Build it and they will come

Guest Contributor, Tony Smith ACIH

I have been involved with many clients, particularly in social housing, looking to ‘Channel Shift’. In fact if I had £50 for every time I have heard that expression over the years, I would have a tidy nest egg by now. While our ‘inner accountant’ might wish for a swift migration over to a cheaper channel to serve our customers in, the caring customer service soul, knows that it certainly won’t happen overnight.

In fact many organisations have implemented some stunning portals and then wondered, “Why are we only getting a 6% take-up?”. Also, why do we think only half of those, are coming back for more?

Firstly, if we have built it, will they come? Almost certainly not, unless you use lots of conventional means of letting all your customers know, it’s there at all.  It’s a bit of a paradox really. A big splash in the quarterly newsletter, with Mrs Migging’s, front, right and centre, making good use of her Android tablet, to pay her rent and log repairs, is a good start.

A pop up stand in your reception, with said customer, enjoying the experience on an iPad this time, pushes home your message to your footfall. Every piece of communication, should also introduce the customer self-service portal. Letters, emails and SMS text messages, need to press home the fact that, it’s quicker online and we are here for you 24/7.  Don’t neglect to add it to your on-hold music either, helpfully punctuating the Neil Sedaka.

Take over a corner of a few local libraries, with WiFi for an hour or two and turn getting on-line, a community tenant participation event. Distribute a few hundred free Smartphone screen cleaners, with your portal URL on it.

The easiest trick in the book is also one of the rarest used. Enrol all of your customers in the service and post/email them their passwords to initially log on. I have seen one organisation start with take up of over 35%, with this approach and retain approximately 25% as return visitors. Why not even consider rewarding on-line customers in some way too?

Organisations need to get customers, in the self-service mode, as soon as they sign up or take a new service. In the ‘Your Call’ sessions, last autumn, I recall a lively discussion at St Leger Homes, in Doncaster, around this very subject. Several customer service professionals in the room were somewhat horrified and sceptical that new tenants would ‘endure’ an induction, before obtaining their keys to a new home. Tellingly, a small group in the room, admitted they were successfully doing this already.

Another thing that some of the group were considering, was making customer services harder to reach by telephone. For years we have been used to that RSL KPI target of five rings. What do you think the target is at Ryanair? It’s not five rings, nor five minutes. Although in fairness, we are not Ryanair, are we? We have a lot of vulnerable customers and it’s only right we find an appropriate way to service them. Modern CTI (Computer Telephony Integration) systems are capable of identifying the caller, before we answer. So potentially we could have a two speed service centre, one for the digitally engaged and another for the more vulnerable and digitally excluded.

For customer self-service to be the go-to channel, it needs to be great. Don’t lose sight that it must support frequent transactions, in a fast, easy to use manner. Try to have more folk from the customer services, than the comm’s team on the project. When you go to shop on Amazon and eBay, there’s no big banner of rotating images of warehouse views and the like. However, the basket and checkout are always visible. Make it easy for customers, to do what they want to do most, based on the ratio of interactions received day to day, in the service centre. Start there, do it well. Build on it. I promise you, then they will come.


Tony Smith ACIH, is our guest contributor and blogs as ‘ThatHousingITguy‘ and can be found on Twitter as @HousingITguy


Tony will be facilitating the next Your Call event. This is a free event and open to customer service professionals working in housing. For more information and to book a free place contact Tina Hillman on 01869 242967. You can also find info available @OmfaxSystems.

Customer metrics to care about

As I travel the country talking to Heads of Customer Service and their teams, I am often surprised at how limited the use of customer service data is in informing organisational change.

While some housing associations have their contact centre metrics nailed and are fully plugged in to the change agenda, a significant proportion continue to use traditional measures such as average handling time, average speed of answer and abandonment rates, with customer satisfaction usually being sampled alongside.   While these measures are useful in informing day to day operations, they don’t tell the full story in terms of overall performance.

A recent Your Call survey found that 85% of associations don’t measure avoidable contact.  Yet captured in sufficient detail, this measure alone can provide a rich picture of process waste in an organisation and acting on it can generate potentially significant savings as well as improving customer satisfaction.  After all, who wouldn’t want things to be done right first time?

Lean end to end processes, supported by effective and efficient workflow should be what we all aspire to, but disjointed systems, inconsistent front end data capture and silo working practices are all too often the reality – and lead to avoidable contact – something that, with the right data, is entirely within the organisation’s control.

My real point is that we need to take customer service more seriously. As well as being the ‘face’ or ‘voice’ of the organisation, customer service needs to be seen as a strategic asset;  its interactions offer a rich seam of performance data that can provide early warning of wider problems.  Putting effective front end data capture in place means that organisations can then report on this; using the information gathered to prioritise improvement, aid the delivery of cashable savings and simultaneously improve customer satisfaction.

As budgets are squeezed, there is an opportunity to put customer service at the heart of the efficiency agenda.  The day to day contact with customers means that customer service staff are usually the first to know when things aren’t working.  But knowing that and capturing the data that allows actionable insights to be formed are two different things.  If we are serious about being as efficient as we can be, solid data capture and real time reporting capability become mission critical.

I’ll be attending the next Your Call event in Edinburgh to talk about this and more – feel free to join me (it’s free) – for more information and to book a free place contact Tina Hillman on 01869 242967. You can also find info available @OmfaxSystems.

To find out more about the Your Call survey, click here


Peter Graddon is the Managing Director of Omfax Systems

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