Jon Turner: Customer engagement – ever evolving, ever expanding

Jon Turner: Customer engagement – ever evolving, ever expanding

Jon Turner

Jon Turner, Link Group chief executive officer, discusses the importance of customer engagement.

How do we make sure we are delivering the services our tenants and service users need, when they need it, to the right quality, every time? And could this be the ‘Holy Grail’? Possibly not, but it is surely a worthy quest.

‘Tenant-led’ engagement forms one of the four pillars of our Link Together Housing Strategy, and we continue to challenge ourselves to look at new ways to listen and learn from our customers. It was fantastic to see the work undertaken by our Tenant Engagement team recognised at the 2024 TPAS Best Practice awards where they picked up the ‘Tenant Voice’ award, as this does give some comfort that we are really making a difference on the ground. However, we do need to also recognise that things continue to change very quickly and the approaches we take at the moment may soon be considered hopelessly outdated.

You might think AI is going to revolutionise the way we live and work in a positive way, or be concerned that computers are coming to take your job, however what is undeniable is that AI and digital approaches to customer service are very much here to stay.

I also recognise the world we live in is evolving rapidly. Our tenants lead busy lives, many of them work, bring up children, are active in their local communities, and consequently taking time to meet housing officers and talking about tenancies isn’t always an immediate priority. Another challenge of our modern world is tuning out the noise and bombardments of constant emails, messages and notifications. Everyone has experienced receiving information which is completely irrelevant leaving you wondering why you were contacted in the first place.

At Link, we have been considering these challenges. One specific example we have been testing is through a digital engagement platform called CX Feedback. Initially trialled by Link partner, West Highland Housing Association, the technology allows focused messages to be sent to specific groups of tenants ensuring communication is directly relevant.

Recent examples include sending information about an event specific to around several hundred sheltered housing tenants across multiple areas, and in another case we have been able to actively communicate to tenants who claim Universal Credit where we know that changes are coming and we can help them prevent their benefits from being affected.

A real benefit of this platform is that it allows us to contact tenants in real time so we can receive instant feedback and react to it accordingly. Trialling this approach in our repairs service has revolutionised how quickly we can respond where the tenant experience has been less positive than we would like it to be. Equally, we have received feedback where tenants feel they have received great service and this allows us to feedback to our own teams in real time as well. We are also considering digital approaches to letting tenants know if our repairs operatives are delayed or if we need to change or cancel appointments. This is all done electronically which not only frees up our staff but gives tenants more time too and allows them to respond at a convenient time which suits them.

The real test of course is whether this improves the experience for tenants and I have been really pleased to see increased levels of interactions on a range of issues which matter to them. We will continue to closely track the engagement levels as I have no doubt that as we do so it will be possible not only to gauge how people like to engage, but also whether we need to sculpt our approach depending on the topics being discussed.

It was hugely gratifying to see the comments from CX Feedback’s Chief Executive recently highlighted Link as a benchmark for tenant engagement in Scotland. I don’t perhaps see ourselves at that level yet as I know that there is some amazing tenant work that goes on across our sector in many organisations. What I do recognise though is that we are genuinely trying to change and embrace new ways of working and the more we can share our experiences collectively as a sector the better.

One thing will never change however as whatever the technological landscape offers, we are a people organisation. We will look to digitise our processes and systems as far as we can to allow our teams to focus on the things that really matter… talking to and supporting our tenants.

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