Tech out the future of Housing!

Future house

Technology is constantly evolving, and at a phenomenal pace. SMS messaging recently celebrated its 20 year anniversary yet it is no longer the primary form of communication through a mobile handset – not now social media has nestled its way into our everyday lives. The television set has been commercially available for almost 90 years but despite our appetite for soaps, films and live sport we are watching less on a traditional set and opting for other devices such as desktop PC’s, mobiles and tablets.

This story on the BBC tells how “Local Authorities had been required by law to provide council housing since 1919” and whilst there is still very much a demand for Social Housing – is the traditional service we once knew evolving into a service that offers more than just ‘Bricks & Mortar’? Here are some of my thoughts:

 

Social Media

Whether you prefer to tweet, like, post, pin, video or get linked in; chances are you are on Social Media and if you are it’s highly likely that people who reside in social housing are too – it’s just what people do these days. Social Media is happening, regardless of your viewpoint, but if you choose not to take part it will still continue to happen – without you! If customers are choosing to express their feelings about your business, positive or otherwise, isn’t it best to have a presence yourself and engage in that conversation? You might just learn a few things along the way too – for me personally, I find a wealth of information through my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

 

Self-service

Having the option to self-serve isn’t a new thing. Supermarkets and petrol stations have offered this facility for years and now with touch screens and smartphones in the hands of almost everyone, this drive will naturally gather more momentum over time. But will this catch on in Housing? At Bromford we firmly believe in helping our customers be as self-reliant as they can be which is why we launched our new Deal last year. But when will Housing reach the point that customers can do more for themselves digitally? Customers being able to pay their rent through a mobile device, accessing their statements, obtaining financial advice and support, booking a fuel service and diagnosing their own repairs, I’m sure these are all possible but will we ever truly go mobile with them?

 

Mobile Technology

Mobile technology continues to redefine how people and businesses are interacting with one another. According to this survey, at least 72% of mobile device owners use their devices for browsing or making purchases online. These people are online whilst they are waiting for appointments, watching TV and working yet what surprises me is that some organizations are choosing not to give mobile access to their services. However, there are some companies who are well and truly embracing what mobile technology can offer, like this fantastic project; Shared Walk (which you can read about in this post from Shirley Ayres). And mobile technology is not just for the benefit of the customer. There’s an opportunity here to introduce mobile learning and training for your employees, enhanced system integration so that users can access their desktop whilst they’re visiting customers’ homes, and at some point in the future we could see Google Glass in the workplace – now that would be something!

 

Reward Schemes

Reward schemes could be a great way to increase loyalty and incentivize engagement. Here at Bromford we trialed the government’s Tenant Cashback initiative last year, Sainsbury’s and BP have been connected with Nectar for years, Boots introduced Treat Street recently and Amazon now has Amazon Local. I think we’ve all heard of Groupon and Living Social and have a fair idea of how that works, this is what Groupon’s ‘about’ page says:

Groupon

How good would Social Housing be to offer that kind of experience to its customers in their communities?! Could this be that product that truly enriches the landlord/customer relationship?

 

3D Printing

Printing has, for a long time now, been a taboo in our offices. Many of us even carried taglines such as: “Please don’t print this e-mail unless you really need to” in our email signatures. But 3D Printing would no doubt be a welcomed addition to our work. Although we are still some way off from making this phenomenon both a timely and cost-effective tool, imagine a world of Social Housing where we are able to instantly print those boiler parts we need rather than having to wait for that 7 day turnaround from suppliers? Imagine if we could design and then print that new home your customer is longing for! What if we could print that new body part for that accident prone….OK, you get where I’m going with this!

 

Like I say, these are just a few of my observations and I’m sure many of you have some of your own. Social housing is so much more than just homes that people live in. At Bromford we’re about supporting people, inspiring, and creating opportunities. We’re about changing peoples’ lives for the better!

