February Newsletter – an interview with Richie Rumbelow

Richie Rumbelow, Customer Experience Director at Sovereign Housing Association

We are delighted to bring you the February edition of our CX Talent Ltd newsletter, featuring an interview with Richie Rumbelow, Customer Experience Director at Sovereign Housing Association.  Richie has over eight years of senior CX experience in various sectors, including health, charity, and property. He is a CXPA Professional Member as well as being certified in NPS, Six Sigma, and coaching.

  • You’re currently Director of Customer Experience at Sovereign Network Group. What does that entail?

Customer Experience at Sovereign Network Group consists of four key teams covering service design, insight, reporting and customer involvement. We’re a small team, which works across the organisation driving customer-centric improvement.

  • What is the most challenging aspect of working in CX for a Housing Association?

The UK has a lack of affordable housing and this combined with economic pressures, creates the perfect storm for the housing sector, which is then felt by tenants and Housing Associations. When it comes to working in CX specifically, one of the biggest challenges my team face is a lack of awareness of CX and the benefits it brings for both customers and the organisation. CX is often thought to be customer service or some kind of undefined mystic art.

  • Can you tell us about some of the successes you’ve had in terms of your CX initiatives at Sovereign Network Group to date?  

There are several areas where I think my team has really excelled over the last year. At the end of 2023, we produced the organisation’s first Voice of the Customer report, which has really helped the organisation understand customers and the challenges they face, most importantly it has guided where we focus improvement activity. To further support this, we’re just about to launch the organisation’s first needs-based customer segmentation.

We’re also enhancing our existing feedback mechanisms, layering on geomapping, which allows us to spot trends not just in specific regions or areas but in small towns and even on specific roads.

In addition to our work improving customer insight, we’re pushing forward with several key projects which will enable self-service for customers. It’s early days but we’re really excited to be working on this throughout 2024.

  • You’ve got some really interesting experience across your career in CX. How do you feel that your career path has led you to your position today at Sovereign Network Group? Would you have done anything differently?

My first role after university was at PPL, working in a contact centre environment, which gave me a good grounding in the essentials of customer service. I was then fortunate enough to spend time working at one of the UK’s largest charities: Cancer Research UK. Here I gained vital project and programme experience within the Digital team. My role there also expanded and I led the Consumer Insight team, which is where my love affair with research started.

My most recent role before joining Sovereign Network Group was at the British Heart Foundation, working in the marketing team. I led a large transformation project to bring together various customer service teams in order to provide a single, consistent customer service experience. I also oversaw the people strategy for the Marketing, Fundraising & Engagement team, which was incredibly fulfilling but also helped strengthen my understanding of employee experience and its link to customer experience.

The skills I’ve gained working in customer service, digital and marketing teams have positioned me well for a CX Director role, as these are the three key disciplines, which I’ve found to have the biggest impact on the customer experience.

  • Your experience in CX is broad both in terms of what you’ve been doing in CX And also from an industry sector perspective. You had a commercial start at PPL – which is a music licensing agency as well as a Telco to working in the Third Sector and The Public Sector. What did you learn about CX in each and what are the key differences about working in a not for profit organisation in CX that you enjoy the most?

There have been cultural difference across every organisation I’ve worked at, but there have probably been many more similarities. Every organisation I’ve worked at has cared about its customers and wants to improve their experience because it’s the right thing to do. Some organisations are more commercial in their approach, with a keen appreciation of the Return on Investment of CX. It may sound strange but I’ve found charitable and not-for-profit organisations to be incredibly commercial as there’s a heightened awareness that every penny comes from customers and there’s a responsibility to use income as effectively as possible.

  • What attributes do candidates need to be able to demonstrate to be a strong candidate for a Housing Association, not for profit or charity organisation?

When I interview people, I look for a genuine passion for customers. Buzzwords like ‘customer-obsessed’ are great as long as people have the examples to back them up, but words alone can fall flat.

CX is all about making change in an organisation and no one can do that without their colleagues; I look for people who can build and maintain relationships. Having strong influencing skills, the ability to sell a vision and the perseverance to cope with setbacks and challenges is also key. This is particularly important in the housing sector as it’s a challenging environment, so you need high resilience levels.

  • How do you think Housing Associations will utilise AI in CX in the future?

I think Housing Associations will use AI in the common ways other organisations are using it. The most obvious and easy step is automating transactional customer service interactions, freeing up people to engage in more complex or emotive interactions.

The other natural application for AI within the housing sector is though smart sensors, which can monitor and analyse data on things like temperature and humidity.

Sovereign Network Group is currently looking at the systems it uses to book and track repairs. There is AI baked into some of the systems we’re looking at and it will undoubtedly have a role in things like dynamic scheduling and route planning.

  • What skills do you think candidates in CX should be looking to hone for the future?

AI and Digital skills are obvious areas for people to focus on. The area my team are focused on currently is total experience, bringing together customer and colleague experience, combining it with knowledge and insight to design experiences. I think developing a good understanding of how People and HR teams design Employee Engagement strategies is going to be crucial for CX professionals.

I also think getting leadership experience is crucial. This can be challenging when you’re starting your career but experience outside of work is a brilliant: do you coach a football team or run a lunch club with friends?

  • What difficulties have you had in recruiting for your CX teams to date?

I’m fortunate to have a complete team after recruiting back in 2023 following an expansion of the CX team. Thinking back to the recruitment process, we saw a huge number of applications, however there were only a small number of shortlisted candidates. During the process we did see candidates withdrawing, even as last minute as an hour before the interview.

  • As a recognised thought leader in Customer Experience, how do you see the discipline evolving in 2024?  

I think we have an exciting year ahead. The top things I’m anticipating are the continued deployment of bots and automation, with voicebots becoming far more prevalent. I’m also excited to see Augmented Reality being used to help resolve customer queries.

Customer journey mapping has always been a staple in any CX professional’s toolkit and I think this will evolve so we’re looking at more advanced journey analytics, visualising online and offline journeys much more easily with tracking made possible through omnichannel platforms.

Overall, I think CX professionals will work even more closely with Employee Experience professionals and a more joined up Total Experience discipline will evolve.