Transcript of "Exploring communal repairs: insights and opportunities"

FRASER TRICKETT: Thanks for giving us that flash run through Chris. So firstly, thanks everybody for taking time this morning to join us to run through some research we’ve been doing lately on exploring communal repairs. We are going to be running through those insights over the next session. If you could just jump onto the next slide for me Chris.

Just to give a shout out to my colleagues, firstly I am Fraser Trickett, I am a Client Partner. We’ve been working with Housing Repairs for a number of years, more than I care to mention. We’ve also got Alex Hodgkiss, who is one of our Senior User Researchers and was a really big part of all of the work we are going to be presenting back today.

We’ve got Chris Cottrell, who is our Senior Product Manager for our Housing Repairs system.

First off, we’d really love to hear from you as we’re going through this session. The more questions and interactive we can make it – we’re all quite a friendly bunch so feel free to give us some questions. If you can hang on to those questions until the end of each section, I’m sure Alex will give the nod. Not to interrupt the flow too much but we would really love to hear from you guys if there’s anything you want to talk through. If you do have a question, raise the hand to verbally ask a question and we will introduce you.

You are welcome to turn your camera on, we’d love to see all your friendly faces on there but understand as it’s being recorded if that’s not something you want to do. Of course, we will be sharing feedback links at the end of this. This event is being recorded so if you’re not happy with that then now is your time to either leave, turn cameras off or whatever you want to do.

We wanted to just start off by asking you a question. Hopefully the technology is going to work for us here. There should be an input box coming up on screen. We just wanted to ask what was it that interested you about this webinar? What made you register? If you could take a few seconds to drop something in, that would be fantastic.

Can you see the responses coming back from that, Anna?

ANNA: Not yet. They are coming now. Let me know once you are happy to end and then I will show the results.

FRASER TRICKETT: I wish I had some wait music. I’ll spare you all my karaoke. If you could share those answers that would be brilliant.

ANNA: Yes, perfect. You should be able to see it now.

FRASER TRICKETT: I can’t see the answers to that.

ANNA: Can anyone see that, Alex maybe? If not, I can read them.

FRASER TRICKETT: If you don’t mind, Anna, sorry.

ANNA: So, we have, “Want to see what is coming up for communal repairs”, “”Because the subject is relevant to my job” and also “Opportunities and ideas to improve customer journey for communal repairs.” Those are the ones we have.

FRASER TRICKETT: Perfect. They all sound very relevant. Hopefully as we jump in, we’ll be able to answer those questions for you.

These are some rough timings on here. We’re pretty flexible but aiming to end by half one at the latest. We are going to run through the research approach, then into the challenges for the residents and the local authorities that we discovered, and how some of those insights are helping to shape the product that we’re developing. Then we’ve got some time at the end for some questions and discussion.

I think at that point I hand over to Alex.

ALEX HODGKISS: Thank you very much. I’m going to be running through the research we did, the key insights. I’m going to start off by talking through what we did and why we did that.

We are defining communal repairs here as repairs that residents need in shared spaces. A shared building entrance, lifts, corridors or building grounds. Why are we interested in this area? The first reason is that we know roughly 20 – 40% of repairs are communal. Any product that we develop that has a positive impact on communal repairs could have a potentially wide impact overall on repairs outcomes.

Secondly, we are looking to expand our individual repairs product. Our SAS repairs online tool currently allows residents to log an individual repair for a dwelling. We are looking to simplify the entire process and to expand the product to include communal repairs.

Thirdly, we see this as providing benefits for both residents and customers. For customers it could widen the benefits of our current repairs tool and the benefits that come with that. Communal repairs are also important for residents. It covers things like lights but also security doors and lifts which are important for residents.

We spoke to one resident in our research who told us that waiting a long time for a lift repair is a massive challenge for her. She lives on the fifth floor, and she has significant mobility problems. Climbing stairs is difficult and so it is just a massive challenge for her to wait for these repairs. So, these types of repairs are definitely impactful for residents.

Moving on, what were our goals with doing this research? The main goal really was for us to understand in more detail, what are the main pain points and challenges that exist around communal repairs from people with experience of reporting communal repairs? That includes both residents and the local authority.

