard that we have been chosen along with Newport City Homes to be amongst the first UK trialists in a project to provide housing association customers with low cost internet access. The idea is that BT will provide equipment, installation, support and an internet package. Microsoft will supply a free copy of Windows 7 and UK online will provide the training.

Our team will be identifying 200 possible homes we can use in the pilot and if it is a sustainable model we could well roll it out to many more. Early days yet but might lead to something special.

Does involving customers in your business really lead to innovation?

Mario. Not Designed By Customers
It’s been interesting reading the Steve Jobs quotes circulating around the internet. The one that struck me most was this one:
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
This is almost completely at odds with the thinking in the sector I work in . A typical view runs like this (taken from our trade magazine Inside Housing last week):
 “Where residents are at the heart of decision making – that leads to better services / higher satisfaction levels” 
This has been hammered home by years of regulation where the conventional wisdom has been that you shouldn’t make a decision unless there is a real life customer sitting next to you.
But Steve Jobs isn’t alone in his belief that customers can’t imagine the future. Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo has been at the helm of some of the greatest innovations in Video gaming – but does not use focus groups or listen to customers – in the conventional sense at least.
Where do I stand on this?
First of all it’s nonsense to believe that getting a handful of random customers together in a room ( which is what most housing associations actually do) is going to help you improve your service. If managers need customers to help them run the business then arguably they shouldn’t  be managers in the first place.
But on the other hand examples like Jobs and Miyamoto are very rare. They rely on having a unique creative force directly at the helm – capable of not just judging the public mood but telling them what they are going to like in the future. Witness the general public scepticism, ridicule even, when the iPad and Wii were first announced.
There is another way. Co-creation.  Where the customer and the company jointly create products and experiences that are meaningful and profitable to both.
We are working on a couple of projects at the moment where the concept of co-creation is being deployed.
Engaging customers in the development of a new service offer, adapting that service offer based upon personal preferences/circumstances and then offering the customer a range of products/experiences where they have freedom of choice.
I’ll be updating the blog in a couple of days about the process we went through to come up with a “customer deal” .But I’d be really interested in hearing from others on how you are improving customer experience. 

Bridging The Digital Divide….Blog Update

Had a good chat yesterday with Solitaire Pritchard , who despite her name , is not a Bond Girl , but works in regeneration at Newport City Homes.
Like us they are really interested in doing more business with customers online and the greater opportunities it brings them.
Like us their intelligence is sketchy about the actual internet access amongst the customer base.
We are both currently looking at a pilot to bring internet access and training to 400 families who are currently excluded. The project will look at the reasons for exclusion, the barriers to getting online but provide some practical solutions to broadband provision , training and provision of IT.

It’s not a hand out though. Both of us are looking at what a social enterprise/business start up could look like that delivers the project – but also creates some employment and training outcomes.

Watch this space for updates

We can laugh at the end of the Burger King but also need to look at ourselves…

Dumped - The Burger "King"

Burger King have dumped their mascot of seven years after sluggish sales and a huge drop in customer affinity to the brand.  Many of us are wondering why it took them that long to realise that people found the “King” a bit off-putting to say the least.

A grown man in a bizarre plastic mask who is shown in adverts stalking young women or peering through windows at children. Never did sound a winner did it?

But it made me think about the image we project in our own communications. Housing Associations and other businesses with social objectives have often struggled to present an engaging image to customers.

Take our annual customer report last year.  Featuring cover images of customers with grossly magnified eye-balls, smashed up abandoned vehicles on estates, and plenty of images of vulnerable people gratefully receiving service – it bombed.

One resident even claimed it had given her nightmares!

Fed up of glossy and expensive magazines filled with a lot of jargon we listened to customers and drastically changed our approach.

You can head on over to to see how we are trying to change. A word count of only 10% of previous reports, no smiling pictures of happy customers and info-graphics with a noticeable change in our language.

And unless people specifically request it they will get no more print.

We are not there yet by a long way but its a start. And at least it didn’t take us 7 years before we changed anything….


