How Housing Associations Can Rebuild the Sector’s Reputation
Exceptional customer care is not a laurel any property professional can rest on. Consumer expectations are rapidly increasing and transcending sectors. Opinions are so readily shared online that housing providers cannot afford to let standards slip.
BrightLocal’s 2023 survey of consumer reviews revealed that 70% of consumers deemed online reviews as being either Important or Very Important factors when considering real estate companies.
Coupled with Inside Housing’s recent revelation that 92% of respondents working in social housing were concerned about the sectors’ reputation, it has perhaps never been more important for housing associations to address shortcomings when it comes to tenant support.
Luke Cross, Director at Social, highlighted the need for “a joined-up, sustained effort, that sees a change in the way the sector talks about itself and engages with its stakeholders, not least its residents – being both proud of its social purpose and the contribution it makes to society, but also being really open and honest about the challenges and what it needs to do better.”
The top three suggestions for improving the sector’s reputation make for interesting reading:
- Providing better services (60%)
- Increased focus on social purpose and positive stories (48%)
- Greater resident involvement (47%)
There is a clear acknowledgement of the chasm between the industry and the individuals to whom it is supposed to serve. These suggestions – and the high response-rate – highlight the urgency with which these issues need to be addressed.
As with everything in this digital age, the sectors’ unfavourable reputation has been imprinted online, with housing associations receiving an average Google rating of 3.2. In BrightLocal’s analysis of Google reviews, the average rating was found to be 4.4. While this doesn’t sound disastrous, Podium found the lowest rating that consumers would consider engaging with to be 3.3.
In December, the Better Social Housing Review was published, which included recommendations for registered providers of social housing to work with and empower tenants so that their influence was felt at every level of decision-making across the organisations, while developing a proactive community presence and partnering with tenants to develop and apply maintenance and repairs standards.
So, the need for improvement is clear and almost universally agreed upon.
And while change doesn’t happen overnight, BrightLocal’s research that found that 84% of consumer ““believe that reviews older than three months aren’t relevant” proves that housing associations can potentially change the perception of their organisation in just one quarter.
An effective way for developers to boost their reputation is to replicate best practices within their own set-up. There are lessons aplenty to be applied from the private build sector, in which various consumer codes, not to mention the high expectations of homebuyers, have placed a long-standing emphasis on delivering a robust and responsive customer experience.
Having provided the private sales sector with market-leading handover solutions for over 25 years, and having recently worked with several housing associations, we are well positioned to share our experience and expertise with the social sector to help implement better tenant satisfaction measures.
‘Bespoke’ is the word from which our operations have all evolved. It was our USP 25+ years ago and it continues to be to this day. And it’s the easiest way to earn your tenants’ trust.
According to SmarterHQ, 72% of consumers claim to only engage with personalised messaging. This likely stems from our basic human quest for acknowledgement. Especially when doing so requires only a small amount of extra effort, consumers understandably grow frustrated and wary of brands when this courtesy isn’t extended.
With Classic Folios and Spaciable’s products – ranging from Tenancy Manuals to an award-winning residential portal, everything can be tailored to the individual plot, ensuring tenants aren’t expected to wade through irrelevant information. They will see their address, their documents and details specifically about their home.
In a sector that is aware of its need to provide stronger tenant engagement, the first step can be as simple as reaffirming their value as individuals.
A Digital Presence
According to the English Housing Survey, in 2020/21 84% of social renters had internet access at home.
The age group of 18-44 comprises over 30% of social renters and over 75% of the share of internet usage. With these statistics in mind, it is essential that housing associations maintain a strong online presence – as both a way to communicate with tenants, as well as enable smooth processes for various tasks.
Accessible online processes optimise communication between tenants and housing associations, eliminating the wait for returned phone calls or the frustration of not knowing whether messages have been received.
Online support gives affordable housing associations a 24/7 presence, which is key to the peace of mind of tenants who often feel unseen. When tenants communicate through a portal such as Spaciable, they do so in the knowledge that their message will be read by the correct individual in your organisation and responded to. This assurance goes a long way to make them feel heard and supported.
Responding to Defects and Issues
Responding to your tenants’ issues and defects in a timely fashion ensures tenants that they have your respect and demonstrates your attitude towards their welfare. Although the law does not stipulate a specific time frame for repairs other than in a ‘timely manner’, to be acknowledged as conscientious, housing associations will need to be swift in their response to these reports, even if the work to be carried out might take significantly longer.
Communication here is key. Tenants are more sympathetic and understanding of any delays when they are kept up to date on the progress of repairs, whether that be sourcing contractors, awaiting materials or being notified of the dates they need to provide access for the repairs to be completed.
Using internet-based communication is the easiest and quickest way to keep tenants informed of the progress being made to complete their repairs. This digital conversation can also be kept as an audit trail of communication, should either party need it for review.
Spaciable’s Defect Reporting tool allows tenants to notify housing associations immediately of any defect, ensuring this information is seen by the relevant member of your organisation.
Also, Spaciable’s FAQ pages helps tenants to ensure the defect they need repaired is in fact the responsibility of the housing association and not an issue that they are responsible for dealing with themselves. This also saves you time responding to defects that are not your responsibility.
The importance of community building on any development is paramount to the feelings of happiness and inclusion for its residents.
For tenants of housing associations, this is even more imperative as one of the most common complaints for social housing tenants is that of anti-social behaviour:
‘Anti-social behaviour harms communities and can severely impact people’s way of life.’
‘Registered social housing providers (such as housing associations and local authority landlords) have a responsibility to prevent anti-social behaviour by keeping the neighbourhood and communal areas under their control safe and clean. Landlords should make it easy for tenants to report anti-social behaviour, take complaints seriously and act professionally. They must publish, and provide to you if you ask, documents that set out the types of behaviours they can help to tackle.’
Spaciable Living, our residential engagement and property management app, contains a list of Key Contacts available at the tap of a button, meaning tenants are able to notify the correct member of your team of any behaviours that are causing them distress.
The app also includes a Library feature, where you can store any documents for your tenants to review, including that of your policy on dealing with anti-social behaviour and what steps can be taken to help victims.
And finally, the interactive aspect of Spaciable Living not only allows communication between housing associations and their tenants, but it also enables tenants to chat amongst themselves. They can share updates and pictures, and even organise group activities.
This feature has been designed to encourage residents to better get to know each other in order to form friendships where they might otherwise have remained strangers. By encouraging these relationships, tenants can be there to support each other through any difficult situation, and should find their feelings of loneliness or isolation are much reduced.
Another positive outcome of forming friendships within the community, is that it increases your tenants’ sense of pride in where they live, and them regarding their home and community more favourably.
If you would like to get in touch about Spaciable Living and how it can be used to elevate your tenant care and the wider reputation of the housing association sector, email firstname.lastname@example.org citing your availability and a member of the team will be in contact.