So where do you see the future of Housing? Where do you see technology playing a part in your workplace? Are there any technological advancement’s that you think would enhance the customer experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Let’s share facts about the Bedroom Tax

Bedroom Tax 1

In less than 3 weeks time there will be some big changes across the UK that will shake-up 1000’s upon 1000’s of people. Sadly I’m not talking about the long-awaited Glastonbury Festival line-up, nor am I talking about One Direction’s 23,000 capacity sell out gig at the O2 Arena in London. It’s of a serious matter that will see the launch of the Bedroom Tax, the first wave of changes brought about by the coalition government’s Welfare Reform.

Tickets for that One Direction gig I mention are selling for around £125 each on eBay. For somebody whose weekly rent is £100, that ticket price is equivalent to an average shortfall of under-occupying by 2 or more bedrooms, in a 5-week calendar month!

I’m no expert on these changes but I was asked recently to deliver a session on Welfare Reform as part of my Leadership journey. It was decided that we would use the time to open this up as part of a wider-discussion, to realise the impact these changes would have on our business, on our teams and most important of all; on our customers.

We could have spent forever discussing all the reasons why these changes are wrong, how sorry we feel for one another and asking the how’s and why’s. But we didn’t. Instead we had a small moment for reflection and spent a large sum of time digesting these changes, checking in with one another’s understanding and looking at the bigger picture implications of all this and what we need to do as a business, as leaders and as individuals to get us through this.

Goal posts

There is so much to absorb in all that is Welfare Reform, the goalposts are forever moving. Only yesterday Inside Housing reported of yet more amends to the Bedroom Tax which has led to planned protests being axed today. But my best guess is that yet more changes will come about as more pressure mounts on Iain Duncan Smith. This piece in the Telegraph included an online poll where over 83% of people felt that the changes were not fair.

So here at Bromford we’re doing our upmost to keep abreast of the changes; we’re forever updating our website; sharing our stories through Social Media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Yammer; and we’re continually checking in with our customers to gauge their understanding of the changes and the impacts these will have upon their lives.

And I’d like to urge you and your organisation to do the same. The changes are going to happen regardless, we can’t do a lot about that, but we must ensure that our customers and colleagues are kept well informed and supported throughout this. I heard somebody say the other day that they felt there had been more publicity about the Digital TV Switchover than there has for Welfare Reform – and I agree. But could we, as a society, be doing more to change that? With the world going more and more digital and with social media becoming further acceptable in the workplace – do we have good reason not to share in our knowledge? The power of communication is in our hands.

Much, much more than bricks and mortar

Image

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I invited our friends and family to a momentous occasion at our local church as we made the decision to have our 22 month old daughter christened. In the week that led to it I was asked to attend a pre-christening meeting with the other parents and godparents and we talked about what baptism meant to us and why others make the decision to welcome their children into the church.

Now don’t worry, I’m not writing this to convince you to join with me in my religious beliefs but instead to think about something that we discussed that evening about our children:

“What are you going to do to support them on this journey you have put them on?”

This may not be exactly what was said but it was something along these lines. In social housing we must ask this same question of ourselves. What else do we do aside from handing over the key to the front door?

Here at Bromford our Housing Managers are geared up for trialling the use of iPads, Connect has launched, Home Rewards Club is in full swing, Bromford Deal is underway, social media is being championed and our new interactive website is on its way, all of which we feel will enrich the relationships we have with our customers. Not only this but we also feel we are creating a raft of opportunities and choice for our customers who have a greater say in how their tenancy is run and can make decisions on how they wish to contribute to their community or enrich their employment prospects. This really is all about our customers and supporting them long after they’ve put the key into the door of their new home.

Behind our bricks and mortar there really is so much more on offer and our mission statement of “creating home and communities where people really want to stay” has never rang more true.

As I conclude, I ask you to think about your approach to social housing and perhaps think a little differently about your ‘bricks and mortar’ – what if the bricks were your customers and the mortar your colleagues? For me these are the true foundations of social housing.

 

I give reference to a fab blog by my colleague Paul Taylor – please read it – it makes you think about what we do in Housing and what others perceptions of us are.