P49 Social Troy Francis2
Troy Francis Corporate Director of Operations

As Southern Housing’s Corporate Director of Operations, it’s my job to enable and empower my colleagues to deliver exceptional services to our residents. Experience tells me two things are absolutely crucial if this aim is to be achieved. The first is a crystal-clear operating structure so roles and responsibilities are easy to understand and perform. And the second’s the right operating infrastructure – including easy-to-access customer contact channels and IT systems – to enable a friction-free customer journey.

Over the past year or so, we’ve been striving to get these two essentials in place at Southern Housing following our merger late in 2022. We’ve made some progress, but there’s much to do to achieve our customer experience ambition. I thought I’d share a few reflections on our progress to date.

One of our promises on merging was we would be large and local. As a large housing association, we recognise increased size brings many benefits, such as increased financial resilience. But there are potential pitfalls too including a risk of being less accessible, transparent and accountable than smaller landlords.

Our merger was always less likely to suffer from this given our legacy organisations’ similar geographic footprints. Optivo and Southern Housing Group worked across 38 local authorities meaning our merger wasn’t so much a national expansion, but a densification of our homes in our existing operating areas.

Learning from feedback

We also knew we couldn’t take anything for granted. So, following feedback from residents and frontline colleagues, we’re adopting what we’re calling a ‘place custodian’ operating framework to maintain our local touch and knowledge.

It means we’ll assign a single member of staff to take ownership and responsibility for a given area. They’ll work with other operational teams including Contract Services, Asset Management, Resident Involvement, Service Charges and Social Impact, targeting resources to where they’re needed most. They’ll also draw upon various data sources including customer insight, repairs and customer service demand data.

We expect our new approach will enable greater collaboration with various local agencies including local authority partners and statutory and voluntary agencies. This will help us better address local issues such as anti-social behaviour and neighbourhood improvements.

Reducing complaints

I’m optimistic our new model will deliver a noticeable improvement for our residents and translate into higher Tenant Satisfaction Measure (TSM) results. It will enable us to collaborate in a more responsive way to tackle complex housing service issues, leading to a reduction in complaints.

Having one lead ‘custodian’ helps provide a crystal-clear operating structure, one of the two essentials for an excellent housing management service.

But what about the second – the right operating infrastructure….

For the past year or so, residents seeking to get in touch with us have had to use the communication channels belonging to their legacy organisation. It’s all a bit messy and doesn’t give the impression of a single, joined-up organisation. But that’s all set to change. We’re creating what we’re calling a ‘One Front Door, One Digital Offer’ approach that will see residents contact us through a single set of channels.

By the end of the year, we’ll have or be well on our way to having a single telephone number, customer portal, contact email address, live chat and website. Having a full suite of integrated customer contact channels will make it much easier to get in contact with us. To support this, we’re investing in a new omni-channel IT system. This means we’ll be able to handle all our calls and online contacts through a single platform. It’ll be in place by December this year.

A timely service

We’re also integrating our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems so contacts with all of our residents are accessible in the same place. No more flicking between one legacy system and another depending on which legacy organisation a resident belongs to. Instead, we’ll have a 360-degree view of all our residents in one place. With information at our fingertips, colleagues across the business will be better able to deliver an informed and timely service.

As social housing professionals we all want to deliver outstanding services for the residents we serve. With the right systems, structures and culture in place we will be much better positioned to do that. We will continue to evolve the approach above using lived experience from our residents and feedback from colleagues.

In the meantime, we can all help deliver incremental improvements by really focusing on the basics. And for us that means consistently adopting our behaviours set out in our internal standards and Customer Service Promise.



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