The Acorn Housing Experience

Sponsor: Acorn of London
Sponsor Liaison: Bianca Bucur, Halima Hassan
Student Team: Sabrina Cacapit, Julia DeLo, Joseph Murphy, Javier Salido
Abstract: Acorn of London is a housing company that provides private housing to many university students traveling and staying within London. The goal of this project was to work with Acorn, its clients, and residents to provide Acorn with recommendations on how to improve client satisfaction. By surveying residents in Acorn’s properties and interviewing clients affiliated with universities who book for large student groups, we were able to determine Acorn’s strengths and areas it could improve upon. Based on these findings, we recommend Acorn make improvements to the flat turnover process, improvements to its student orientation, and renovate its Crawford Passage and Baker’s Row flats. Additionally, we recommend Acorn introduce a client affairs position and implement a digital feedback survey for future use.
Link: The Acorn Housing Experience Final Report
Acorn Competitor Comparison
The Acorn Housing Experience Final Presentation

Executive Summary

When studying abroad, international university students have two options for housing: to live on-campus or off-campus. With the increase in study abroad programs and number of students in these programs, many universities are unable to provide housing to their students, international or otherwise. When international students cannot live on campus, outside housing providers step in to offer housing. In London specifically, purpose-built student accommodation (PBSAs) and housing in multiple occupancy (HMOs) are two of the major types of student housing to choose from.

In this project, we worked with a housing company that offers HMO, Acorn of London (Acorn). Acorn is a housing company that has been operating for over 40 years and has over 300 flats available. The company’s target market consists primarily of American university students.

The goal of this project is to investigate and evaluate client residential experiences and opinions as they relate to Acorn’s housing services to develop recommendations Acorn can implement to improve its provided services, amenities, and marketing strategies. These recommendations were developed through four main objectives:

  1. Collect feedback from residents to determine what changes Acorn can make to improve client experience
  2. Collect feedback from university officials to determine what changes Acorn can make to improve client experience
  3. Collect and analyze information on competing companies in Acorn’s market in order to determine what changes Acorn can make to improve its business
  4. Create suggestions Acorn can use to improve its own feedback survey to make proactive changes to its housing model

To gather feedback, a survey, several interviews, and a focus group were administered. The 12-question survey was distributed to current residents of Acorn’s properties via QR code or anonymous link using the survey platform Qualtrics. The survey had a total of 88 responses from across 5 of Acorn’s properties. The survey asked residents to rate their satisfaction with different aspects of the accommodation, as well as the option to provide comments explaining why they gave these ratings. The team also interviewed 5 university officials, 2 agents that book for universities, and 1 independent resident who booked with Acorn. These interviews focused on client information, priorities when selecting housing, common feedback from residents, and the booking experience. The focus group consisted of 3 current Acorn residents and focused on getting ideas and recommendations from residents as to how Acorn could improve satisfaction.

Additionally, the team collected data about several other housing companies in London and compiled this data in order to understand how Acorn compares to these companies. This data was aggregated into a spreadsheet and grouped into categories such as the location of the buildings, number of beds per room, minimum length of stay, as well as other relevant information.

Lastly, the team conducted research into different digital survey distribution platforms Acorn could use for its new resident feedback survey. Acorn’s prior survey was examined along with the survey mentioned above in order to determine what questions were the most effective and should be asked on Acorn’s new survey.

Using the data collected from the above methods, the following 12 major findings were created:

Finding 1: The primary factors that make Acorn excel as a housing company are location and the option of short stay

95.2% of survey respondents were satisfied with the flat location. 7 of 8 clients needed Acorn’s short-term stay options.

Finding 2: Housing location confirmation is concerning to clients

5 out of 8 of our interviewees, specifically larger clients, were concerned that confirmation of students’ housing location was too close to their arrival date, although this was one of their lesser concerns.

Finding 3: There are few differences between the offerings of Acorn and its competitors

When analyzing the accommodation of other student housing companies in London, the team found that most of the features in both the flats and buildings are similar to those available in Acorn’s accommodation. The team feels there are no obvious missing amenities Acorn should look into providing.

Finding 4: Residents have mixed experiences with the maintenance process

24 out of 37 survey comments regarding maintenance were positive, with most respondents noting quick response times from maintenance staff. However, the interviews and focus group indicated dissatisfaction with the communication of the maintenance staff.

