Welcome to the WM Blog
Welcome to our blog where staff from across WM Housing Group will be sharing their news, views and thoughts about our sector. We’re interested in conversations rather than just telling you what we think. If you’ve been intrigued enough to read, share your views with us in the comments section.
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Posted on 22 May 2013
Jo Lea, Optima Community Association’s Projects Manager
If you look on the web sites of most housing organisations the mission statement will invariably refer to ‘community’. You’ll see phrases like ‘creating a community where people want to live’ and ‘a community based organisation’. Many residents will also refer to wanting to live in a community or older residents will wax lyrically about how it was and how there isn’t a community round here anymore.
What does community mean?
What do people actually mean when they talk about ‘community’? The dictionary definition is ‘a group of people living in the same place or having characteristics in common’. Just because our residents live in the same block or the same street does that necessarily make them a community?
Community is also rapidly being redefined by new technology. There is a whole community on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, all communicating and commenting. Some of it may be superficial, some of it may be serious but there are millions of people every day on a virtual street corner, chatting away.
In relation to the homes we manage, some residents just want to come home, shut the door and live in their own little castle. Some residents are organising the street party, doing a litter pick, and complaining about the state of the pavements. In my experience both as a community activist and paid worker (poacher turned gamekeeper if you like), however much, or little, people want to be involved, they like the idea that someone is looking out for their area, making it a good place to live.
Why community building in straightened times matters
The Community Projects team at Optima often get strange looks when we are booking a clown or face painter. It would be fair to say that in these straightened times, questions could be asked about why we still organise community fun days, support play schemes for kids and award prizes for the best gardens.
I think a repair being carried out quickly, grounds maintained efficiently and your area’s annual fun days are indivisible. Being a good landlord, in terms of your property and creating a sense of belonging and community, gives our residents a sense of being connected to where they live. I passionately believe that if we foster community spirit, residents will want to look after their homes, their neighbours, report anti-social behaviour and the ultimate bottom line – pay their rent on time.
Posted on 16 May 2013
Our vision for services
Elaine Cash, Journey to Excellence Project Manager
In this day and age, being able to access
services at any time of day using smartphones, tablets, your laptop or PC is
becoming the norm. But if you’re a WM Housing Group customer, trying to do the
same, it’s not so easy. Our
Journey to Excellence programme (J2E) plans to change that, making sure that in
the future, customers will have the same wide range of options for accessing
our services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
This is what services will look like after J2E
If you’re a customer, you will be able to securely see and change your own personal details and raise service requests online. You will still be able to ring and speak to someone about any aspect of your tenancy by calling a single local number and, in time, your housing officer will be more available to you in your community.
Face-to-face access will be more personalised and is likely to be brought to you rather than you having to come to us, although drop in facilities will still be available.
When you report a repair, we arrive, do the job and check if there’s anything else that needs doing . You’ve changed your mobile phone number? No problem, we can update that while we’re with you.
Your housing office visits you to discuss your report of anti-social behaviour but while she’s there, you want to know when your kitchen is being replaced. Today, she would have to go back to the office and get someone to contact you, in the near future, she’ll just look the details up on the tablet she carries with her.
One point of contact
However you choose to contact us, our teams will be able to answer most of your questions at that first point of contact without passing you to another part of WM. That will save you time and money.
Learning from Amazon
Service delivery will be designed to be right first time. You will be kept fully informed when that can’t happen for whatever reason. You’ll be able to track some services, like a part for a repair, in the way you might track a parcel from Amazon online.
All customer contacts, however a customer chooses to make contact with WM, will be managed to ensure one contact, one service, right first time, every time.
You can follow Elaine Cash on Twitter @cash_elaine
Posted on 09 May 2013
Nostalgia is not enough
Customer magazines, or the good old fashioned printed newsletter, have long been the backbone of social housing providers sharing news and information with their residents. The problem is that they were conceived in an era when print was king, when people relied on newspapers for their news, and local papers ran several editions a day. Now many of those local papers don’t even exist anymore. The truth is that although some people liked them, and lots of people liked ‘the idea’ of them - it was nowhere near enough for them to remain viable. It’s a sad fact of today’s world but a business cannot just run on nostalgia. These days the crown of the written word lies on a more digital head.