The reason we are interested in doing this is so that we can get a better understanding of the unmet needs that both of these groups have in this area. This can ultimately support us in creating a user-centred communal repairs service that is both practical and effective.

Moving on to the research we did, we did two rounds of user research. The first round was with the local authority participants and then the second round was with some of the local authority residents.

We wanted to get the perspective of both residents and the local authority here, to see whether there are any similarities or differences in the themes that were coming through in terms of challenges.

The former were one to one interviews. These lasted around one hour each. This allowed us to have an in-depth, rich and interesting conversation with all of the participants.

The whole research process was really collaborative within our product team. Delivery Managers, Product Managers, Engineers all got involved with the research from end to end, from the interviews through to the synthesis. It was a very collaborative process. Just for anonymity and the way we’ve set up the agreements, we can’t give much more detail about the backgrounds, but there was a geographical distribution across the UK, with a range of different local authorities.

Moving on to challenges for residents. The first challenge that came through in the research was that we found that the residents often initiated contact multiple times before the communal issue was fixed. For example, residents might first speak to someone and then they are referred to someone else. They might first call the lift company, and then get redirected to the call centre. They might have to call back multiple times because the issue hasn’t been fixed or they’ve been waiting a long time.

In terms of this particular challenge, I’d like you to meet Sarah. This is the first story that I want to tell you about. This is a pseudonym and some of the details have been changed to protect anonymity.

Sarah has been living in her local authority since 2018. She lives with her partner and her child. She enjoys living in her area, but she feels that the communal areas around her property could do with a little bit of attention.

Walking through her estate one evening, she noticed that some of the lights on her estate were broken. She began to worry for the safety and security of her and her family, particularly at nighttime. She called the repairs contact centre about the issue. She then got referred to the facilities department because they said it was more of a streets problem. Then she got referred back to the call centre again.

Confused and frustrated about what to do and who was responsible for the repair, she spoke to her caretaker. Eventually she emailed a photo to her neighbourhood officer. She noticed the issue was fixed within about three weeks when she walked by again.

The impact of this is that residents sometimes feel they are putting a lot of effort into the repair. This can also increase call volumes to the local authority.

The second challenge that came through was that residents felt that some repairs take a long time to resolve and that the time frames are unclear. A lack of clear time frames when reporting repairs causes anxiety and frustration and uncertainty for some residents, particularly for more urgent and impactful repairs. This can also result in follow-up calls.

In the research, the residents explained that their repairs took between one day and a year to be satisfactorily resolved, so there was a lot of variation. This was impactful because sometimes the issues were quite serious in terms of safety and security. Sometimes this long wait time caused further escalation.

A second example; Michael has been living in his local authority for around 20 years. He is pretty engaged in the community. He likes to support other residents in other blocks. He feels that there are not too many communal issues because he tends to take care of the space along with other residents. Last week though, he did notice when he was going out for his morning walk, that the communal door to the front of the door was smashed in. This was a security door, so quite an important door to the building.

This was a worry because there had been cases of people accessing the building who were not residents. There had also been some thefts in some other buildings as well. He called the contact centre to report the issue and explained it, but he didn’t really get a good indication of when the issue would be fixed. He waited quite a long time. The issue wasn’t fixed, and he called back on several occasions. Eventually the issue was fixed but it took nearly six months to fully resolve the problem to the point that he felt comfortable that it was fixed.

Next slide please.

Then the last challenge for residents that came through is that there is often a lack of clear and accurate communication about the status of the repairs. Some residents felt that they didn’t get enough updates while they waited for the repairs to be fixed. Others felt that the information that they did get wasn’t always as accurate as they would like. Finally, some residents felt that they were not informed when the issue was fixed.

Samira is a resident who has been living in her property for about 20 years. She lives with her husband, and she enjoys having family over to visit. It is a cold Saturday evening, and she is trying to keep warm in her property and in the communal space. Arriving back to her building she discovers that the communal heating is not working. She calls the contact centre to report it that day. She finds that the issue isn’t fixed when she was expecting it to be, so she calls back several times over the next few days. The call centre then tells her that the issue was fixed when she felt that it wasn’t fixed.

