For some time we’ve been thinking about how we can deliver an outstanding service for our customers and propose a vision of what a Flagship tenancy might look like in 2030.
So in 2015, we approached our Board with an end-to-end vision of a customer’s journey with Flagship. From VR headsets to remotely view and select a property, modular construction, drones to plaster and paint, Artificial Intelligence to manage basic maintenance queries, bitcoin rent payments, modular upgrades of a home to expand with a growing family and then back to VR again to select the next property.
Seeing the impact that emerging technologies could have on both customer service scores and cost, a challenge was laid down by our Board: “What would we need to do to get there?”.
Our answer back: “We don’t know yet, but allocate some budget to test new ideas, free from any business case requirements or promises on ROI, and we’ll tell you.”
And with that, the Flagship Pilot Programme was born. The Board allocated funds for us to try new technologies. In a sector like ours, the ‘fail fast’ mantra isn’t widely adopted as it’s understandably sensitive to investments not producing a return.
For us, the measure of success was failure for these pilots - the Board allocated money with the requirement that all trials that didn’t work be reported on in one year: “If we’re not talking about all of the failed projects in 12 months’ time, you’ve not tried hard enough”.
In the following year, we deployed our research and development budget on a range of the latest technologies, some bespoke for the sector, others borrowed from elsewhere. All of them were designed to start Flagship on its destination to the 2030 vision by understanding which technologies work now and which don’t or need more development.
The failure rate was high: of 20 technologies trialled 19 did not work. Some were due to the product not being commercially viable, others because the companies folded over the course of the pilot. Others survived but were simply the wrong technology for housing and were rejected. The one successful technology was Switchee.
The first major measure of success was a trial at a block of flats at Deben Road in Ipswich which saw an increase from 15% to 70% resident communication through digital channels (email & SMS). We thought if we could change that, when scaled, it could transform our customer services.
The second measure of success was changing our reactive maintenance service to a preventative one. By using Switchee’s data to identify potential issues with our properties, we were able to make pre-emptive maintenance interventions instead of waiting for an issue (such as mould) to arise. In two of the ten properties, new ventilation systems were installed as high humidity was detected. In another property, the detection of high humidity and temperature with the boiler off led to the solution of venting back heat from the tumble-dryer for free, therefore preventing future mould risk. In three other properties, Switchee’s messaging function was used to suggest measures on how to prevent other maintenance risks.
Following on from the success of the Deben Road trial, we are now installing Switchee devices in 493 of our homes to prove these outcomes on a larger scale.
Phase 2 will enable us to utilise Switchee’s remote boiler performance reporting and testing function, appointment scheduling and abandonment alerts. This will help us to identify faulty boilers prior to the heating season - preventing an onrush of callouts during the first cold snap - and reduce the number of failed callouts. It also means the abandonment alerts identify unused properties enabling us to re-let them as soon as possible, ultimately helping avoid rent arrears.