We faced a similar dilemma with our customer magazines. We have 28,000 homes spread across four counties, from rural to urban. Some are concentrated in fairly tight geographical area, whereas some are spread all around the countryside. So the idea of a generic magazine, trying to reach all of this diverse audience, had become a hiding to nowhere. Anyone who has taken time to profile the demographics of their residents recently will know that in terms of targeting an audience, for most of us there is no ‘average’ customer any more.
True, we could have gone back to printing a number of different versions, but that probably wouldn’t have produced the diverse news each area would benefit from or covered the multitude of different languages our customer speak. It would have increased costs, increased workloads and still left us with ever so slightly less generic newsletters that end up being recycled without being read. If you want to target information to specific audiences within our customer base, it is unlikely we could realistically do it via the printed newsletter anymore. And the problem was far more complicated than even that.
Failing to be relevant or cost effective
To us, the most significant factor, is the relevance and timeliness of the information we provide. Given that we were sending them out three times a year, in the most extreme example the newsletter could be reporting on things that happened four months prior to publication and events that are taking place four months down the line. Neither of which are very practical in terms of engagement or information sharing. The most ‘current’ news that was reported on was weeks out of date at best, unless by pure happenstance the event or whatever it was, coincided with the planned publication date. Not really a good use of resources.
Which brings me onto the costs. Production of a printed newsletter is just plain expensive, even with an in-house team who pared the costs down to a bare minimum. Factor in the recent increase in postal costs, the total bill (for three 24 page issues a year) was around £60,000, which is an awful lot of money by anybody’s standards. Of that total around half (£30,000) is the postage alone.
So things had to change - and they have. Throughout 2012 we ran a number of articles in the magazines, telling customers we were planning to stop them and asking for their feedback. From which we received not a single objection. Then in early 2013, we received about half a dozen queries/complaints, which we addressed individually. We have over 28,000 homes and over 52,000 customers, so we can fairly safely say that objection rate was not high. So from the end of 2012 we bit the bullet and stopped producing printed newsletters for the vast majority of our customers
To replace them we have undertaken a number of measures, including:
Increasing and revamping the news sections of our association websites.
Increasing our use of social media on Group wide and association level.
Reviewing our online offerings, as part of a much bigger Group wide project considering the way we interact with residents and deliver our services.
Created an electronic residents magazine, sent out via email and available online. Simpler to view and easier to access those things which might be relevant to them.
And importantly using our existing demographic data to target communications (on and offline) on specific messages to specific audiences, to ensure better take up rates and better engagement.
Send targeted (printed) information out with quarterly rent statements.
Continue to provide information via housing offices and partners offices.
And (to risk a cliché), much, much more.
Reaching the digitally excluded
And finally before anyone accuses us of ignoring that significant percentage of our residents who are digitally excluded and therefore unable to access the online elements of the above, rest assured that they are not forgotten. Firstly we have made a group wide offer to provide news in a printed format, to any resident who requests it. Although so far this has number under half a dozen! And most importantly we take digital inclusion very seriously at WM, have increased our work substantially, and will continue to do so in the future. But that, as they say, is another story.
You can follow Darren Wood on Twitter @thatdarrenwood
Posted on 25 April 2013
We are intrigued by new digital channels, but while we focus on the technology, WM Housing's Communication's Officer, Georgette Wright, makes the case for content and particularly our choice of words.
A simple choice of words
There’s a line of dialogue in the 1995 film ‘Dead Man Walking’ that changed the way I thought about language and how we choose our words.
Susan Sarandon, plays a character called Sister Helen Prejean. She befriends a man on death row, upsetting the parents of a teenage boy he has murdered. When she meets the parents at a court hearing, they are angry that Sister Prejean never took the time to meet them and accuse her of arrogance. Unable to put the incident out of her mind, she’s decides to visit them. They are not happy to see her and she responds by saying,
‘Can l please speak with you?’
At the time, we would more usually say,
‘Can I please speak to you?’
There is such a difference in wanting to talk 'with', rather than 'to' someone. One suggests dialogue, the other a monologue.
I vividly remember sitting in the cinema, rooting for Sister Helen, relieved when she crossed the threshold. Yes! You did it Sister, that was the right choice of words. In the darkness of the cinema; it made me smile.
