Moving beyond the numbers

One of the wisest comments anyone has said to me during my many years in social housing is that “you can’t reduce everything to a score out of ten”.


It’s a phrase that is particularly pertinent when it comes to customer satisfaction, the Holy Grail of the social housing sector.

In a sector where choice isn’t an option, customer satisfaction provides a comfort blanket measure of efficiency.

Headlines are made by it. Bonuses are paid by it. And objectives are driven by it.

And yet, everyone knows customer satisfaction isn’t telling the whole story.

They know we’ve routinely been asking the same questions to the same self-selecting residents. We know what their issues are.

As our services have become more diverse, so many in the sector have been searching for the silver bullet, in the form of a more sophisticated methodology for customer satisfaction. I hold my hands up: I was one of those who made this call.

Our research – Beyond Customer Insight – began with that purpose in mind. Our findings, however, should signal the end of that search, not because we’ve discovered the silver bullet, but because we think there is no silver bullet.

Rather than a new model for customer satisfaction, our recommendation is for a new approach to customer satisfaction.

It means only asking your customers a question if it’s relevant to your business, and your business objectives.

It means if you’re not going to use their responses to develop actionable insights, don’t ask the question in the first place.

It means telling your customers why you’re asking the question, how you’ve used their responses, and making it as easy for them to engage with the process in their time, through the channel of their choice.

Data is at the centre of this new approach, whether it’s the data collected from our customers on a daily basis, or the data they provide through regular surveys.

But it’s more than that.

It’s about a change in mindset and behaviour.

So rather than collecting data to tell people how good your services are, collect data to improve how good you are.

This means turning the data you collect into the information you need to deliver the actionable insights that drive business transformation.

And part of this transformation involves being digital. This might involve additional short-term resources, but the longer-term benefits of enabling digital customer interactions will more than cover these costs.

That’s not to say that you should only be looking at your digital data. Data, and business intelligence, comes in many forms, including surveys, feedback, face-to-face engagement, and all need to result in actionable insights.

In the old days, we used to look at our customer satisfaction scores, and try to infer from the survey results how we could improve repairs or reduce ASB complaints.

Sometimes we got it right. Sometimes we got it wrong.

More than often than not, however, our inferences were affected because of the small volume of data we were using.

The volume of data you’ll accrue by combining your digital and analogue engagement will give you a deeper understanding of customer behaviour, and what is, or isn’t, driving customer satisfaction.

Used intelligently, it will provide you with actionable insights that result in substantial efficiencies and, more importantly, enable you to deliver your social purpose for your customers.

We need to look beyond the score out of 10.

We need to move beyond the numbers.

We need to adopt a new approach to customer satisfaction that uses the wealth of data we have so that we can provide services that meet and exceed customer expectations.