Citizen Housing is one of the UK’s most trusted social housing providers. The organization owns and manages 30,000 homes for diverse communities across the West Midlands.
They have a clear social purpose, which is to provide homes that are a foundation for life.
Citizen Housing is one of the UK’s most trusted social housing providers. The organization owns and manages 30,000 homes across the West Midlands, from urban tower blocks to rural villages and towns. Being a citizen is a hugely important concept. It means being part of diverse society, having a stake, having rights and responsibilities and being respected. They have a clear social purpose, which is to provide homes that are a foundation for life.
Director of Customer Services, Steve Hayes says, “There are fundamental challenges people in our communities face. We are an organization which can help them deal with these. Our 1,000-strong team works to solve some of the most pressing issues around housing and homelessness. This includes or team of 400 repairs and maintenance operatives completing repairs every day. Right through to our housing colleagues out in our neighborhoods, to our colleagues in support functions like HR and IT. We recognize that every colleague plays a part in us fulfilling our purpose. Our approach to customer service reflects this.”
Steve’s team are the first point of contact for Citizen Housing customers. Working closely with Communications team colleagues, they work hard to ensure that online and telephone communications are accessible to all. They also make sure that all Citizen colleagues have access to tools and modern technology. That's because such tools enable them to communicate with their customers in a way that meets the customers’ needs.
Citizen Housing's ICT team have worked hard to develop a computer system which captures their customers’ communication needs and preferences. Steve explains, “An example could be if someone requires large print or prefers to get letters by email. We know some customers who may also prefer an audio format. For example people with literacy challenges, Dyslexia, those with language barriers, and people with a sight impairment. We are doing a big campaign with our customers to refresh this sort of information. We are doing a big campaign with our customers to refresh this sort of information and internally to raise awareness; train and support our colleagues to then respond to it.
With over 30,000 homes across diverse communities, Citizen Housing have a huge customer base. Their customers have a wide range of different needs. Some may have sight and hearing impairments, some may have language barriers, and everything in between.
To respond to people’s needs you first need to understand them. We recognize we have significant data gaps around this that we are running a campaign to fill. This has seen us introduce new functionality on our customer portal to allow people to fill out their information. That way colleagues can see straight away what needs an individual has before they communicate with them,” says Steve.
Steve continues, “Offering inclusive, accessible support tools to our community is very important to us. It's impossible to deliver great customer service if we don’t take into account people’s needs and preferences when we communicate. We want all of our customers to have a good experience when they interact with us, whether that's on our website, speaking to our team or receiving a letter from us.
Citizen Housing wanted to make sure that they were reaching each and every citizen with their communications. ReachDeck equipped them with tools to be able to do this.
Steve comments, “ReachDeck gives us a good combination of front facing tools so that customers can self-serve these needs. The Toolbar on our website, as well as the Auditor and Editor that equip our staff to communicate with customers in a way which suits their needs and preferences. Our staff are using the Editor to ensure their communications with our citizens are easy to read and on brand.
“ReachDeck is helping us to deliver a great customer experience when they interact with us. Whether that's just going on the website, speaking to a member of our team or receiving a letter from us. Reachdeck has given us the tools to manage this proactively.”
The Citizen Housing communications team uses the ReachDeck Auditor to check the compliance of their website. Checking for broken links and ensuring that they comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards.
Using the ReachDeck Editor, Citizen Housing employees can also test out passages of text to see how accessible and readable it is. The ReachDeck Editor also makes suggestions on how to improve it. This is great for Steve’s colleagues who are drafting text for websites and other communications.
In this short clip, Citizen's Housing Director of Customer Services explains how communicating inclusively benefits the customer experience. Lourdes Sharpe also shares how ReachDeck helps all staff to aim for a reading age of 11, reduce the use of jargon words, and create content with the needs of all customers in mind.
The ReachDeck Editor is available to all Citizen Housing employees. As part of the internal roll out of ReachDeck, Citizen Housing are demonstrating the Editor as part of their employee Written Communications training. Speaking on this, Michaela Hyman, Learning & Development Manager says;
“The ReachDeck Editor is a really important tool to help us improve and make our communication with our customers more consistent.
"The Readability Checker takes a sample of your writing and calculates the number of sentences, words, syllables, and characters you have used, letting you know the reading level and grade level of your text.
“Ideally, we want all our written communication to be an average reading age of 11 and we’re currently at an average age of 20."
By providing training around written communications, they hope to improve engagement with customers, and ensure consistency across written content.
Technical Liaison Officer, Carole Ridley, has recently completed the training. She said;
“I found the tool really useful as well as easy to use. I’ve already used it on a letter being sent out by a contractor who was using a lot of technical words and jargon. Once it had been put through the Readability Checker it was much more reader-friendly. This is much better for our customers and it’s also helped me when considering what vocabulary to use.”
“Once we realized the potential of ReachDeck, we started to think about our other websites. There was an immediate barrier for customers who needed to use The ‘My Account’ area. The ReachDeck Toolbar was available on our main site, but not in that area. Working closely with colleagues at MIS (our housing computer systems provider) we integrated ReachDeck so that the accessibility was seamless for customers. For the first time we have enabled customers using the My Account portal to be able to access audio and language tools and to use the functionality that they had on our website,” says Steve.
ReachDeck has enabled Citizen Housing customers to access information independently and self-serve on their websites. The staff at Citizen Housing worked alongside developers at Omfax Systems to integrate ReachDeck into their repairs and enquiries website. This meant that customers were no longer limited by low literacy, language or disability.
Seeing how much the Toolbar was helping their customers, Citizen Housing then started to consider how ReachDeck might also be able to help their colleagues.
“ReachDeck now gives our colleagues the tools to be able to communicate with customers better. But what about their needs? We started to consider our own intranet, an important internal communications tool for staff. We started thinking if there were any barriers for colleagues who have language or literacy challenges, or disabilities. We tested integrating ReachDeck on our intranet (including our mobile version which site based colleagues use) and it works!”
During the COVID pandemic, there was a large increase in the number of Citizen customers using the organization's online platforms. “We have seen more customers use our website; webchat and online portal during the pandemic. As we're returning to business as normal, we want to encourage our customers to continue using the portal if they can. That’s why being able to add ReachDeck to the Portal and Scripting sites is such a breakthrough for us. It's a barrier removed,” says Steve.
“With a large and diverse customer base comes an equally significant and varied set of needs and preferences. ReachDeck will continue to be an integral tool to make sure that people can access the information on our website in a way that works for them – regardless of the challenges they may face. At the touch of a button, customers can translate whole pages, have them read out and so much more. ReachDeck makes it as easy as possible for our customers without them having to call us up to get support with this is vital.”
We would urge any organization to explore the tools offered by ReachDeck. We believe this is an integral part of our customer service and that any organization striving to provide a great service needs tools which meet the needs and preferences of its customers.
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