Words set the tone
Our choice of word sets the tone for the relationship we will have with many of the people we provide services for. I believe you are more likely to encourage people to care for the place they live in if you refer to it as their home rather than as a property or that dreadful, almost Victorian word, dwelling.
Words matter to people
When Optima joined WM Housing Group, there was a passionate plea from some tenants not to be referred to as customers, which is the Group’s preferred style for addressing tenants. They wanted to be called residents. Colin Williams, who is a resident and Board member said,
‘If you call us a customer, it’s like putting a desk between us.’
With his words, he painted a picture that powerfully summed up the relationship he had with his landlord. If you’re interested, we now use a bit of both, but we mainly refer to our tenants as residents.
Choosing the right words
Word choice is important. We get into the flow of writing and when we’re busy, we automatically reach for a familiar phrase, but the next time you write something pause:
- Think about tailoring your words for your audience. Will they understand the jargon? Is English their first language?
- Think about what you are attempting to do. Are you breaking bad news, aiming to encourage or give instructions?
- Think about how you want the reader to feel. Motivated? A sense of urgency? A sense of belonging? A sense of your authority?
My interest in words and how they used was rekindled after reading a wonderful book called ‘Copy. Righter.’ by Ian Atkinson. He’s been behind some fantastic advertising campaigns. I recommend you read it. It could help you choose the right words.
Words can paint a picture so compelling you’ll part with your money. They can obfuscate, handy in PR but use sparingly, we always know when an organisation is pulling the wool over our eyes and it’s infuriating. Jargon creates the impenetrable barrier for the uninitiated. Words can comfort, breed resentment and make you roar with laughter.
Share your story
What are words worth to you? What's the worst example of corporate jargon you have ever come across? What's your favourite example of great copy? Share your story in the comments box below.
Plain English Campaign
‘Brilliant Copywriting’ by Roger Horberry, as an excellent alternative to Ian Atkinson’s book.
The Guardian Style Guide
Thanks to Mark McArthur-Christie @freemanchristie for these suggestions:
'Why I Write' by George Orwell
'What HP Sauce can teach you about communication in customer complaints.' Excellent tips to help you step out of corporate speak when you respond to complaints.
*Lyrics of 1981’s ‘Wordy Rapping Hood’ by Tom Tom Club.
You can follow Georgette Wright on Twitter @GeorgetteWMG
Posted on 11 April 2013
Good practice ideas from Katie Moore, Research & Development Co-ordinator
Why is research important to the housing sector?
The housing sector is going through radical changes and it is becoming apparent that this pace of change is set to continue. In my role I spend a lot of time digesting new policy and what implications it has for WM Housing and the sector.
Research activities are commissioned by a variety of organisations including housing associations,
government departments, and major think tanks (JRF, Policy Exchange) and
provides an evidence base both in statistical or quantitative and qualitative
Statistical or quantitative evidence put simply is about numbers and hard data; it is often
based on involving a large number of people to achieve the findings, that is through surveys. In contrast qualitative evidence is the
collection and analysis of data which is based on observing what people do and
say. This can be achieved through in-depth interviews and focus groups and requires smaller numbers of people.
How is research used?
So now you all know what research is, how is it used and what can it achieve? Research evidence includes behaviours,
knowledge, views and perceptions (actual and potential) on the outside world which includes perceptions and behaviours of our customers or future customers. This knowledge can be powerful in a variety of ways and is often used to inform the following:
- Policy or strategy development
- Good practice guidance
- Problem solving
- Monitoring and analysis of policy implementation
Pitfalls to avoid when commissioning and using research
It is essential when commissioning research that there are clear outcomes set which can be produced and that the findings can be communicated in ways which is accessible to all and jargon free or meaningful to non-specialists.
Research which fails to have an impact on policy shaping and decision making typically includes:
- Failures to produce clear outcomes without caveats
- Reluctance for researchers to identify policy implication
- Findings are not communicated in a meaningful /accessible way
Making yourself heard
You've done all the work and have a solid piece of research but how to you get people to take notice of it? With uncertainty looming on the future of housing policy, many housing associations and influential think tanks are now recognising the importance of social networks in getting others to take notice of research, particularly relationships with government officials and others close to the heart of policy development.
You can follow Katie on Twitter @KatieTriHard