Bridging the Digital Divide – Project e-Bromford

I read an article today about “apple babies”. That’s kids under the age of two who automatically try to use a touch screen when handed a phone, conditioned as they are to expect that if something has a screen it should be capable of manipulation. There are clips on YouTube of japanese kids trying frantically to change TV channels by swiping the screen with their hands- the same things they can do with things like Xbox Kinect, Wii and PlayStation Move.

But this can seem a world away when you work in social housing.

FACT: Only a tiny percentage of our customers do any online business with us. We have very little knowledge of their internet habits , smartphone use, social networks

FACT: We have customers – in their thirties and younger- who attend work clubs, who have no access to the internet, never used it, and look at a mouse the same way one of those Japanese kids would look at a typewriter. Excluded from work as well as technology – they exist in a genuine digital divide

I’ve started this blog as I’m working on a number of projects that depend upon our customers dealing with us online.

These include:

  • A new customer deal – where we want customers to self serve , and be less reliant on us
  • A social media project – where we want to tap into communities via facebook , twitter and google +
  • Our Social Investment/Enterprise proposition – which aims to get 2000 residents into work by 2016. Primarily through an online application matching their profiles to opportunities
I’ll be blogging here about the things we learn along the way – the successes and the failures as we try to bridge the digital divide.
Not the reality for many Social housing users

Can you ever get 90% of people to recommend how you deal with ASB? Neighbourhood Priorities August 2011



How are we performing right now?

At present, 89.2% customers would recommend their neighbourhood as a place to live.

The safety/appearance of a neighbourhood has dropped from to 8.6 out of 10 to 7.6. Vicky Green advised that this is due to a change in the scoring system we use, going from an 11 point scale to a 10. The comments do not appear to be any more negative.

It was questioned whether the Anti Social Behaviour advocacy target of 90% to recommend us by 2016 was too high. Overall the Group felt that as it is a negative and emotive situation/experience for any one to be in it is more difficult to achieve high recommendation. It is a high target but one that we should aspire to.

 Progress against projects and plans:

Tenant Cashback Pilot

 Darrin gave the Group an update on the pilot and confirmed that Bromford is definitely taking part and that it will be launching in October. It will be aimed at around 200 customers in 3-4 areas offering a cash back of £300 for those customers that do their own repairs (there will be guidelines on what can and can’t be done) for a year and an extra £200 for those that do not use the Housing Management service, dealing with low level issues themselves. Darrin advised that the initial plans were to give the money upfront to make sure that customers have the funds to do the repairs. The Group had concerns about offering money upfront and felt that quarterly payments would be better.

Neighbourhood Pilot

 The Pilot is now nearing an end and the final survey has gone out to customers to compare how customers are feeling now to how they were before the pilot. The closing date is 8th August but already more feedback has been received than before. The Group really like this pilot as do Housing Managers who feel that it has improved communication with their customers.

Housing Manager Inspection

 Darrin shared the CIA Housing Management Inspection action plan. The Group really liked the format and felt that good progress was being made. The Group will monitor this action plan from now on.

Affordable Rent and Bromford Deal

Darrin provided an update on the customer Deal and advised that the Board felt it was too punitive on its own so it will now be combined with our Offer making the ‘Bromford Deal’. This is going to be launched in October with a view that all customers will be signed up by April 2012. It is acknowledged that the Deal will only be enforceable for new customers but it is hoped that it will give existing customers more responsibility.

Once this and the Affordable Rents are in full flow, this Group will monitor how many fixed term rents are not renewed because customers have not met the Bromford Deal.

Do Bromford “Do What We Say We Will”? Customer Influence Meeting Notes



This Groups purpose is to make sure we are A) Sticking to our Customer Service Offer and B) ensuring we are transparent and open when we need to improve it

How are we performing right now?

At present, 86.8% customers would recommend us for “doing what we say we will” which has decreased slightly. As customers could have dealt with any part of the organisation when they contact us, the service offered by all colleagues has a direct impact on performance. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is now allowing us to monitor which colleagues are not ‘doing what they say they will’. This will be addressed with managers, and further training will be provided. Capability of colleagues will be managed.

