Gavin Hitchcock (Head of ICT) at Futures Housing Group is a guest contributor for our blog. Here he discusses Futures’ approach to online customer self-service and why they have a strong focus on customers being able to book their repairs online.  Gavin also talks about its importance to achieving key efficiencies for the business, and how it fits into broader transformational activity, and turning potential challenges into success.

Futures Housing Group is reviewing its operating model to focus on achieving effortless customer experiences. Our transformation team have been focusing on specific business areas and looking at the processes and transactions to see how they touch our customers and where processes can be streamlined.  Importantly, we are looking at all the ‘elements’ of our processes from the customer perspective to see if they add value for them: if they don’t they are considered as ‘waste’.  Where ‘waste’ is found we naturally try and remove it from the process to make the customer experience effortless.

The catalyst for this project came from when our transformation team looked at the request a repair process. The team looked at the repairs service in microscopic detail, always looking at it from the ‘outside in’ (rather than inside out) to gain a customer centric view.  One significant factor during this analysis was the call volumes from customers into our customer services team for enquiries relating to repairs.  With over 60% of all calls received being for repair requests and with a lot of these being repeat calls to check or chase information on already appointed repairs it was obvious that we had an opportunity to improve this service for our customers as well as gaining significant business efficiencies.

If we were able to deliver an online, self-service, fully automated and 24×7 repairs service we could save the Group significant resources whilst improving customer choice options in how (and when) they ‘transact’ with us.  Staff could be redeployed to other areas of work to further improve customer services, and we would meet our promise of delivering effortless customer experiences by extending our service hours through offering the choice of an online service enabling our customers to book a repair at a time and place of their convenience.

Our repairs process therefore became a key target for transformation, and for me, this was like pushing on an open door because it seems so obvious.  In the ‘Hitchcock household’ I honestly can’t remember the last time we went grocery shopping at a supermarket.  Each week we order our shopping online, and it arrives at our door on the same day and time each week.  It’s simple and convenient for us, we can order from anywhere (even having ordered from abroad to have the shopping delivered for our return), we don’t have to spend money on fuel, and best off all we don’t have to slog around the shop carrying bags to and from the car.  We even ‘nab’ the occasional online bargain that we wouldn’t have got by shopping in the ‘normal’ way.  Surely if we can bank and shop online we can offer this same convenience for requesting and managing a repair to our customers?

This all sounds great – but it’s only useful if our customers are actually going to use online services otherwise it’s a wasted investment.  So before we started working with Orchard, we asked Experian to analyse our customer demographic to see how likely there were to use online services.  They provided us with masses of really useful and insightful information, but broadly speaking they found that:

  •      a third of our customers were actively using and preferred online services
  •      a third would use online services, but may need some assistance and/or encouragement
  •      a third were very unlikely to use online services at all.

This information was really useful as it gave us clear visibility of who would be likely to use an online repairs service (with or without assistance) and who we could push it to by targeted marketing for example.  With clear sight of potentially two thirds of our customers being likely users, it was of obvious benefit to try and provide an online repairs service.

At this stage we formed a strategic partnership with Orchard, Greensquare and First Wessex to develop ‘Self Appointing Repairs’.  Futures, Greensquare and First Wessex (‘the Partners’) worked very closely together to draw up an initial specification of requirements, which Orchard then turned into a development project specification for delivery over two phases of development.

In terms of the turning potential challenges into success, I would say that there are three key areas for us in terms of providing online services to our customers: 1. our customer demographic, 2. internal culture, and 3. investment.

Customer demographic

Our customer demographic will provide a challenge for us in terms of hitting the online take up rate we want to achieve and we need to think of ways to get our customers using technology.  So, for example, changing our process so that if a customer calls to request a repair, that we make sure they are signed up to the online service, and then walk them through booking a repair online.  Also, as our staff become increasingly mobile and spend time with our customers, they can show them how to use our online services during their visit to drive adoption of the new online services.

The ‘look and feel’, design, intuitiveness and functionality of the software is critical to success.  We have to remember that this is consumer solution and that the first impression is key.  The online software solution has to look good, be useful and reliable.  It must be available from any device and any browser.  If you don’t make a good first time impression it will be incredibly hard to get the customer to come back and ‘switch’ from the telephone to the online service.  It is therefore essential that the Orchard Self Appointing Repairs solution can ‘stand up’ against the high quality, consumer grade applications that we are all used to using.  The old adage ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’ is very pertinent in the world of software apps.  With this challenge in mind, the Partners have been working closely with Orchard to ensure the software is of the highest possible quality.  Additionally, we plan to ‘gently’ introduce Self Appointing Repairs to a pilot customer group in a controlled ‘soft roll-out’.  We will also work closely with our Customer Services team and starting with this pilot customer group, we will then extend the solution to our existing online service customers, before rolling it out to our entire customer base.

Internal culture

We will also have to consider some aspects of internal culture at Futures.  For example, some staff members may not fully understand the benefits of the online service, and it’s reasonable to assume that if they are unaware of these benefits or simply do not ‘buy into’ the online service that they will not promote the solution when they are in contact with our customers.  We therefore need to invest the time to ensure that all of staff understand what the Self Appointing Repairs solution offers to turn each and every one of them into a digital ambassador for the Group.


Finally, we need to view online self-service as something that needs continual investment and drive to keep it as up-to-date and relevant for our customers as possible.  With this in mind, as we near the end of the Phase 1 development with Orchard, we (the Partners) are already starting to discuss ‘what next’ to further enhance the online service offering for all of our customers.

Looking ahead

There are three things that I am really excited about that this project should achieve.  As I come from a commercial background, first of all I am looking forward to seeing the huge reduction in resources required for something that should be straightforward – and seeing those resources put to better use. Secondly, I am really keen to deliver upon our promise of effortless customer services by providing greater choice and flexibility in how our customers request and manage a repair online. And thirdly, I am really looking forward to making all of this a reality as we move the solution from its current ‘in development’ phase to being in live operation and being used by our customers on a 24x7x365 basis.

Gavin Hitchcock, Head of ICT, Futures Housing Group



Want to know more? Check out our ‘Orchard Digital’ page, which includes blog pieces by our staff and customers on digital transformation and mobilising your workforce.