She understood that the call centre could only really tell her what the contractor had told them. She definitely has some sympathy with the agents, but she felt pretty confused with the information she was given. She eventually found out that there was extra work needed because there were extra steps, and it was resolved eventually.

A lack of communication again increases the uncertainty and reduces the confidence that residents have in their repair being completed. Again, it can cause more escalations to the local authority.

Moving on to the local authorities, there were four key challenges here. The first challenge that came through very strongly was that local authorities are struggling with high volumes of calls for communal repairs. We heard from the agents that the call volumes can be increased by duplicate initial calls – reports of the same issue by multiple residents.

Follow-up and escalation calls about communal issues also increase the call volumes to the call centre. These high call volumes mean that the contact centre agents have less time to complete other work in progress tasks. They were being called away from other work that they would rather be getting on with, to prioritise.

Of course, the high volumes cause frustration and decrease satisfaction for the resident, who may be stuck in long queues waiting on the phone.

One call centre agent said, “I just think that the volume of the work is the most labour-intensive thing. The calls we receive, the emails we receive. We get around 120 emails a day. That’s 30-40 per person. New repairs get 120 today and about 20-25% of those are for communal repairs.”

One comment was from the housing officer and she was talking about how the residents call in to the call centre. She said, “They phone the contact centre, which is actually really inefficient because some of them sit on the phone for 40 or 50 minutes, waiting to get through to report their communal repair.”

The second challenge for the local authority that we heard through these interviews was that local authorities often struggle to gather the information about the communal repair the first time. Some examples we heard were where the resident wasn’t sending the basic information in the initial email. Residents may be struggling to describe the repair problem. This results in extra workload for the agents because they have longer calls, and they have to go back and forth with the resident.

We also heard that there are particular difficulties in eliciting that information maybe from individuals whose first language is not English, or who have learning or language difficulties.

The most significant challenge we heard about was the specific location of the repair. This is more important for communal repairs. Without that specific location of the repair, the agent might need to contact the resident again. They might have to contact the contractor again. This can cause further delays. It might also result in the contractor having to actually search the property for the issue.

One support officer was telling us about this particular location issue. She said, “If we haven’t got an exact location, that’s a killer. The tenant will just say, ‘There’s a broken door outside my house at 8’, but when you get to 8, there’s actually 15 doors. Six might be broken, but she has only reported one. The operative will come back to us and then will need to add some stuff on.”

One of the call centre agents said, “It’s time consuming if we don’t have a specific location. Operatives have a lot of jobs to get through. Operatives might have to scout the area and figure out exactly what the issue is. For example, they might have to switch all the lights on and off to figure out which it is. There have been issues where the wrong light has been fixed because there wasn’t enough information given about the repair.”

The third issue which I mentioned a couple of times earlier was that the local authorities, we heard, received many duplicate reports about the same issue. Residents might call to report the same issue because maybe they are not aware that the issue in the communal space hasn’t already been reported.

We also heard that residents might intentionally report the issue, even though they know that someone else has already reported it, to increase the speed at which that issue is resolved and to get more reassurance that the issue will be fixed. There was definitely a perception from some residents that the more times they report it, the more seriously it will be taken, whether that is right or wrong.

Again, the impact here is that there is increased workload for the local authority who are having to deal with multiple duplicate reports about the same communal issue.

In terms of some specifics about what we heard, we had one agent who said, “We get duplicate reports quite often. If there is a tower block without water because pumps are down, one tenant will call in, an hour later someone else will call in. By the third resident, it’s clear that it is the same issue. We do ask them to check with the neighbours to see if there is a similar problem with others.”

Here is an example from a housing repairs officer who was talking about a lift company. The lift company is saying a lot of people are calling about the lift, what’s the update? They tell them they are waiting for a part, so they have to go back to the tenant and tell them what’s happening in terms of that specific issue.

This one was quite interesting. One of the customer service officers was explaining that if there is a communal repair problem, they will get the contractor or the caretaker to put a piece of paper in the space to say that it is being dealt with. If that piece of paper comes off, then they might get multiple calls about the issue. If it does come off, she said, “If the notice in the communal area has been removed, then we email them to put another note on.”

