Lorna: Can you start by telling me something about how you came to be working with statistics and data?
Hanna: I’ve always been interested in the psychology of why people do things and that led me to studying psychology at A-level, for my undergraduate degree and for my masters as well. Whilst doing my undergraduate degree, I also did a placement working for Goldsmiths University doing work as a research assistant. I really enjoyed that so when I finished my masters I looked for jobs in psychology, market research and similar areas and pretty soon I was offered a job at Hyde. Although my job is in housing, it’s still using the same research skills that I developed at university; it’s just that I’m applying my knowledge of statistics to the housing sector.
Lorna: Can you tell me a bit about what your role is, what your responsibilities are and so on?
Hanna: I’m a customer researcher working on our surveying programme. With that, we survey customers and staff. For our customers, we survey them after they’ve had a particular service, a complex case that’s been closed, a repair that has been fixed, an antisocial behaviour case resolved or something similar. We also do a general perception survey to see how people perceive Hyde in general.
As well as surveying customers, I also run surveys with our staff internally to find out how they find different services such as HR or IT or Hyde, so we also know how our staff feel about us.
Additionally, I do analytics for other areas of the business. Currently, I’m working to help the business to better understand our customers propensity to pay – the factors that make a customer more or less likely to pay us on time and in full – and what we might do to address this. This is a really exciting piece of work and might help us to better forecast customer behaviour.
Lorna: Is it primarily quantitative research or do you have something qualitative data that you work with as well?
Hanna: It’s primarily quantitative, but we do collect some qualitative data. For example, I have run focus groups with staff to find out more how they feel about Hyde, and what sort of things could be improved for them.
Lorna: What challenges are facing Hyde or housing in general at the moment, would you say?
Hanna: As a primarily ‘not-for-profit’ charitable Housing Organisation, our main business is providing and managing good quality and safe accommodation at prices people can afford to buy or rent on stable tenancies.
The current housing crisis is challenge that affects most organisations in the housing sector. When addressing this, organisations need to bear in mind the fact that their customers range from those receiving benefits and in low-income households, to people taking their first steps on the property ladder, adults and families needing stable homes to raise their children, as well as older people who need safe, secure and comfortable homes in their retirement.
In 2017, the sector was rocked by the Grenfell tragedy, which has fundamentally changed the relationship between residents and landlords; this was reinforced in the government’s Green Paper ‘A new deal for social housing’, published in 2018. The green paper sought to ensure that residents’ voices are heard, and we have risen to this challenge by launching an ambitious three-year customer strategy that aims to place the customer at the heart of our decision-making.
Lorna: Do you have any challenges related to the data that you hold or privacy and things like that, joining data sets together, or is it quite all joined up now?
Hanna: We’re still in the process of joining up our data, but majority of it has been done. We’re just looking to get everything all in one unified area because we have various types of data. We have different systems that we use for various parts within the business so it’s a bit of a job to marry up that data, so everything is in alignment.
There are a lot of housing associations and there are sometimes mergers. When that happens there can be some data-related challenges because you find that different companies and different housing associations would use different software. When two associations merge then we often have to think about how to take information that’s run on one software and merge it into another platform, as well as deciding which platform is the best to use. Software that was great five or ten years ago may not be the best thing to use today so there’s work to be done just making sure that we also stay up to date with the latest software as well as making sure that it’s GDPR compliant as well.
Lorna: In the analytics that you’re doing at the moment, is that primarily assessing what’s already happened and using that to provide insight, or are you doing predictive work as well?
Hanna: We do both but are increasingly doing more work in the predictive space. For example, we’re currently thinking about how we can use our data to predict future payment behavior, and to determine which types of customers are more or less likely to contact us over certain channels
Lorna: You talked a bit earlier about the different kinds of surveys and so on, that you’re doing. Can you tell me a bit about the tools and techniques that you’re using?
Hanna: Yes. We use a system called BusinessObjects to hold our data. That is one of the main tools that we use to extract information that we send then to our survey provider. When we get the results back, we use SPSS to analyse the data and then we present it back in different formats.
Some of it is presented back as PowerPoint presentations and others are presented using our self-serve dashboards. For staff surveys, I sometimes used Tableau as it’s a great visualisation tool, and it’s quite easy to update different charts year on year where questions have remained the same to track consistency. We also use PowerBI as well as other online survey / desktop analytical software
Lorna: Can you give me some examples of how the insight that you generate has influenced some aspect of the way that the business is run? How do you take your findings and deploy them?
Hanna: Yes, a good example is within our complaints department. Working with the business, we have used the findings from our research to try and make the language we use much easier for people to understand. We also do a telephone call now just to confirm things before closing off the complaint, so people know officially when the complaint has closed.
Also within our repairs department where people have spoken about, let’s say, the time taken to complete the repairs, we’ve worked with the repairs and servicing department to look at the service level agreements that we have for how long it should take to complete a repair, and we have identified areas where those targets have not been met and tried to identify the reasons why so that we could improve that.
Lorna: Do you see other opportunities? Are there things that you’d like to do if you had unlimited time or budget?
Hanna: Yes, I think that there’s always something more that could be done. I guess, for us, it would be customer journey mapping; looking at people’s relationship with us from start to finish and seeing how different pathways can affect how they view us or the decisions that they make later. Let’s say we have boilers that consistently break down with the same type of repair and the same type of issue, we could look at that and how it might affect certain properties more than others before the issue emerges. As much as you can do already, there’s always something more that can be done. You never get to the stage where you know everything perfectly.
Lorna: Do you have any particular projects that you’ve really found rewarding? Any projects you’d say were your favourite?
Hanna: I enjoyed working on the staff focus groups we did earlier this year because I got a real insight into how various teams felt about the way they were working, and what improvements they would like to see within their departments. Working with them in that way isn’t something I would normally do because they’re based in different offices and functions within the business, so it was a good opportunity to gain new insight and learn more about how different departments work with each other.
Lorna: Do you have any words of advice for other people that might be considering a career in analytics or indeed thinking about the housing sector?
Hanna: Yes, I’d probably say that people shouldn’t think of analytics as something that’s big and scary because we are always analysing things daily. Whether it’s, “Do I want to buy pasta or rice?” Or “Which route do I wish to take?” You base your decision on the amount of time it takes, how easy it is and so on. We always analyse data without even thinking about it.
Anyone can be an analyst and as you start doing it, you begin to develop more and more skills. When I started, I couldn’t do the things that I am able to do now. You learn how to apply skills you already have to other forms of data that you may not necessarily be used to and develop your skills that way.