Turning the pandemic into an opportunity at Johnnie Johnson Housing

In this, the first edition of our series, Housing Futr Spotlight: 2020 In Review, we caught up with Kate McArdell-Broome, Head of Customer Operations at Johnnie Johnson Housing, about how the pressure of the 2020 pandemic has brought about lasting change for the better.

Please could you give a brief introduction to yourself and Johnnie Johnson?

“Well, I fell into housing! I’m from New York, and originally, I came over to the UK to study for my masters. But I met a nice English man and ended up staying here! 

“I started at Peaks & Plains because I needed to get a job after university, but I ended up loving it. I worked my way up there before moving to Johnnie Johnson, where I’ve been for four and a half years now.

“Last year, we had our fiftieth anniversary. Johnnie – a highly decorated English Royal Air Force pilot who flew and fought during the Second World War – is very much still a focal point for us. His name and his legacy are still strongly felt.”

Thinking about 2020 how has your offering for your customers changed as a result of the pandemic?

“The majority of our residents are over 55, and a high proportion are over 70. The majority of our stock consists of independent living schemes, and pre the pandemic this meant they would have daily interactions with one of our on-site Independent Living Coordinators and their neighbours through the use of the communal facilities.  

“Of course, for the safety of everyone involved, we had to remove these coordinators and closed our communal facilities. We did this very early on and feel it has a really positive impact on how we’ve kept our Covid cases low and our residents safe.

“Going digital has meant that people who wouldn’t engage with us before, are now able to do so. They’ve embraced it!”

“So, as with many other housing associations, we started making outbound calls to those residents. We also ran a telephone survey with Voicescape amongst our general needs residents, to find out if any of them would like to receive calls from us too, and a few said that they did. 

“We ended up making an extra 2,000 calls a day!”

In terms of digital progression and satisfying customers, what have you been able to achieve as a result of the pressures of the pandemic? 

“Well, another change the pandemic brought about was the need to take our face-to-face resident forums online. I’ve been so pleased with the attendance rate of these. Going digital has meant that people who wouldn’t engage with us before, are now able to do so. They’ve embraced it!

“It’s also been a huge value for money exercise. You can imagine the expenses for travel and catering, etc. We can now put that back into the business for something of more value to the customer, whether that be a new kitchen for someone, or something else!

“So, looking to the future, we’ve already booked our February 2021 forum to take place digitally.

“Alongside all of this, we are going through a huge ICT transformation project, relaunching our website, portal and app. Inadvertently, as a result of the pandemic we’ve been able to speed all of this up. 

“Thinking about the future, we will certainly want to continue to drive that transformation process forward. Everything so far has been successful, and our residents have embraced it. Out of everything that’s happened this year this is a great positive to take forward.

“Also, we launched digital training sessions for our residents. We taught over 50 residents how to do the basics, like set up an email account, how to Skype someone and so on. With great feedback, this is definitely something we are going to continue next year.”

Related reading: Chatbots for housing: How conversational AI supports your residents

How has this year changed people’s mindset towards technology?

“Much of this year has been about communication and finding new ways to communicate. Unexpectedly, the pandemic pushed people to go digital because they understood that if they didn’t, they weren’t going to have the connection with us that they were used to. 

“Much of this year has been about communication and finding new ways to communicate.”

“In the past, we had anticipated that a lot of residents wouldn’t want to go digital. But now that there hasn’t been a choice, they’re glad that we have that option available to them.

“There’s more work to be done and we do obviously have some residents who will never want to engage online with us, and that’s absolutely fine. We still have a suite of services available for those residents. This isn’t about moving everything online, it’s about providing choice and options. 

“For those who can get online, this year, our transformation project has given them a taste of what’s to come. We’ve begun to entice people, to think, “Okay, this could work for me!” 

“This isn’t about moving everything online, it’s about providing choice and options.”

“In the end, whether residents interact with us face-to-face, over the phone, or online, it’s about whatever works best for the individual. And in that, our residents are able to receive a tailored service and I think this flexibility is something they’ve really liked.”

Related reading: Rising expectations — Insight from Rooftop Housing Association’s CEO

What does your vision for the future beyond the pandemic look like?

“In growing our digital offering and the scope of service, our residents have access to more flexibility and more options.  We’re doing it for the resident and listening to what they’re telling us. The service, ultimately, is for them. So, for me, the vision is for our residents to continue to know that we are a caring and supportive landlord.

“We also need to build for residents of the future, which is something we’ve been able to start this year. It’s been such a horrific time for so many people. But what’s been uplifting are the ways we’ve been able to take positives out of it all.  Technology isn’t going away, and this year has created a really strong foundation for us to continue to move forward on.”

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

Follow the Spotlight Series of the Futr blog to learn more about how social landlords are using technology to adapt to the pandemic and stay agile. At Futr, we’re helping housing associations become more resilient and improve the resident experience with live chat and chatbots for housing. Book a FREE demo of our chatbot platform for housing associations — we’ll take care of the rest.

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