It sounds like a bit of a frustrating process for the agent and for the contractor, having to do that repeatedly.

Lastly, one agent said that the effect of duplicates is really blocking the lines for anyone else who might need to call for an emergency repair because it’s all the same line. For the tenant, it’s really a wasted phone call because we already know about the issue.

The final challenge was around local authorities receiving many follow-up and escalation calls about communal repairs. Here we heard that residents will call if the issue hasn’t been resolved, if it has fallen outside the time frame that they have said or they want an update. They might not have the information readily available to them.

One of the agents said, “Escalation is when a repair hasn’t been done and the person has called in multiple times, and we haven’t helped them. It comes to me, and I have to chase it up to see what I can do. It’s all about helping them, they are customers. It’s about helping them.”

Along similar lines, another agent was saying, “You feel really sorry for them if they have been waiting for a long time. You just want to help them.”

This last example, this last quote was more around third party repairs. A lift company maybe, where the repair isn’t organised by the council themselves, but by a third party. She said, “The main challenge is where the repair has not been done, and the resident says, ‘I’ve been waiting an hour already and now you’re going to put me through to a contractor. Can you not just tell me?’ Well, no, we can’t because we don’t have access to the contractor side of things.”

She said, “That’s a massive challenge for us, daily.”

Just to summarise all of that as there’s quite a lot there, here we have just shown where we see the issues, the timeframes and the effort needed in communication about status. How it seems that is impacting on the follow-ups, the duplicates and the high call volume, and where the issues might be impacting each other.

In terms of the focus areas, we are looking at three areas; transparency between residents and the local authority, minimising duplicate repair reports, and exploring improved mechanisms to facilitate precise repair location reporting.

I believe I am handing over to Chris.

CHRIS COTTRELL: Yes, thanks very much, Alex. As Fraser mentioned at the start, I’m Product Manager on our Housing Repairs product. So, in terms of where we have gone since our user research. Our focus first is getting the basics right. Providing a straightforward, accessible way for residents to report communal repairs online. To do this, we widened out our existing reporting flow to include communal repair types and locations.

We ask our resident if the problem is in a communal area, and then based on the postcode they provide in their answer, as you will see on the little video download on the right, we will filter out dwellings and communal blocks, to ensure that it’s easier to select the communal address, and that it is being reported against the right place.

As we move through the flow, we show them quite a wide location of problem areas, based on some research, conversations we’ve had with councils. Then we provide a specific set of communal-focused repairs.

Most importantly, once you’ve moved through the problem diagnosis flow, as with a dwelling repair, you can provide some of that important contextual information and detail about the repair, to make it really clear and specific what the repair is. More importantly, where the problem is, describing the location. As with all of the fields within our product, we can configure those to send them to any destination, to make sure that information arrives in the right place.

We’ve built our communal repair reporting and we are in the process of rolling that out so that tenants, leaseholders and housing officers can report communal repairs through our product. That’s an interesting user group for this tool, the housing officer. We’ve spoken to many as part of this discovery. It will be a great tool for housing officers out on their patch, engaging with residents. They can pull up the reporting tool and that makes it super easy for that person in their role to report repairs on behalf of residents as well.

We’ve tackled the basics of reporting.

Turning our focus to bigger problems that Alex was talking about around communication and transparency, it’s worth mentioning that in this round of research, we put together some early design concepts based on what we assumed the problems were going to be. We thought it would be a good time to test some of these ideas. We had quite mixed results, so we are going back to the drawing board now with our new understanding.

We’ve decided to draw from the design sprint method to properly define problems we are tackling, and rapidly generate ideas around them. We’ve put together a sprint team of Alex, Fraser, me, and also design and engineering colleagues. That’s actually what we’ve been doing this week, so this has come to you hot off the press.

The challenges that we are focusing on are how might we tell residents that issues are already reported? Looking for leverage to reduce those duplicate calls that Alex has been talking about. How might we provide residents with progress updates on existing repairs and give them the confidence that things are reported and are in hand. Trying to reduce those follow-up calls that are a big part of that communal repair call volume.

