PropertyLab - Meet the Cohort #2.
With PropertyLab, we're bringing change-makers from Property and PropTech together to develop solutions that produce rapid results and create long-term strategic impact in just 14 weeks. Here's Edition #2 of our 'Meet the Cohort' series.
PropertyLab | Meet the Cohort | Edition #2:
As part of our new PropertyLab Programme, we’ll be introducing the groups and individuals that make up our pioneering first cohort.
We’ll get their insights into some of the key challenges they face as a business, and hear about what they’re looking to get out of the initial programme, which focuses on finding a solution for some of their unique goals around fire and gas regulatory compliance.
This week we’ll be talking to Lucy Graley, Executive Director of People and Business Services at Richmond Housing Partnership (RHP). Lucy will be talking to us about her role and the work that RHP Group does within the housing sector.
Introducing Lucy Graley, Executive Director of People and Business Services at RHP.
With over 15 years of experience in the HR and Business Strategy fields, Lucy understands what it takes to drive excellence through corporate services teams.
Lucy has been with RHP for just under two years and her role as Executive Director of People and Business Services means she focuses on leading the corporate services teams to improve operational efficiency and help deliver the best possible digital services and comms operations for the Group’s tenants across their entire property portfolio.
RHP Group Fast Facts:
- 10,000+ homes and properties managed in London
- Launched UK’s first fully digital housing service called RHPi in 2016
- Aims to build 1,000 additional homes by 2023
- Awarded 5 Stars from British Safety Council
- 96% Employee Satisfaction Rating
- Currently employs over 250 people
What Makes RHP Tick?
Lucy, tell us a little bit about your role and your responsibilities at Richmond Housing Partnership?
I am responsible for all of the corporate services with the exception of finance. So that means HR, IT, comms, facilities and Health & Safety on the employee side and the compliance team. I also work very closely with our operations team and customer service team who are responsible for our customers and home maintenance. Home maintenance works closely with our outsourced providers who do the majority of our response, maintenance and repairs.
What do your day to day operations look like and how do you split your time across the organisation?
It varies so much; it is quite a digital driven organisation, so IT is quite heavily involved and some of what I do is making sure we’re using technology to our advantage. So where they have routines, processes and transactions I am responsible for helping to try and make our services as speedy and user friendly as possible and ensure that our customers want to use them because they’re easier than picking up the phone.
Day-to-day, IT is very predominant. Our Group is very strongly focused on being the best employer they can be, and we invest heavily in our people. Health and Safety is absolutely essential, so we need to show we’re doing everything possible to keep customers and employees safe too. My day can really jump between those two different hats and comes down to the fundamental principles RHP Group stands for: to help deliver the best customer service we can and help ensure we’re the best employer we can be. Those 2 core pillars resonate strongly throughout the organisation.
That's great to hear. Across these two core pillars, what would you say are some of your KPIs?
We strive for the highest possible standards in customer satisfaction and we measure how quickly they can use the system.
Another big focus for us is financial security, so making sure that they remain safe over the long term, looking after the money they receive wisely and keep delivering what they need to deliver. We have a big job to make sure that when our teams can automate workloads that they do, to help ensure that they run as efficiently as possible.
"We strive for the highest possible standards in customer satisfaction and we measure how quickly they can use the system."
We’re also trying to use technology to be more innovative and help meet different market demands that we’ve identified. Part of our work is looking into a generation that are trapped in shared houses or still live with their parents because they can’t afford a house themselves but also because it’s very challenging to rent. We want to build cheaper homes in a smarter way so that they can then rent these out at a lower rate and actually have their own home one day - by saving enough to get onto the property ladder.
What are some of the most important things you’ve learnt from working alongside customers? Has that changed the way you approach your day to day?
It is really important to realise that there is such a variety of people out there. From a digital perspective, we have in the past been guilty (as well as a lot of other organisations) of designing our external facing elements to match what we do internally and sometimes we don't actually put ourselves in the shoes of the customers.
If you look at a lot of the processes behind digital journeys, if you use our portals it will take you through our internal journey as opposed to the journey the customer needs to go on. So at the moment we’re taking a real step back and looking at it in a different way to see how we can actually design around customer needs and what they’re expecting to see and do as opposed to designing it because this is how our internal organisation works in the background.
"If you look at the processes behind digital journeys, [they] will take you through our internal journey as opposed to the journey the customer needs to go on. So at the moment we’re taking a real step back and looking at it in a different way to see how we can actually design around customer needs"
It is a big piece of work for us to start doing that transition and thinking more about what we’re trying to achieve in a digital sense as opposed to doing things a certain way because a department needs information.
Fantastic to hear. What are some of the crucial tasks you look at, on an annual or quarterly basis, from a health and safety perspective?
