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We continue to face a housing crisis in the UK and with the economic uncertainty created by the pandemic and the increase in the cost of living, the demand on the social housing sector is expected to increase. At the same time, social housing providers are under pressure to carry out remedial works on buildings to ensure compliance with the Fire Safety Bill, continue to build the affordable homes the country so desperately needs and deliver net zero by 2050. One of our biggest challenges in all of this is engaging with our customers. 

The publication of The Hackitt Review in 2018 following the Grenfell Tower tragedy highlights the importance of giving customers a voice. But how do we make ourselves more accessible to our customers? How do we make sure we’re engaging and listening to them, and that we’re delivering the best possible service? 

This month we’ve seen initial plans from the Regulator for how it will make sure housing associations deliver homes that are safe, that customers are listened to, that they live in quality homes, and that they’re able to sort out any issues they have quickly and easily.  

There’s a greater emphasis on accountability and customer voice and at the heart of this is customer engagement.  

At Yorkshire Housing we’ve already put things in place to increase customer participation. We’ve established a Customer Voice and Review Committee (CVRC), a Climate Change Committee and a Customer Complaints Forum. The Chair of the CVRC sits on our Homes and Places Committee, which links directly to the Yorkshire Housing Board. This means the group can influence meaningful change and shape how we do things in the future. But there’s still more to do. 

The sector could learn a lot from other organisations, outside of housing. Look up the best brands for customer service and experience and you’ll see companies such as John Lewis and Tesco who allow their customers to drive change and innovation from within. That sense of joint ownership is why they’re so successful. They also reward their customers for providing feedback, be it financial or otherwise. 

Faced with the challenges of building more homes, increasing building safety, reaching net zero and embracing regulatory reform, innovation is of equal importance alongside customer engagement. Innovation however must not become a buzz word. We need to innovate with purpose, to solve problems and to improve the lives of our customers and those who live within our communities. Home matters now more than ever and we must listen to what our customers want and hear about how they want to live in the future. These conversations must shape the decisions we make and steer us towards improved service delivery. 

Data and information are also crucial. We know our customers better than anyone, or at least we should. Who’s young, old or vulnerable and we must harness this data to align our engagement channels and our customer journeys. Engagement must not become transactional, not promise but input, leading to tangible results. 

Failing to engage with our customers isn’t an option. There isn’t a one size fits all approach. The key to a successful customer engagement strategy is ensuring every customer feels they are being engaged with. Whether that be formally via committee groups or forums, or via conversation on social media. 

The sector has faced events that have damaged it’s reputation over the last few years and ITV has shown us vividly the living conditions faced by a small minority of customers. The success of customer engagement will determine how we’re viewed in the future. Get it wrong and we’ll be paying the price for many years to come.