Finding 5: Acorn desires a survey to gather resident feedback efficiently

Acorn staff desired a digital survey that gathers resident satisfaction data to reduce time spent digitizing and processing results.

Finding 6: Clients could benefit from a dedicated client affairs team

Long-time clients had their own facilitator or wanted a facilitator working nearby who could attend to student concerns.

Finding 7: Residents often do not understand how to use appliances in the flat

The survey showed general dissatisfaction regarding flat appliances. This is partly due to students being unfamiliar with UK appliances.

Finding 8: Laundry facilities are the greatest cause of dissatisfaction among residents

53% of survey respondents were dissatisfied with the laundry, while only 33.4% were satisfied. Resident comments in the survey and interviews indicated an insufficient number of machines or poorly functioning machines.

Finding 9: Flats often need maintenance or have missing inventory on move-in

44.7% of survey respondents needed flat maintenance upon move-in. 58 out of 88 responses mentioned distinct items or appliances that needed repair or replacement upon arrival.

This dissatisfaction is partly caused by resident unfamiliarity with British appliances.

Finding 10: Residents want a greater selection of kitchenware

Focus group attendees and 33 out of 88 survey comments showed a desire for more kitchenware. This is partly due to missing kitchen inventory upon arrival.

Finding 11: Residents want more storage space in the bedroom

29 survey comments mentioned bedroom storage space. 26 out of these 29 and the focus group attendees showed a desire for more storage space.

Finding 12: Residents are not pleased with the state of the furniture

30 residents left comments regarding furniture satisfaction in the survey. Of the 30 comments, 21 indicated dissatisfaction with the furniture. Additionally, 9 wrote that furniture was either missing or that the resident desired more furniture.

Finding 13: Wi-Fi was the second greatest cause of dissatisfaction among residents

45.3% of survey respondents were dissatisfied with the provided Wi-Fi.

Finding 14: Acorn is currently implementing solutions to many of the issues discovered

            According to Acorn staff, Acorn is aware of many areas for improvement within the company. Acorn is implementing an online maintenance platform for the convenience of the company and residents, as well as a new spreadsheet for tracking storage room inventory. Kamen house is also more optimized for increased resident satisfaction compared to other buildings.

Using our findings, the team developed six recommendations to help Acorn improve resident and client satisfaction. These recommendations outline different areas of improvement for Acorn to explore in the future to increase resident satisfaction.

Recommendation 1: Introduce a digital survey to attain continual resident feedback

The team recommends that Acorn introduce a digital survey to collect feedback in place of its current paper feedback survey. We recommend Acorn use Typeform’s basic free plan to create its survey. However, if Acorn chooses to upgrade to a paid option, we suggest moving to SurveyMonkey’s subscription plan for better analysis tools.

Recommendation 2: Create a guide for residents based on suggestions from past residents

We recommend that Acorn creates an area guide in the form of a small trifold pamphlet highlighting different attractions and activities around London for the residents to become acquainted with the area more quickly. Ideally, these highlights would be based on past resident suggestions taken from a new question that will be added into Acorn’s new feedback survey.

Recommendation 3: Improve flat turnover process

A lower cost recommendation to improve the flat turnover process is to formalize a standard training program of flat turnover. Additionally, two higher cost recommendations that would further improve this process are to increase the number of staff assigned to preparing flats for new residents or revise the move-in and move-out times.

Recommendations 4: Make modifications to the resident orientation model

To improve resident orientation, we recommend orientation not be held on the day of arrival; residents may not pay close attention because they may be jetlagged and tired. We also recommend that a member of Acorn staff check-in with residents within 48 hours of arrival to address any additional questions. Finally, we suggest that Acorn enable universities to hold a pre-orientation by providing a list of certain aspects of living the Acorn flats and London that they feel students should know beforehand.

Recommendation 5: Continue renovations and refurbishing of older buildings

For quick and low-cost solutions, we recommend Acorn add hooks into flats and risers under beds to facilitate better storage and space usage. We also recommend changing couch covers with more frequency between residents. For long term, more expensive solutions, we recommend adding more laundry facilities, replacing boilers, carpets, and couches. Older flats should assume higher priority for being renovated as finances allow.

Recommendation 6: Introduce a dedicated staff position for client affairs

We recommend the company create a new client affairs position with the responsibility of corresponding with residents and university officials during their stay in Acorn properties. Many clients and staff at Acorn feel a dedicated client affairs person would resolve many of the communication issues that are sometimes exist between clients, residents, and Acorn.