How might we ensure that all parties are working from the same information? That’s one of the key hurdles that we have discussed as part of this sprint process. The data around repairs and how that might range across repair type. It might be really challenging to provide the sort of automatic updates that residents might want about certain repairs because that information might not exist within the council system. If a third party is doing that repair, for example.

So, we’re addressing the hurdles. We will also be looking outwards for inspiration outside the housing space. How are other industries, products and services tackling similar adjacent challenges?

On one hand, we draw a lot of inspiration from ecommerce when it comes to notification patterns. They are very clearly defined. Users expect to receive certain notifications at certain times, so interesting inspiration there.

On the other hand, products like FixMyStreet is tackling a similar challenge to tackling communal affairs and visibility, but very much user powered. We’ve been thinking all about that over the last couple of days and we’ve got a couple of ideas that we are landing on, which I’d like to play back to you and get your feedback on.

The first idea for tackling some of these problems is a notification system that is anchored around the service level agreement. Obviously, we’ve got concerns about repair progress data. We kept coming back to that. But what if we could use that SLA timeframe as the anchor for communicating with the resident about the repair?

When they report a repair, they will get a notification saying we estimate it will take 28 days or 14 days to fix this problem, that’s statutorily what it should take to fix these issues. Then perhaps they get another message on that 28th or 14th day to say the repair should be fixed now. We can ask them for feedback then about that process. It’s all about keeping the resident engaged if they want that sort of engagement.

That’s our first idea. The second idea, I’m calling it human repair updates. The idea here is that when a new repair is logged, it would appear in a back-office dashboard which would be updated manually by a member of staff with the information they have at the time. For example, an estimated fixed date of repair, an actual date, or when there is a delay etc.

When those status of repairs are updated manually, that triggers out a message to the customer, to the resident, so they are getting timely updates. It feels a bit of an odd thing to do to introduce a manual process. That’s why we want to experiment with it. Our thinking is that – our insight shows that councils are getting lots and lots of follow-up calls about repairs. If we introduce a system like this which is managed centrally by one person, maybe one person managing this can reduce the follow-up calls out in the councils.

I would be keen to hear some feedback on that.

Finally, duplicate reports. I haven’t got a sketch of this one, but the idea is that when residents are reporting a repair online, we could flag when that repair has been reported. Maybe try telling them when it was reported and when it might be fixed. If that estimated fixed date has passed, creating an experience somehow where they can follow-up online rather than follow-up with a call. Trying to tackle both the duplicate report in the first instance, but also that follow-up call that appears to be quite problematic.

So, the three ideas that we are playing with at the moment. Now I’m going to ask you all some questions based on what I’ve talked about and showed you. If you’ve got any feedback, I would love to hear what you think about these ideas. If we have missed something massive, and what we’ve discovered in this process, and how that compares to your understanding.

If you want to unmute yourselves and jump in, feel free to, or drop a message in the chat. We’re actually going to move to questions more generally now, so I am going to hand back to Fraser.

FRASER TRICKETT: You can do, Chris. Perhaps a more direct question for anybody who has joined the call from a local authority. Do those percentages match with what we described earlier, about the number of repairs that contribute to communal? Are communal repairs a headache for you at the moment in your authority? Yes, Tom at Redbridge.

TOM: The numbers, they are right based on where I’ve worked previously. I don’t know the exact numbers for Redbridge, but they are going to be in the right ballpark, I think. Yes, I think the problems that you have identified there are a lot of what it comes down to. A lot of communal repairs stuff does tend to be stuff that is more likely to go out to third parties. It does make those updates quite tricky, and there are quite a lot of reports for the same issue but described in slightly different ways. Because people are viewing it from different points on the estate and describing it in different ways. It’s tricky.

I just dropped a note in the chat to say the FixMyStreet is a better fix for communal (drop-out)

FRASER TRICKETT: Tom, do you mean the more community powered approach, rather than the diagnosis question?

TOM: Yes, I think so. With a communal repair, that’s trickier. What you need to get somebody onsite – in home repair, the idea is that someone is going to turn up and fix it the first time, if they can. When it comes to communal repairs, I think it’s more likely that surveyors are going to go out in the first instance, and they are going to figure out what the actual problem is, and what SLR code needs to be raised. It’s not always going to be true, but I think there is that difference between communal areas and home, which kind of lends itself more to that kind of community based – here’s a problem that needs to be resolved, rather than trying to define a specific test to resolve it.

