Here at Housing Insight, we’ve seen our ‘plug and go’ solutions trigger digital journeys across the UK as the housing sector has sought out better ways to improve customer experience and streamline their internal operations.
Our approach to digital was formed around our PanConnect offering in these two key areas, using a flexible approach which involves modules that operate independently, allowing for swift uptake, but which can also be combined and refined for bespoke use.
Understanding the journey
We know that no two digital journeys are the same. The overall processes may be similar from one organisation to another but every customer is different. For this reason, the ‘journey to digital’ doesn’t need to have a specific start or end point. Instead, the first stepping-stone usually involves us working with a customer to identify where we could deliver the greatest results, such as the largest cost-saving, biggest response, maximum engagement or most significant deliverable resource.
For example, while we were working with Caledonia Housing in Scotland, the journey began with the theme of ‘connect’; we jointly recognised that engaging with residents more effectively offered the biggest potential upside for all concerned.
Giving residents the ability to engage digitally has enabled the organisation to offer a 24/7 solution for residents, 365 days a year, in a way that remains cost-effective. We provided Caledonia with our Connect app and portal, with integration to its existing housing management software. The housing provider also added our PanConnect mobile staff app, and this combined approach has ensured a seamless journey along the road to digital.
Ongoing digital updates
At Housing insight, we regularly provide new releases for each module within PanConnect. And we’re proactive in sourcing feedback to make sure that these ongoing improvements are tailored as closely as possible to the needs of the sector.
An analogy might be the annual service on a car: regular tuning and maintenance makes it run more smoothly; it reduces the chance of breakdowns and emergency repairs; and decreases the overall running costs.
United Welsh has adopted all of our PanConnect modules and so it benefits from all of our new releases, keeping its solutions right up-to-date. Specifically, United Welsh’s journey to digital has centred around increasing engagement and enhancing communication.
Our communications platform allows United Welsh to target its customer communications more effectively, reaching everyone with blanket messages when necessary and selecting smaller groups for more nuanced communications when needed. This transformation of its two-way SMS and email will prove invaluable, for example, when the new Renting Homes Wales Act comes into operation later this year, allowing it to deliver new occupation contracts for signature and notifications, all within the self-service app. The housing provider will also retain its existing digital workflows for automation, a key priority.
Using multi-channel communications has a huge impact on the success rates for digital delivery. Those residents connecting digitally via their preferred channel are more likely to continue to use that method, so the more channels on offer the greater the likelihood of that initial engagement taking place. Once trust has been established, this then encourages the digital journey to continue in other areas, such as help and advice, debt recovery and repairs.
Staff and customer digital experiences
Many so-called ‘mobile’ systems or web-based solutions provide access for staff while working away from the office. However, some still don’t offer offline working, which is problematic when the UK target for 4G coverage is still three years away from 95 per cent saturation. Furthermore, not every area or building allows housing staff to use web-based systems; many of our customers’ staff work in tower blocks where it can be difficult to get a good data signal on a mobile device.
In addition to access issues, as a society we face a future of hybrid working, with many millions of us now working from home, either full-time or at least part-time.
Thenue Housing in Scotland realised that its staff wanted to work smarter and with greater flexibility while making better use of technology in their roles. Like many other housing providers, it also faced an increase in arrears following the pandemic. To address both issues, Thenue Housing rolled out the RentsConnect (Income Analytics) module of the PanConnect Staff App because it not only gives housing officers the ‘who?’ and ‘why?’, but also the ‘so what?’ contextual data. All information from a visit is collected and uploaded to the back-office systems automatically, without duplication.
The next step in the digital journey for Thenue Housing will involve incorporating our self-service solution within the RentsConnect module to improve the user experience for residents as well as staff. This means that residents in arrears can set up payment plans, contact their housing officer using secure messaging and request appointments without having to phone. This will not only create a better overall experience for residents, but it will also generate efficiencies for the business – particularly around early interventions and ensuring that key actions aren’t overlooked.
Continuous digital improvement
All businesses must embrace change in order to survive, but data drives informed change. True digital journeys aim to keep all users engaged on the way and data is a hidden tool that allows a business to achieve this goal and keep evolving. Whether it’s analysing the data from our cloud reporting solution or establishing staff feedback groups, bespoke data is a vital component in any programme for change.
The project team at Greatwell Homes in Wellingborough uses a strategy of continuous improvement to deliver results. Alongside its Housing Insight account manager, Greatwell Homes has refined its PanConnect solution in all areas, from staff access in day-to-day usage to care and support and tenancy sign-ups.
Using data from the reporting database, Greatwell Homes monitors how its residents are using the self-service solution and this informs a change program that continually improves engagement. Some amends are minor while others have a significant impact, such as the creation of a true self-appointing repairs solution, made possible by adding our diagnostic repairs wizard and integrating it with the scheduling system. On average, each resident spends around four minutes logged into the repairs solution – just enough time to complete the actions required. Collecting data for improvement purposes gives the team at Greatwell Homes an edge in responding to and even pre-empting residents’ needs.
Dare to be digitally different
We understand that change can be scary for both staff and customers. To minimise this discomfort and uncertainty, many companies opt to follow what others are doing. This is often a useful starting point, particularly where there are proven successes, but we genuinely believe that while the ‘processes’ can be remarkably similar from one organisation to the next, every company is different.
Change offers an exciting opportunity to re-evaluate. Are these processes really working for us? Is there a better way of doing this in our organisation? Is this who we are? Is this what our customers want? The answers to these questions and more can be discovered while undertaking the ‘journey to digital’. And the end result will often have a larger impact than was initially believed possible.
Katrina Heyworth is head of sales at Housing Insight.