Change for the best: 2020 in review
In this edition of our series Housing Futr Spotlight: 2020 In Review, we caught up with Anna Mitchell, Head of Communications, at Catalyst about balancing new digital frontiers with traditional means of communication.
Please could you give a brief introduction to yourself and Catalyst?
“I specialise in brand and communications. I began my career agency side and then moved into research communications, charity PR and government communications. Housing is a brand new sector for me, which is really exciting.
“A home is one of the most fundamental needs for a human being. With 34,000 homes in London and the Home Counties, our purpose at Catalyst is to create ‘Homes People Love’, where they feel safe and comfortable. It’s really inspiring to work for a not-for-profit organisation that has that social purpose and is dedicated to building new affordable housing.
“I lead Communications at Catalyst; my team runs all internal and customer communications, with our own in-house design studio to create our own print and digital materials, supporting the business and, vitally, we’re its brand guardians.”
How has the pressure of the pandemic changed the way you engage with your customers?
“At Catalyst we have accelerated our digital communications this year. When the pandemic first struck, we adapted at pace, to communicate with our customers digitally. We needed to reach them quickly and with accurate, up-to-date information.
“On the day of lockdown we sent our first ever mass customer email in which we communicated all key messages about the impact of Covid on Catalyst services. A few days later we sent our first mass customer SMS, which drove a third of our customers to the website, ensuring they got the information they needed about our services.
“This threw up a raft of challenges. We had not previously been set up to communicate with customers in this way. Such a significant business change doesn’t normally happen overnight – but in the pandemic situation, it had to. With 65,000 customers, ensuring the integrity of our data is no small feat, and it’s one that was massively accelerated by the pressures of this year.
“This is a significant advance for Catalyst. If the pandemic hadn’t happened, it would have taken us a lot longer to get to where we are now.
“In terms of our website, the key priority has been to make sure that it was carrying the most up-to-date information. Of course, that was challenging in the context of fast-paced change and a degree of confusion in the national picture. It was up to Catalyst to interpret government rules and how they would impact us.”
Looking ahead, what other changes do you hope to see?
“My ambition is to continue to evolve our digital offering, to embrace the ways of working that we have adopted throughout the pandemic and to make that business as usual for us. This includes delivering a website that is accessible and dynamic.
“The pandemic has opened up the opportunities to reach, engage and communicate across more digital channels for us. We want to continue to grow our live chat, mass email and text offering.
“We are also considering the use of video calling with customers and are looking into other virtual face-to-face options, like webinars, which enable customers to engage with Catalyst 24/7, at a time that suits them. We want to make sure we’re communicating with our customers in the most accessible way for them, through the channels that suit them because we are all living and working more flexibly now.
“We also need to think about what might be considered the more traditional ways that we communicate with our customers. For example, we continue to send a printed copy of our customer magazine to each of our homes on a quarterly basis. The diversity of Catalyst customers means a proportion of our audience will always prefer to hear from us through more traditional channels.”
How has this year changed people’s mindset towards technology, and what does that mean for the future?
“Revolutionising our data and technology is a key component of our corporate priorities. This was true before the pandemic but I think that the success of digital this year has enabled us to accelerate our transformation programme, which is ongoing.
“The success of our engagement with customers during this extraordinary year has set an expectation. With the significant changes to our communications through lockdown, customers have come to expect this level of service.
“That said, while we continue to innovate and adapt our communications, we will be as mindful as ever of those within our customer base who aren’t digitally engaged, for whatever reason.
“Ultimately, we are striving to create a balance. Catalyst’s vision is ‘to earn and keep your trust’ and we’ll achieve this by using the most effective channels to reach our customers.”