So, from a compliance team perspective, one of the issues that worries us most is fire. We do a lot of work in building blocks and work hard to make sure all our customer have access on their accounts to all the fire safety information they need.
Again, keeping our customers safe is crucial and gas and electricals is another area we focus on. Gas is more regulated and most of the issues we’ve had have been electrical. So trying to maintain our compliance in that area is huge and the challenge is to get in time to do what we need to do with the right access.
We need to be able to prove we tried to get in contact with these customers in enough time and enough different ways to demonstrate we’ve done everything possible to keep that home safe.
Is there a step by step process to gaining access that you follow?
Gas is probably the easiest process because it is a lot more documented in different ways.
When approaching our processes, the initial challenges are; first off do we know that we have all the properties in our database? Then making sure the handover from things like development if we acquire new properties of in the database with the right dates in the right way. Are you sure that the data you have in your database is true and accurate?
There is a lot of reconciliation being done in the background on a monthly basis to check the data is all accurate. If it’s in the system, it will start triggering the process. So 6 months before it’s due, they kick off process. They give themselves a lot of time and build up towards it.
"There is a lot of reconciliation being done in the background on a monthly basis to check the data is all accurate."
The system should automatically write to the customer giving them a date for the gas appointment to be done and tell them how they can change it through the portal if needed and they can do gas bookings online and change it to a date that’s suits them. We give them a 2 hour window so they can know pretty much when it’s going to be.
Hopefully they stick to that appointment, because if customer doesn’t stick to the appointment and engineer can’t get in it will trigger a second stage, then 3rd stage and so on.
If customers get to the 3rd stage, they get a warning they might be taken to court. While this is happening, our team keeps calling and sending text messages and trying to email but we find that letter seems to be the best way of proving that we tried to get in touch.
Electrical follows a pretty similar route but we don’t book electrical appointments in advance. We’ve got a different contractor who does that and that’s one thing we’re looking to change.
The biggest issue we have with electrical is that it doesn’t get fixed there and then all the time so C1 (danger present) work will get fixed at the moment but for C2 (potentially dangerous) remedial work we’ll have to get back sometimes to solve it and that then becomes a bigger issue about actually getting the remedial work done.
How does recording for various checks work?We probably have far too many systems at the moment, and I think it’s the one thing we’re exploring in relation to our long term architecture.
The fact that we ended our financial year with only a few certificates overdue - but all compliant within our process (so they're at the injunction stage) shows that the process is working.
However, I think there’s a lot of manual effort and input to get it right. We need to step back and look at it from a customer perspective. Think more about customer behaviour, customer psychology. About how to get them to respond in the best way.
If you receive a letter saying you need to have your gas check done in 3 months most of us wait until the final moment to get it done; it’s just human nature. Like leaving your homework to the last minute. So, for me it revolves around asking if there's a better way we can word things, do things to actually drive better customer behaviour.
"If you receive a letter saying you need to have your gas check done in 3 months most of us wait until the final moment to get it done; it’s just human nature. Like leaving your homework to the last minute."
What are some of the reasons for the shift away from having housing officers on site?
This is partly in response to the 1% rent reduction that happened over the last 5 years. We reviewed all of our services and looked at what we needed and what had added value. Some of the things that housing officers were doing really should have been done online or could be done through the telephone.
We still have some people who work in the background on more complex cases but we should be providing a service which people can access anytime, anywhere, anyhow through digital means. We’re still there for people when they need it most, so the people who do need that telephone call, who do need more support that’s where we should be putting the energy, focus and attention.
If you could automate one part of your job, what would that be?
I still don't have a really clear dashboard that I can look at every day - to give me real time information about the status of compliance across the business.
If I want to know where we are I have to ask my teams or they have to send stuff across and there must be some kind of reconciliation data and I think it comes back to that point around too many systems and we don’t have them all put together in one. We do have great dashboards but we’re still missing one that’s purely about property compliance.
Do you feel there are any blind spots that might need addressing in terms of Health & Safety, Compliance?
No access shouldn’t be a reason to stop.
We are very reliant on letters. But we know people can see a letter and ignore it so have we tried texting, emailing, calling, have we tried all the different communication channels that we can do to get access? I'm always surprised how one of those various channels might get missed.
Yes, that is super pertinent, Lucy, thanks. A final one - according to you, what are the challenges or opportunities of digitising the Compliance process?
I think it comes back to compliance as an industry. I strongly believe we need an understanding of how to drive behaviour through a more digital means. It involves asking the right questions. It involves a strong research and behavioural element. Does texting work better, does emailing? Are there different things that we can learn that just help connect with our customers in a more modern way but still also are tangible and provable to court that we tried to get access.
Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time and your valuable insights, Lucy. These go a long way in making PropertyLab uniquely tailored to our cohort.
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