Housing's Next Generation: Semi-final blog one | News

Housing's Next Generation: Semi-final blog one

HQN is delighted to share the semi-finalists first blogs as part of the next stage of the competition.

The candidates will each have to write three blogs on three separate topics, in which they will be vying for online votes, as well as impressing the judging panel.

Set by competition sponsor, FuzzLab, the first blog is looking at the following scenario: The role technology can play to improve customer service.

Please read all of the blogs and place your vote for your favourite here. 

The voting will help to inform the judges when they are making their decisions. 


Rachael Crooks, Community Connector, Beyond Housing

With families separated, many people learning to do their jobs remotely and businesses accelerating into digital transformation, we’ve never valued technology as much as we have this year. But how do we use the lessons we’ve learned about technology during the COVID-19 pandemic to improve our customer experience?

It would be easy to assume Covid-19 has been a catalyst for improving everyone’s technological ability, and invest in our systems accordingly. Most housing associations have a digital solution in place for customers to pay rent, report repairs and interact with them digitally, whether that’s an app, a customer portal or web platform. Surely everyone is online now, or how did they stay connected during the pandemic?

This is exactly the pitfall we need to avoid. Our less digitally able customers have no doubt suffered this year; these are the people who will never buy a smartphone and download an app or learn to use the internet. The Office of National Statistics found 7.4 million people felt their wellbeing was affected through feeling lonely during the first month of lockdown. An excellent digital customer experience should be accessible to all – and people who haven’t adopted technology are in danger of being left behind if we don’t act now to put technological solutions in place for them to stay on an even playing field with our digitally-savvy customers.

Digital inclusion is by no means a new concept, but the speed at which technology is evolving now means the gap is widening. As housing associations, we need to foster and promote innovation to resolve this. Why not take inspiration from technology leaders such as Google and Amazon, providing digital hubs in the homes of customers who are less technically confident which allow them to carry out tenancy interactions at the touch of a button or via voice activation? The positive impact such a device could have on the visual impaired, those who suffer memory loss conditions and those in poor physical and mental health.

Instead of making our digital agenda about what we need from our customers, let’s make it about what they need from us and help them all to access the same level of digital support.


Ella Thorpe, Income Officer, Magna Housing

“It’s 4.59pm, I’m done for the day, you’ll need to call back tomorrow”.

Said no one within the last decade. Imagine the tweets on the back of this? No thanks!


It’s here to stay and has transformed the world as we know it.

Technology should be;

  1. Productive
  2. Accessible
  3. Enjoyable


Customer service is undoubtedly a journey that everyone should have a positive experience with, right? Yes! Right service, right time and the first time.

People want convenience, speedy communication and self-service. The demand should find the customer, not the other way around.

Simple customer requests like reporting repairs or making payments in the housing sector has successfully become achievable. This increases the most treasured gift; time.

Nowadays, it’s rare that when an email or a private message on Facebook zipped off, that you don’t get a reply within 24 hours.

Every service should be accessible instantly. Let’s take Amazon for example, on every page they have a ‘checkout’ button, why? Because that’s the ultimate goal for people to buy items. And this is what we need to do with every service, make it accessible.


Let’s take a trip through the last decade of customer service

2010                                                                                    2020

2010/2020 comparison table

Open 9-5

 5 days a week

24/7 contact

Possibly 7 days a week

Online presence not a priority

Now essential to companies

Limited marketing resources

Marketing excelling and increased dramatically

Facebook/twitter were only substantial social media platforms

  1. Facebook
  2. Twitter
  3. Instagram
  4. Snapchat
  5. Tik Tok
  6. LinkedIn
  7. YouTube
  8. WhatsApp


Used to review, query and communicate
















Technology can allow organisations to relish in limitless opportunities where the customer is able to discuss, query and resolve instantly. As you will see, there is a pattern, everything involves us.


The world and its’ customer will be revolutionised by technology; expansion, discovery and overcome uncertainties.


Jo Tripney, People and Talent Assistant, Mosscare St Vincents

Covid-19 provided a unique opportunity for housing HR teams to tackle long standing issues with our customer service offer. Engagement with learning and development (L&D) has always been challenging but we have used technology in new ways to enhance our colleague’s experiences of our customer service.

Pre-Covid-19 we relied on face-to-face mentoring and classroom training for colleague’s L&D. There are many benefits of this style of delivery: collaboration, mixing different teams, trainer-participant interaction and support. However, taking time out of our increasingly busy days to attend training was rarely a top priority.

Training sessions were too long, interrupted our working days, were not at the point of need and were not always accessible for those in outlying offices or with additional support needs. Unsurprisingly, we struggled to get colleagues to attend training and see its value.

Moving training online using video-conferencing platforms, recording sessions and enhancing our e-learning offer has enabled colleagues to access L&D on demand, when they need it at a time and place convenient for them. This means our trade operatives can respond to emergencies, our scheme colleagues can be on hand for residents and working parents can complete training after everyone’s asleep. Adding subtitles to videos and using live captions means everyone has the same chances to participate, learn and succeed.