70.5% of customers would recommend us following their complaints experience, which has also decreased since last quarter. It has been acknowledged that once a complaint reaches formal stages, the experience can slow down for customers. Complaints reaching this level of escalation are often complex and detailed investigations are required. We are reviewing complaints that have been resolved during final stages and we will present findings and recommendations at the next customer offer group.

7.8 customers out 10 feel it is easy to tell us what they think – which is slightly less than last quarter.

 Project Updates

Web Project

Sue Craddock gave the Group a ‘walkthrough’ of the new Bromford Homes Website, which was launched 4 weeks ago and discussed/shared the functionalities of it. The Group felt that it was sympathetic in terms of colour and layout and liked that it will enable customers to access live information and updates.

There are discussions around Bromford having a smart phone ‘App’ developed – Jamie Powis commented that an App might not be necessary if the new website had a good mobile site.

The transactional interactions – where customers can log on through our website and access their accounts in a self-serve secure login account to pay their rent; report and track repairs; access local services/financial support or getting involved; moving to a new property – is currently being developed.

Customers will be able to access contact colleagues in an instant web chat to discuss issues.  Kim Avery presented the ideas and advised that she would like the Group to take them away and provide comment on what has been missed and what is not needed. Initial thoughts from the Group were that they positively embraced the vision and suggested that to push messages we could create a secure inbox to send messages around arrears or personal information. It was also discussed that where we signpost/recommend services such as home insurance, ‘upmystreet’ etc. – we could earn a small income from those companies.

Social Media

Vicky Green provided an update on the use of social media and advised that she has developed a protocol for colleague use, to ensure consistency. Kicfm – the community radio station that Jamie works at – will be coming into Bromford to do workshops with those colleagues that have access to Facebook or Twitter, to make sure that they all look the same.

Kim advised that as this will be another route for customers to contact us and we are gearing ourselves up to handle this within our CS Teams longer term.

Customer Contact and Complaints Action Plan

Kim updated the Group on both the Customer Contact and Complaints Action Plans.

The Group were pleased with the progress being made and felt that ideas and discussion that have taken place at previous meetings have made it onto the Action Plans.

The Group felt that all forms of communications – telephone, web and written correspondence – were being addressed and that some responsibilities were being put back to customers.

Kim confirmed that the Disclaimer about availability of services during extreme circumstances has been written and will be added to all customer communications.

The Group questioned whether people are still complaining about the same issues as they were 8 years ago, despite all the improvements made. The issues for complaints are similar but different colleagues and partners are involved. The trends do show an increase in Anti social behaviour and planned maintenance which hasn’t been highlighted in previous quarters. The improvement plan shows how we are using this information to improve.

Customer Annual Review

Vicky advised that the Customer Annual Review – Phase 1 – the appetiser – has gone to print! This will be on customers’ doormats within the next couple of weeks. This will be accompanied by a social media campaign

Colleague and Customer Intelligence from Contact

Dawn Curtis gave a presentation on the improvements made within Operational Teams – including colleagues going out on site with repairs team or new build homes so they can view first hand common issues that customers report. Dawn shared insight gleamed from our systems on customer contact, what colleagues have identified are blockages to service delivery and shared some of the areas we are working on in terms of people, processes and communication.

 Customer Service Centre

Kim gave a brief update on call volumes and performance for the last year, highlighting trends in demand and performance.  We now have customer call backs where customers can leave a message and keep their place in the queue. We have increased the number of incoming lines and there are more efficient systems in place. The contact centre is staffed appropriately during busy times of the day and performance against our measures of  answering 80% of calls within 20 seconds and achieving no more than 5% of callers ringing off because they didn’t want to wait are being consistently achieved. However, it is clear that to continue to achieve the performance we achieve during spring and summer is not possible when demand is much higher in the winter. We can either increase the resource at a cost or accept that service levels might fall.

Living in Your Home – priorities July/August 2011



How are we performing right now?

  • 8.1 customers out 10 feel their home works for them – which is slightly less than last quarter.
  • Gas Serving & Repairs scores have improved quite significantly with real positive comments from customers.
  • Satisfaction with New Homes has dipped from 100%. Due to economic climate we are not building as many new houses and therefore asking fewer people. With smaller numbers, any negative comments have a bigger impact. Catherine Wisdom has agreed to be a Development Champion and attend meetings alongside colleagues from other areas of the business with the Development team to discuss experiences, issues and improvement that they have come across regarding new builds.

