The Battle Against Digital Disruption

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A friend of mine – a Housing Association resident – has just received her shiny new smartphone.

  • It’s got a High Definition display more advanced than a TV that just four years would have cost over £1000.

  • It can be controlled without actually touching it. It tracks her eye and wrist movement and stops playing video if she looks away.

  • It automatically scrolls down a document when she has reached the bottom of the page, intuitively following her gaze.

  • It keeps her in touch with news, local information and her community via an ever present blend of her social networks.

She is a digital citizen.

And she is resident of an analogue housing association.

The association has a website – but she says it doesn’t look good on a mobile phone, which is her primary way of dealing with the world.

  • She can interact with the landlord online but it’s essentially an email form. She says it’s quicker just to phone someone.

  • Her landlord sends her post and an occasional newsletter. She finds this both funny and wasteful.

  • The other day she received a paper survey despite giving them her email address three times. The survey asked her if she had a mobile phone, even though she had been using one to deal with her Housing Officer ever since moving in.

Welcome to a new breed of resident. Residents who live digital lifestyles that are completely out of sync with the operating system of the landlord.

This is what Brian Solis has described as “Digital Darwinism” – a time when technology and society are evolving faster than the ability of organisations to adapt. Solis points out that in ten years a failure to adapt to change wiped 40% of the Fortune 500 companies off the map. They vanished.

But that couldn’t happen to a housing association could it? Bricks and mortar are different, surely?

Social Housing is at a pivotal point. It’s fighting on two fronts. The struggle to adapt to a life without subsidy on one hand, the battle against the threat of welfare reform on the other.

But there is a third fight that cannot be ignored: The digital revolution that is transforming the expectations and behaviours of customers.

At the moment many organisations think this is the lesser of the three threats. Some don’t even see it as a threat at all. Many hide behind statistics that show that many social housing users don’t have internet access. But high percentages do have access and have good digital skills. And that figure is growing every day as the cost of mobile devices plummet.

In the meantime:

  • Our customers become ever more digitally adept – overtaking many of our colleagues. (I believe there are as many digital illiterate housing staff as there are tenants)

  • Our Housing IT Systems become old and monolithic. (In this sector it’s not about who has got the best Housing system – it’s who has got the “least worst”)

  • Our Customer Relationship Management systems struggle to adapt to the social media age. (CRM was built in a time when people thought customers could still be managed. Check out your Facebook page – you’ll see that they can’t. They say what they want)

It would be insanity for a Housing Association not to have a plan for how it will survive in a world without subsidy. It would be suicidal for us to not to have a Welfare Reform strategy. But I speak to many people whose organisations have not even considered what digital transformation looks like. Not considered a world where customers will always have better technology and communication abilities than they do.

You need a plan. And it has to be one of your key strategic priorities with the right ownership and the right level of resourcing.

I advised my friend to get in contact with her Housing Association and offer to help them as she would be a great resident contributor.

She went on the website but couldn’t find a social media feed – her preferred way to engage with organisations. So I helped her decipher the housing jargon and suggested she look for a “Get Involved” section.

She eventually found it.  Tucked away at the back end of the web.

It said “Under Construction. Coming Soon”.

 

(This post originally appeared on housingassociations.org. Image and quote via James McQuivey)

Disrupt your Industry. Or be Disrupted.

A customer called us recently. His call was answered really quickly. A repair was needed to his home. His problem was diagnosed with just a couple of questions. He was given a time and date for the repair. He was told it would be in two weeks time  – a part was needed that wasn’t in stock. He thanked the Advisor for the call and went away happy.

Pretty much textbook service.

Except – he called back 10 minutes later.

He had looked for the part on his smartphone and it was available at a local store, 5 minutes from his home. So he wanted to know – why will it take 2 weeks?

This is the just the beginning of the end of 20th Century customer service.

The 21st Century customer is smarter.

  • They can find things out quicker than we can.
  • They can install an app on their phones that can solve their problem in seconds.
  • They can draw all their data and applications into one place in the time it takes for us to say the words “Customer Relationship Management”.

And if they can do it. And you can’t. Then what if someone else comes along who can?

“We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing.” – R.D Laing

This quote – and the context in which it is used – has made me re-evaluate everything I’m working on.

It’s used in Smart Customers , Stupid Companies , a book that I’m ever so slightly in love with.

The scenario it describes is pretty simple. Disruption is coming to the way we work. Massive disruption. And it’s all going to be caused by customers who are smarter than us.

The only question is – are you going to be one of the disruptors? Innovating and implementing change at a pace that the rest of your sector just can’t keep up with.

Or are you destined to be disrupted?  Losing ground and competitive advantage. Your customers regarding you as a dinosaur. Inching ever closer to redundancy and eventual oblivion.

The sector in which I work is ripe for disruption. Not because it’s bad. Not at all.

But it has loads of interactions with customers that could be made easier through smart technology and the removal of “pain points”.

A typical applicant for housing will speak to multiple people , multiple organisations and answer a thousand questions – before they even get the keys to a door.

The technology is here to reduce all of that to a single interaction with just one person focussed on the applicant. Or – if we wanted – we could remove the human element completely.

So if the technology exists, and it saves money , and it leads to better customer experience – why hasn’t anyone done it?

  • Because it’s difficult. ( Yes – very , very difficult)
  • Because no-one can disrupt the legal contract between landlord and tenant. (At the moment yes. But they should be able to. And they will be able to. )
  • And because we – in this speeded up moment of history – cannot see the present until it has begun to disappear.

But it’s a stark choice.  Disrupt your industry. Or face being disrupted.

I know where I want to be.

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