Technology has also provided new ways of supporting colleagues when they’re putting learning into practice. Instant group chats mean colleagues can share ideas, engage in collective learning and get immediate answers. Screen sharing allows for coaching and confidence building: learners can troubleshoot issues and receive personalised support. Even though we can’t physically be together, using technology in this way has meant that rather than feeling isolated learners are supported and actively engaged.

Using technology more creatively to aid L&D has improved engagement and made our service more focused on what our internal customers (our colleagues) want and need. Capitalising on the opportunity Covid-19 presented us, housing HR teams have improved customer service to ensure colleagues are equipped with the skills and knowledge to do what they’re best at – delivering excellent customer service in our communities.


Jessica Marshall, Environmental Impact Coordinator, Orbit Group

When I think of memorable customer service, I think of something personalised, authentic. The usual things spring to mind too: fast, reliable, convenient, accessible, but these form more of an expectation of basic customer service, rather than the ‘five-star tripadvisor review’ kind-of-service I’d tell my friends about.

The difference between these levels, is knowing the role technology can, and should, play. In social housing, customers are the heart of what we do, our purpose. Every service we provide is a customer service whether on the ‘frontline’ or not. Technology provides the tools to build those basic expectations (which shouldn’t be underestimated), but what it can’t do is create a culture and the people that go that extra mile to deliver outstanding customer experiences.

As society and the environment around customers change, their needs and expectations change, and our services must adapt accordingly. If we don’t, we risk failing them.

And while some of this evolution is gradual and predictable; for example growth of our ageing population, it can also be rapid and unforeseen; Covid-19 has certainly taught us that. Digital technology in particular not only allows this adaptation, but in doing so, improves customer service, here are four possible ways:

  • Allowing a more diverse and representative customer voice to be heard.

The range of engagement tools technology provides means we can listen to more customers through a format relevant and accessible to them, shaping our services accordingly.

  • Enabling a proactive rather than reactive service.

The ability to communicate with homes themselves allows smarter, more efficient services whilst being a step ahead on compliance and staying open to innovation.

  • Providing a seamless customer experience.

Technology eases the complex web of internal and external teams to prevent a disjointed customer journey.

  • Connecting services beyond housing.

For thriving communities collaboration with other supporting services like healthcare and transport can provide a comprehensive customer service.

Technology has a substantial role to play in helping us listen, adapt and ultimately improve customer service. Used in the right ways it can be a force for good, but we mustn’t forget the irreplaceable value human interaction plays, only when these two things are balanced can we provide truly memorable customer service.


Kath Menzies, Housing Services Officer, Link Housing Association

From a customer perspective, a digital service offers very desirable qualities: instantaneous, reliable, accessible, and recordable communication with their landlord.

The pandemic has really demonstrated the reliance we and our customers have on digital services. Cloud based storage and accessible contact methods including e-mails and Apps; have enabled a level of service to continue throughout lockdown. Appropriate data collection and analysis has identified vulnerable and at-risk tenants who might require additional support, and housing providers have been able to cater to those in most need.

Investment and innovation in technology can solve many existing issues within the sector. We can already see in larger providers, the introduction of Bots to respond to initial requests, leaving call-handlers free to deal with more complex matters. The introduction of Apps has allowed tenants to report residential and communal repairs, preventing duplicate calls.

We measure good customer service by satisfaction rates and outcomes. Have the customers’ needs been met? But with investment in technology we can anticipate customer needs and meet them before they even recognise they have them.

In years to come, I envisage social housing providers will be at the forefront of investment of technology in homes. Integrated Artificial Intelligence will be a permanent in-built fixture in new-builds. Tenants will be able to request a repair, or confirm their balance through voice commands, via systems like Amazon Echo.

Homes will be more energy efficient with smart thermostats that can optimally heat homes and monitor humidity etc with smart thermostats reporting issues directly to landlords, preventing decants and unhappy customers.

Solar panels and outside charger ports will be the norm in an increasingly electrified world.

Viewings will be done virtually, and drones are already being used for roof inspections.

Homeless households and those at risk of being homeless will particularly benefit when we change to digitalisation of important documents like Birth Certificates. Really, the opportunity to improve services for internal and external customers is boundless.

Be so ambitious in improving service delivery that you can only hope that technology will keep up!


Natalie Makin, Energy Services Team Leader, Stockport Homes

Technology has vastly improved the services and ways in which we communicate with our customers. The next evolutionary step for technology in this sector is not only how we interact with our customers but how we view our homes and properties, they should no longer be looked at as simply space and shelter but also as an energy cell or systems.

By embracing technology to combine energy generation, storage, smart controls and other energy efficiency measures to reduce energy demand we can transform homes to become part of a smarter UK energy network rather than an increasing demanding drain on it.

By taking this approach and viewing a house as an energy system it can not only generate energy to run the property but also distribute extra energy back to the grid to support the network and help at peak demands times; using smart controls providing energy balance to the grid with competitive and innovative tariff solutions for customers is referred to as grid parity.

