Speaking at the HQN Housing Network Event

Written by Angeline Saunderson-Hill & Dave Ferguson

The Housing Management Network

It may not be the best way to start your back to work week following a holiday but that’s how it was to be. We had been invited to address the HQN national conference around the theme of ‘Customer Service in the Digital Age ’. This followed our success at the Granicus Awards for Transformed Access to Services Award which was about our approach to the roll out of Universal Credit Full Service in North East Lincolnshire.

Preparation for the presentation had been done in earnest before my holiday with my colleague David Ferguson and having a long train journey to London, we were able to once again, revisit the slides and rehearse, we didn’t want ‘death by PowerPoint’ so we hoped twenty two slides would do the trick. On arrival we felt some degree of confidence but also trepidation too! We had submitted our photos and bibliographies. It was quite scary!

A quick stop for a coffee and our first challenge was to find the venue, aptly enabled by google maps we were speedily ‘checked in’, name badge on and we had our second dose of caffeine as we waited for our spot! We also took the opportunity to engage with the sponsors of the event: Outsystems and Community Fibre. The event speaker pack was full of field experts, our nervousness was heightened.

Wait over, we were as they say, ‘on’!

David gave a great start with the background of where Grimsby and North East Lincolnshire are located and the ambition of ‘The Place’ strategy, setting the scene to start talking about the problem we aimed to solve in our project. Our audience were mainly from the housing sector or from organisations that support the housing sector so we hoped that they could relate to the content of our presentation.

Looking out into approximately 120 people, all experts in their field, was slightly unnerving but spotting several friendly smiles and nods as we both went through the prepared presentation was welcoming and our 30 minutes was over in no time at all!

What we were really trying to convey is best summed up in slide 2 and we had to slide 13 to take them through to defining what was our problem to solve!

We wanted and importantly our user research supported, a simple ‘place’ where all the information regarding Universal Credit and all related information could sit. We wanted to create a culture and community where claimants felt supported, had support in their communities and importantly we didn’t want to develop anything on ‘our’ own. We highlighted the assumed issues for landlords with UC and hoped that these links became more obvious as we continued through.

Stakeholder engagement is always a challenge but everyone was willing to be part of this development and we were quickly able to start developing the Universal Credit Launchpad in time for the full service rollout December last year! Our partnership was extensive and included our major housing providers, Department for Work & Pensions, local libraries, Citizens Advice, our council partners from council tax and benefits, homeless team, family information service and various local community organisations, all on the same page, working towards a common goal of a better experience into Universal Credit (UC).

But I guess the important bit for our audience was — ‘So what’?

As it has been live for nearly a year importantly and with new processes embedded we were able to tell more of the story!

Phew! And so it was over, we could relax and enjoy the networking opportunity that this afforded. We met a Customer Experience Manager who said our presentation had made him think and that 3 weeks into his post he is trying to challenge service changes with the customer at the heart of everything.

We were proud to represent North East Lincolnshire and feel that if nothing else over 120 more people now know where we are and what we have ambitions to achieve and it’s nice to put us on the national map! Furthermore, upon saying our goodbyes, the organiser approached us to ‘do it all again’ in February 2019 to an audience in Manchester.