FRASER TRICKETT: Yes, that’s really useful, thanks Tom. We share that same kind of mindset on it. Anna, go for it.

ANNA: Yes, I think you’ve identified the location as the challenge. I think potentially there will be more benefit to staff that are estate-based using this, rather than just residents, as well.

I would be interested in understanding how the feedback loop might work and if it could create potential for an ongoing loop because of that difficulty in finding the right issue. Having the history for communal repairs will certainly help minimise the number of duplicate repairs being reported. I think that’s obviously a challenge from different systems, but it’s obviously much more important when a number of people might be reporting an issue, rather than just a resident in their own home.

FRASER TRICKETT: Yes, that makes sense as well.

CHRIS COTTRELL: I absolutely agree, Anna. The experiment with showing people the communal repairs, we want to ascertain how effective that actually is at reducing duplicates. I’m assuming it will be a percentage effective. I wonder if there are other things that we could experiment with that happen backstage. For us using some sort of app detection in code when we think repairs are similar, to be absolutely certain that they are duplicate, and then having some sort of established process where we can go, we think these two things might be the same thing. Quickly look at them, so when there is that human interaction to de-duplicate, it’s a bit more targeted.

ANNA: Yes, I think that could be useful. Definitely worth exploring.

FRASER TRICKETT: Just whilst everybody is thinking, in case there are any more questions, something I just want to call out is that we are really open to working with councils on this. If you think of anything after this point that you want to share ideas or thoughts on, we are not trying to be a closed book on this. Hence today’s webinar really, about us working in the open.

Hopefully it is evident that we are really driven by that feedback and that iterative design after feedback from residents, from users of the system. Anybody that wants to stay abreast of this journey and wants to join us on it, that would be much appreciated, and we would love to have you on board. A question from Jason. Chris, do you want to take that one?

CHRIS COTTRELL: Absolutely. Our approach that we are pitching out is that we will integrate with HMS, your HMS of choice as part of our integration package.

FRASER TRICKETT: Jason, if I remember, Hall is an NEC customer. I’m just trying to think back to when we last spoke (Inaudible) –

JASON: Yes, we are NEC. We last spoke some time ago and I think the general feeling at our end was that it was a really nice user interface and we really liked how easy it was to use. But because we’ve got quite a lot of integration from our current front end into NEC and through to our contractors, that it would really want to be an area we would want to develop.

CHRIS COTTRELL: In answer to your question, we are learning all the time, in all honesty. I think it’s about understanding some of the localisms about installs and configurations there. What we try to say confidently from our experimentations with HMS is that we’ve looked at quite a wide variety of scheduling software. We can do the common service pattern flow in here. I think it’s just understanding if there is anything different to that in your environment that might really throw a curveball in here. As always, we are happy just to try and understand those. It’s one of those things, it’s never going to be unique to Hull or to council A, B, or C. The more insight we can get on here, and the more things we can understand of that market space, the better it is for all of us. So, we’ll continue to do that sharing and working in the open, and letting other councils that are working with us have the benefit of that insight as well.

On the whole, I’m pleased to say that NEC have been pretty open to conversations and have given us access to their sandbox environment.

JASON: Okay, that’s good.

FRASER TRICKETT: Perfect. It sounds like we are about there for questions. Just to repeat my call out again, I think in my slide deck that we will share out at the end of here, there are LinkedIn profiles and email addresses and suchlike in there. We will share those. If there is anything else, please get in touch with us. We are more than happy to have conversations. It looks like Anna has kindly shared those in the chat there. Thanks Jason, that’s useful.

Feel free to get in touch and we will keep everybody abreast of our journey. There will be another round of this that we will be sharing, and we would love to update everybody in the next steps.

Chris, Alex, have you got anything else before we sign off?

CHRIS COTTRELL: Thank you very much everyone.

ALEX HODGKISS: Good to share the research we were doing, thanks for coming.

ANNA: Thanks everyone.

FRASER TRICKETT: Thanks everyone, bye.

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