Smart controls which offer grid support at peak times using new technology can provide minor and discrete changes to the properties heating set up. The subtle and unnoticeable heat changes within the properties at a district level will help reduce the demand of energy for that region and support grid balancing.

By embracing new technology’s with smart controls not only are we supporting customers with upgraded heating systems which are more comfortable and cost effective, but we have additional monitoring data to offer bespoke in-depth support to our customers while on our journey towards zero carbon targets.

With the additional monitoring and information that comes with smart controls (temperature, motion, humidity) we can support customers behavioural changes and reduce fuel poverty which in turn will alleviate some pressures on local health services and highlight any customers not engaging with the systems for referral to an Energy Advice Service.

The motion sensor supporting the heating programme has additional benefits to support vulnerable customers or those supported by adult social care, as alerts can be set up if there is activity out of someone’s normal routine


Halisha Kaur, Senior Regeneration Officer, Accord Group

Lockdown highlighted our appetite for instant access to everything, from online movies to same day delivery of goods. As technology drives customer expectations, our culture is changing and ‘on demand’ access to goods and services is becoming commonplace.

Good customer service is not just about exceeding expectations; it’s about being available and accessible to our customers through their preferred channels of communication.

It is not just millennials embracing the digital culture. Data from the ONS shows 80% of ages 65 to 74 use the internet, and there has been a dramatic increase in internet usage in over 75’s from 20% in 2011 to 44% in 2018. So how can Housing Association’s use technology to adapt to this changing landscape?

Enter Ava the Chatbot, Accord’s Virtual Assistant. Ava is accessible 24/7 on Accord’s website and Facebook Messenger, providing instant responses to customer queries based on data and analytics collected from Accord’s customer care team.  As many of us are familiar with communicating in an informal way through mobile messaging and Facebook, Ava supports customers to embrace a channel of technology they feel comfortable using.

Ava is a prime example of how simple technologies can provide customers with quick, easy access to information they require at the tip of their fingers.  Although its early days, Accord are already seeing results, with customer interactions tripling via their online platform.

The use of a Chatbot helps ease pressure off front line staff through automating the more repetitive and straight forward enquiries; this allows more focus on detailed calls for those customers who may require it, improving overall customer service.

Of course, a Chatbot is not the only solution to improving customer service; it is just one touch point within the wider customer journey. Investing in such technology supports customers from a diverse range of backgrounds by making services more accessible to all.

As technology continues to change we must ensure we are meeting our customers’ needs and improving customer service through a more inclusive approach, providing different ways for our customers to engage and making information easily accessible.


Harry Forshaw, Youth Volunteer Coordinator, Poplar HARCA

Before talking about technology and the way it can enhance the experience of a customer, I need to define what exactly a ‘customer’ is within the context of my role working for Poplar HARCA (PH) in east London.

As Youth Volunteering Coordinator at Spotlight (PH’s youth provision in Tower Hamlets), my job involves designing, developing and delivering high-quality leadership, empowerment and volunteering opportunities for young 11-19 year-olds. In essence, then, it is my duty to help young people aspire to become the politicians, CEOs, faith leaders and social influencers of the future. No small task. As such, my ‘customers’ are not quite who you might have expected them to be!

So what relationship do these young people have with technology? This has changed dramatically over the last seven months. Since lockdown struck and forced schools to close on March 20th, young people have become increasingly separated from their friends, teachers and youth workers.

Remote calls have quickly become a go-to resource for both pupils and professionals who for the first time are able to talk to - and see - their friends and colleagues from the comfort of their homes. As a youth worker I think this has been a positive shift – it’s provided an additional means of communication and has dismantled many of the physical and mental barriers to accessing youth services which may have been there before.

So what about the negative impacts of technology on the lives of my 11-19 year-old customers? The more I talk to young people, the more I learn about how their lives and behaviours are increasingly influenced and swayed by the current trends present on any number of social media platforms.

This can result in individuals feeling left out, isolated, pressurised and embarrassed. Add to this equation the lightning speed at which young people can communicate with each other via WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter - phew! - and you have an unprecedented virtual environment the effects of which on young people’s mental health we are still trying to establish.

Spotlight is looking to use technology to play into the hands (quite literally) of these young people, by developing a state-of-the-art smart phone and tablet Application, which will tap into this virtual environment by providing young people with a means of instant messaging and communication with youth workers, quick access to a wide range of resources relating to mental, physical and sexual wellbeing, and with the opportunity to find out about pathways towards self-development, training and further education.

Once rolled out, ‘YourSpot’ will be a sector-leading technological development set to change the way youth work is carried out across the country.

Being aware of the dangers that technology can pose to my ‘customers’ - as well as recognising the way in which the world is rapidly changing for young people - has been a very important part of my job delivering high-impact and meaningful programmes for 11-19 year-olds in Tower Hamlets.

What has become clear is that taking an accessible, youth-led and informed approach to its use can - and will - have the potential to transform the lives of young people - in an instant - for the better.