By Stephen Hampshire, Client Manager, TLF Research
In January HouseMark published its decisions on a new framework for STAR, based on extensive consultation and review involving 300 landlords and over 13,000 tenants and leaseholders. STAR, for those who are not familiar with the sector, is a framework which allows social landlords to benchmark their customer satisfaction against other landlords.
While not totally prescriptive, it sets out requirements and a core set of questions, so that benchmarking results are consistent. Whether or not you work in social housing, it’s worth taking a look at the approach that HouseMark has taken in its review of STAR, and reflecting on what it has to teach us about benchmarking more generally.
An objective benchmark
Organisations in many sectors crave benchmarking information on customer satisfaction, as well as other key business metrics, so that they can objectively evaluate their performance. Metrics such as Net Promoter Score (NPS), Satisfaction Index, and Customer Effort are widely used in this way, and various providers provide the ability to benchmark against other organisations.
In practice, though, differences in survey methodology, sample selection, or question wording can mean that these benchmarks are not as objective as they may first appear. HouseMark’s STAR framework aims to provide a framework which is flexible enough to meet the needs of different organisations, but consistent enough to ensure a fair and objective benchmark.
To make sure that it remains fit for purpose, HouseMark worked with representatives from the National Housing Federation (NHF), the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), Tpas, the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA), Association of Retained Council Housing (ARCH), Taroe Trust, and Councils with ALMOs Group (CWAG). HouseMark also commissioned specialist research agencies Acuity and TLF Research to support the review and secure out-of-sector innovation and best practice, and held extensive consultations with landlords and residents to review ideas for improvement and evolution of the STAR framework.
Talking about the launch, HouseMark Chief Executive Laurice Ponting said: “I am delighted with the level of engagement seen in our review of STAR. This shows how serious the sector is about listening to and acting on feedback to deliver better services. Improving performance requires consistent, robust data that gets to the heart of what matters to tenants and leaseholders, and provides meaningful insights to drive action. Using the new framework will ensure that landlords are capturing customer feedback in line with in and out-of-sector best practice.”
Core Areas for Comparison
STAR consists of five core areas, four “perception measures”:
- Quality of home
- Health and safety
- Ease of dealing with
- Overall satisfaction
and one transactional measure: performance on responsive repairs (the single most important moment of truth for most landlords in their relationship with customers). There’s also a library of additional questions which landlords can choose from as appropriate to align with their needs as an organisation, including 15 recommended questions.
Combining perceptual and transactional measures may seem unusual, but it is a pragmatic approach to the challenge that the customer experience in social housing is a complex mixture of broad ongoing concerns such as safety alongside high volume transactional events, of which repairs is the most significant.
STAR specifies acceptable approaches to customer satisfaction measurement in order to be accepted into the benchmark, with requirements and recommendations covering sample size, collection method, survey frequency, and scale.
The framework requires consistency in response scales (either five or ten point), but is open to new options in terms of how those ratings can be given, including emojis and star ratings in addition to more traditional ways of indicating satisfaction. There is also flexibility in terms of research methodology, with online and SMS options allowed where appropriate.
Under the new framework, landlords will be given a star rating (from 1 to 5), launching in June 2020. This will make it easy to communicate both within the organisation and with residents how customer satisfaction compares to other landlords. This star rating will take account of the context that can impact results, so that landlords receive a fair overall assessment of the services they provide.