Progress against projects and plans

Tenant Cashback Pilot

  • Alex Dixon advised that Bromford have agreed to take part in the National Housing Federation’s (NHF) Tenant Cashback Pilot and that it will be launching in October. It will be aimed at around 200 customers in 3-4 urban areas offering a cash back of £300 for those customers that do their own repairs (there will be guidelines on what can and can’t be done) for a year and an extra £200 for those that do not use the Housing Management service, dealing with low level issues themselves. For repairs – a customer would have an Annual Property Service (APS); then for 12 months do any repairs themselves (we will do what we are still responsible for i.e. gas; electrical; work from height etc.). After the 12 months, we would complete another APS and if the pilot has worked, there should be zero repairs.
  • We will be referring customers to an online suite of ‘how to’ videos, showing customers how to do minor repairs.

New Bromford Deal

  • The draft Bromford Deal was shared with the Group and will be launched early next year. This has been developed with customers with the intention of getting better understanding of how the service relationship between tenant and landlord should work. To enable us to support some of the Deal – the repairs team will film a walk through of the property with the new customer at the start of the tenancy. This will depict the standard of the property at the start.
  • It was noted that there is not a section for what customers are expected to do on the VfM part of the deal. This could include customers doing their own repairs, enabling the Group to offer better VfM.

Re-tender of the Repairs contract

  • Alex is currently working closely with the group to decide what and how we procure when the current contract comes to an end.
    • What we procure? We are looking to procure an APS led service contract including empty homes and some responsive repairs.
    • How we procure? There are three options; a large organisation to undertake it all; break the stock up into 3 or 4 smaller areas with smaller contractors for each area; or keep it within our in-house team.

  Improving Annual Property Service (APS) Access

  • The Bromford Deal and Tenancy Contract stipulates that a requirement of being a Bromford customer is they must allow us access once a year. We must achieve this and will need Housing Managers and Support colleagues to ask those customers that still refuse why. The Group felt the language in the Deal needs to be sterner – stating ‘when we come to do an APS’ rather than asking ‘can we come’.
  • The Group questioned whether APS could be done the same day as a Gas Service which Alex advised they are looking into. This would include electrical inspections and other annual checks, minimising the impact on customers and having to stay in for one day rather than 5.
  • It was felt that once the video of an APS goes onto our website, it should encourage customers to take part as at present there may be confusion about what it is. Helen Lloyd is working with the Repairs team to set this recording up.

  Any other business

  • Mike Stevenson questioned whether we have gathered any corporate nectar points following our deal with Dulux and customer paint vouchers. As Mike agreed to maintain communication with Di Middleton, he will check to see how much has been accumulated and what we can spend the points on. The Group agreed it would be good to spend it supporting social enterprise.


What Sky could learn from Amazon


Working at home today. Not that I wanted to – but I finally got an engineer out after two weeks of complaining to Sky about a regular drop out with my broadband. The people I’ve dealt with at Sky have been pretty much great and really helpful. Apart from the self test diagnostics they get you to do at the beginning of every call. I’m now happily conversant with what a micro-filter is – how to find a test socket for your broadband – and every single inch of a router.

But despite the people on the customer service team being friendly and willing to help – theres a major problem. Nothing happens next.

The experience has been the total opposite of dealing with Amazon.

My Kindle broke on holiday. One self test via the web and I was promised a call back which came 3 minutes later. First thing they said was ” I hope the experience hasn’t affected your holiday – lets make the priority getting a new one to you and we will sort out the other stuff later.”  And 18 hours later I had a new Kindle.

Now I know its a lot easier to get a new Kindle out to you than fix a broadband problem. But seamless service is common sense and the things Sky could learn from Amazon here are:

Don’t shift ownership onto the customer to fix the problem – take ownership and sort it. 

Don’t let them chase you.

Prevent the customer from keep calling you by getting it right first time.

And after 14 days and 10 phone calls – I have broadband…..

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