Johnnie Johnson Housing: The art of the possible

Futr Spotlight Series: 2020 In Review

In this edition of our Spotlight on Housing series: 2020 In Review, Steve Allcock, Director of Data & Digital Transformation at Johnnie Johnson Housing Trust, talks to us about how 2020 uncovered the art of the digitally possible and what that means for 2021 and beyond.

Please could you give a brief introduction to yourself?

“I’ve spent over 16 years in a number of digital transformation roles across several different sectors. My previous roles have always been geared around improving customer experience and satisfaction, whilst maximising the use of digital tools and systems. 

“After undertaking my first ever virtual recruitment and selection process, I joined Johnnie Johnson back in May last year, completely new to the housing sector and in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. 

“Our customers are at the heart of the services we provide, and with over 5000 homes and 7500 residents, it’s vital that we move both our homes and services forward with current and emerging technology. 

“As we specialise in providing homes to help older people live longer and better, we also have the added challenge of ensuring we support our residents who wish to embrace a step to digital, whilst also maintaining that vital face-to-face support.”

Related reading: Digital inclusion: A paradigm shift in social housing

How did your digital offering change last year to satisfy customers’ needs and requirements through the pandemic?

“The impact of Covid and the lockdowns left many people feeling isolated. Naturally, technology proved vital in staying connected with the outside world and helped keep a level of normality during an incredibly challenging year. 

“The ability to have video calls with relatives and order essential shopping items online certainly removed some of the worry and burden that people felt they were faced with. 

“In the past, I found trying to get customers to adopt new technology a challenge. But last year customers’ expectations changed – they wanted more support, and their appetite for technology grew. 

“We’ve seen more innovation in the digital space in the last 12 months than in the previous two or three years!

“As a result, we’ve seen more innovation in the digital space in the last 12 months than in the previous two or three years!

“We moved our resident forums online, created a Facebook resident involvement group and introduced a hoard of other tools.

“We’re also redesigning our website and resident portal and introducing a new mobile app experience. Once live, our residents will have the option to manage their accounts – from rent to repairs – if they want to at a time that suits them.

“Within all of this, a key focus for us has been to think about how we can make everything so intuitive that residents will find it easy to start using the new tools without having to be taught how to. 

“And, for residents who need that little bit of assistance to get started, we’ve supported them with digital training, supporting over 50 residents over the past seven months. 

“On a different note, we’ve found that next of kin expect to be able to have some form of digital interaction with us too. So, we are developing our own mobile app through which relatives will receive alerts if anything should happen to the resident or their account.

“There is often an unfair stereotyping that older people have no interest in transacting online.”

“The app should be a slick way of letting people know that their relative is well cared for. It’s optional as well, so it might not be needed right away, but as people age, they may feel they need additional support from their family.”

Related reading: A blended approach for the future — Insight from Watford Community Housing’s CEO

How has have the past twelve months changed people’s mindset towards technology?

“There is often an unfair stereotyping that older people have no interest in transacting online. 

“Last year proved that wrong and even paved the way for the much greater digital consumption that we are now seeing. In this regard, COVID has opened up the art of the possible. 

“With regards to colleagues’ mindset towards technology, 2020 changed the status quo. In the past, people may have thought that if we introduce technology and automation, we would essentially be selling ourselves out of a job.

“Change of mindset towards technology is a silver lining in all that has happened over the past several months.”

“Now, I can speak with confidence that after last year, my colleagues at Johnnie Johnson all see technology as a tool to give people more choice and to give residents greater flexibility. 

“This change of mindset towards technology is a silver lining in all that has happened over the past several months.”

Download the Futr eBook: The ultimate guide to chatbots in social housing

How has this changed your 2021 strategy?

“2020 was horrendous for so many people. But, without a doubt, there were scatterings of good things that have happened as a result of the pandemic. 

“It accelerated the digital agenda for a lot of businesses, including ours, and from my perspective, that has been an enormous step forward.

“This year, our goals include optimising our existing tools and introducing omnichannel choice for our residents. Our aim is to improve on the binary choice of letters, emails and calls, and increase the routes people can get in touch with us and get a response. 

“Of course, we are mindful that people like a human touch, so our ambitions are only to increase choice. It’s not about taking things away from residents.

“Another big feature that will dominate this year will be around smart technology in the home. We want to start thinking about how we can use technology that can blend into people’s homes to keep older residents safe, giving them and their families peace of mind.”

Discover other insights from some of the UK’s leading housing associations by following our Spotlight Series in the Futr blogContact the Futr team to learn more about our solutions specifically designed for the needs of social landlords. Book a FREE demo today to see our live chat and chatbots for housing providers in action.

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