By Sarah Thomas, Chief Operating Officer, Peabody

We often talk about our desire to be customer-centric, or to put customers at the heart of our organisations. When it comes to service design, I think there’s a more useful way of thinking about this: outside in.

Despite a commitment to putting customers at the centre, many organisations (and not just in housing) end up designing their services from the inside out. Our internal structures, processes and talent inadvertently drive us in this direction.

We may start with customer insight, using surveys, focus groups and data, but then the experience of the organisation somehow takes over, and we find ourselves consulting with residents on something which has, essentially, been designed by us, based on what we think they want.

Designing services from the outside in could help us to be more effective and genuinely customer led. You still start with customers, but what you want to know is different.

It’s about their values, their beliefs and their problems. In addition, it’s about understanding how customers actually use services: what they do rather than what they say.

This research is complemented with codesign – designing services with customers which solve problems and deliver what they expect from us. Codesign creates the possibility of building an enduring relationship which is beneficial to both resident and organisation.

In housing, we have the enviable opportunity of building long-term relationships with our customers, evolving services with them and anticipating how these may need to change in future.

Codesign enables us to benefit from residents’ experience and enables them to appreciate the complexity of the issues we’re trying to resolve. With ever limited resources, it allows us to choose and target the services which matter most to them.

Much more than giving tenants a voice or inviting groups of residents to take part in a co-creation exercise, codesign is about building a trusted relationship which both parties value. As tenants and landlords are both equal collaborators in the design process, there’s no ‘them and us’, ‘done to’ or stigma.

Done properly, codesign requires diverse participation, benefitting from the full range of customers’ experience. Given the clear business benefits of codesign, there’s a compelling case for making it our standard way of working, and without being instructed to do so.

So, what does codesign look like in practice? Well, at Eurostar it meant accompanying customers on their journeys, talking to them about their feelings as they experienced the service, from leaving their home at 5.30am, changing a nappy on board, trying to get a bottle of milk heated and arriving in a different country with a different language for the first time.

This was followed by working with diverse groups of customers to find solutions to the emotional low points which the Eurostar teams then implemented. The result? Increased customer satisfaction and positive comments on social media.

Travel is a fleeting experience, so if we apply this approach to our world, think how it could change our relationship with tenants and future-proof our services.

At Peabody, we’ll use an outside in approach to design our localities model and digital offer. Collaborating with residents through codesign, we’ll build local offers and plans, and shape the central services and policies which support them.

Codesign is important to us because we want to earn our customers’ trust and give them a leading role in our newly-merged organisation.