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Designing great customer experiences: guide now available

Blog by Byrony Willet, CEO, Maryhill HA and Shelley Hutton, Customer Service and Research Manager, Castle Rock Edinvar Housing Association Limited.

Innovation is inherently linked to the idea of newness – new ideas, cultures, systems or products that add value. We think it is this association that puts people off. New things are inherently risky because they are untested; they might go wrong. Things going wrong is not good in a very risk-averse sector. This is often for good reason - we deal with long-term assets, receive public money and work with very vulnerable customers. However, the impact of this risk aversion can mean that we don’t try new things at all, and we don’t keep pace with our customers’ changing aspirations.

This was why we joined the SFHA’s innovation community – to learn about innovating in practice and see what tools and techniques we could take back to our own organisations and to share with others.

Our project was about applying ‘design thinking’ principles to housing association service design. Design thinking is about applying the principles of design and product development to other settings. In broad terms, key steps are: really listen to your customers; empathise with their experiences; generate ideas; prototype then test.

We decided to test the impact of this approach by reviewing the same system – complaints – in four different ways:

  • desktop-based research into good practice
  • traditional staff workshop – mapping out the process and identifying areas for improvement
  • traditional tenant engagement workshop with our scrutiny panels
  • meeting complainants directly in their own homes and on the telephone and listening to and gathering their experiences.

It sounds obvious, but we found out the value of listening to our customers. Staff wanted to talk about efficient processes and how to save them time, but it was when we listened to customers, and let them tell us what was important to them, that we got a real insight into how to make things better – to meet their aspirations of our services. They told us how they felt and gathered the ‘pain points’ and opportunities to make a positive difference to the interaction.

We have been able to apply this learning practically to our own complaints process in a way that isn’t intimidating to staff, because we have tested it with real people and can show how it will make a difference. Also, we can tell the stories of the customers we have spoken to which will make much more of an impact than berating people, because only 80% of complaints have been responded to within timeframes.

So, innovation doesn’t have to be about new things, it can just be about using the information you already have in a different way to make things better. Come join the party and see what difference it could make to your organisation.

Castle Rock Edinvar

I used the design thinking tools to capture how we might make a difference to our complaints service. They are really simple tools and make it really easy to facilitate the different workshops and conversations. Finding out what customers experienced when they complained gives us valuable insight. The best thing was it didn’t really take that long. An hour each for the staff and scrutiny workshops and between 15 minutes and an hour for the conversations with customers. Effectively, you can achieve a thorough review of a service and gather your insight in a day.

We have dovetailed a design thinking approach with our Improvement Science approach at Castle Rock Edinvar. This articulates the aims and drivers of our improvement ideas, sets out how we test them and tracks the improvements – or otherwise. We have a current Test of Change in motion on complaints, specifically to ensure resolution at Stage 1 without the customer escalating to Stage 2.   

Maryhill Housing

At Maryhill Housing, we also used the ‘design thinking’ tools to review our complaints process and enjoyed the same benefits as Shelley. It was fantastic to gain real insight into customer experience and potential process improvement without a year-long review process involving expensive consultants and extensive data collection.

We are planning to use this method again this year to review our customer standards; this time, we are hoping to film some of the customer conversations so that we can use their direct experiences to train staff and engage different customers.

The Customer Experience Toolkit is now available in the downloads section on the right-hand side of this page. 

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