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A Digital Journey

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Since the launch of our first website back in 2000, Bromford’s been on a digital journey. Today, still on that journey, we’ve been recognised as a leader in online communication by commentators and awards alike. Here, Paul Taylor, innovation coach at Bromford gives us a quick interview on Bromford’s digital journey.

So Paul, what was it that kicked off Bromford’s digital journey?

A number of things really, but a key moment I reflect on is when a few of us from Bromford went to hear Lucian Tarnowski, founder of Brave New Talent, speak about five years ago. He particularly focused on the way we’ll access technology in future. It was funny because some people in the audience were completely switched off but we really bought into it.

So when you all came back from conference, all fired up, what wheels did you set in motion?

The first thing was to consider how we could get senior leadership as excited about the potential journey as we were and it was very much about getting as many colleagues as possible to listen to the ideas of people like Lucian. And that’s what we did and continue to do right up to the present day with Future 50. I don’t think it would have worked if we’d said: “Here’s Lucian, listen to what he’s got to say,” and then people forget about it.  It was about keeping up that consistent narrative over the past five years. Some organisations think they can just switch digital on, but it doesn’t work like that, you have to keep at it.

Do you think it’s that consistency that’s mobilised so many Bromford colleagues to take part in social media?

I think we’ve established a culture of trust. I remember hearing one of our speakers challenge us by saying: “Would you record and check every telephone conversation in your business?” The answer was obviously “no, we trust people” and he advised this is the position you should come from with social media. Put training and support in place but come from a position of trust. That’s what made people have the confidence to start posting on their first day in the job.

You talked about getting leaders excited about the digital journey, but what really triggered that excitement?

I think we’ve always had senior leadership that scans the horizon, so we were pushing at an open door. But specifically what excited many of them is that social media has brought alive the diversity of the organisation. Once upon a time we would compile an annual review to say what’s special at Bromford – now it’s out there all the time and coming through lots of different voices. This is an easy message to push to a leadership team as it’s exciting.

We often get asked for our digital strategy. Is there one or did it evolve organically?

This is a really interesting question because I think we had a vision rather than a strategy and I still think this is the case. We have a broad view of what we want to achieve and what the benefits to customers would be, but we haven’t got a written detailed plan that we can interrogate. A lot of the things that are the stand-out moments in our digital journey we couldn’t have predicted and I think that’s what makes it exciting.

So you’ve talked about having a vision for digital services, but what is that vision?

Simply from a customer point of view it’s that Bromford is easier and more enjoyable to do business with than any other provider. From a digital perspective it’s about making it completely flexible, mobile, consistent across devices and, ideally, personalised. Our vision is that if we’re going to have digital services how do we make them the best? There are loads of online retailers but there’s only one Amazon!

The big question is around digital inclusion. It’s all very well for those who are digitally active but what about people who aren’t online?

We’re not denying that some of our customers have no access to the internet, but we think it can be over exaggerated. Our own evidence from launching things like Connect is that people can find access. Our job is to make our digital services as easy to use as possible and it’s fundamentally part of our social responsibility that where we encounter people with difficulty to access that we direct them to get them online. We shouldn’t presume people can’t access the internet and build our services in that way as we’re just not helping them in the long term.

However, saying that, we know there are customers who don’t have access and we’ll be working with a range of partnerships to help get them connected. The price of technology is falling rapidly – a tablet can now be bought new for £49! The real challenge is getting people confident enough to use online services and this is something we’ll work on through our Connect Hubs. Digital skills are now required whatever your age – although of course we will always be only a phone call away for those having difficulty.

Finally, why do you think Bromford’s been so successful in adopting a digital approach?

Our digital approach isn’t perfect but we’ve been successful because we’ve taken considered risks, trusted colleagues and given people the right tools.  I know of organisations where people have still got mobiles with no internet on them: If you do that you’re cutting off resources. So we’ve invested in tools, we’ve invested in support like training from the comms team and we’ve let people explore and find their own voice and not say to them this is the way you speak on social media. We have an incredible diversity in the way colleagues are interacting with customers and they’re finding out for themselves what works and doesn’t. We dived in and to a certain extent with things like this you have to.

Take a look at Paul’s top 5 tips for organisations setting out on their digital journey here...