Housing Insight wanted to make sure its standards of service matched up to the words in its marketing materials – so it asked a customer, Soha Housing, to evaluate its experience with Housing Insight’s PanConnect self-service app.
Housing Insight marketing says: Our goal is to work closely with our customers…
Soha Housing’s response: We were in a poor situation – we had no portal and we needed to change our previous provider’s app quite fast when it became unsupported. Housing Insight was brilliant at planning weekly meetings to get us started with its self-service app. The company really listened to what we needed.
It’s not just the project managers at Housing Insight who work closely with customers, it’s also the developers. We had a situation where our own back-office system was creating a problem in writing back data from the app, but Housing Insight’s developers worked out where the failure was happening and found a way to fix it for us.
Housing Insight: …to provide innovative solutions
Soha: Although it was the speed of set-up that we found most useful, the self-service app does contain features that were innovative for us – our residents can now look at multiple tenancies in one place, for example, which is very useful if they rent both a home and garage from us. Previously this data was stored in two different places, which could be confusing.
During all my time in housing, residents have never been able to see documents such as their tenancy agreement or fire risk assessment without requesting hard copies. We’re about to add the facility to view documents online and, for us, this digital access is a real innovation.
Housing Insight: …that meet current and future needs
Soha: We knew that phase one would be about getting the self-service app out quickly in order to meet our residents’ current needs. Now we’ve done this, our focus is on additions and improvements that will help to address future needs, such as full digital sign-ups to replace multiple letters and phone calls for new tenants.
I don’t think it’s possible to completely future-proof a system because our needs will always be evolving and priorities change – there’s a big focus on damp and mould at the moment, for instance, but a different problem will replace this in time. However, I do feel that I can always call our project manager at Housing Insight, knowing that she will listen then ask the tech team to deliver for us.
I’ve worked with lots of companies who seem to disappear when a project is finished, but the team at Housing Insight is always available if there’s a problem. This is a massive plus, because it makes us want to continue to do projects with them.
Housing Insight: …enhancing efficiency and productivity for our customers and their stakeholders.
Soha: The self-service app really has delivered efficiencies for us. We previously had both an app and a portal as separate entities, with two different logins for residents. This caused confusion and resulted in numerous phone calls to our office. Now the self-service app, which we’ve called MySoha, gives residents the same login, the same view, and access to the same information whether they log in via the portal or the app. It’s made a massive difference.
In terms of productivity, functions such as being able to raise repairs or report instances of anti-social behaviour online also reduce the number of incoming calls, which gives our customer services team more time to do other tasks.
We’re also running a project to collect equality, diversity and inclusion information at the moment. We can put a message request out via the app and, when residents complete the digital form, it will update our back-office system immediately, without any input from our housing team. Again, it’s a real time-saver.
Housing Insight: Our self-service app is simple, modern and easy to use.
Soha: It’s really easy to use! You can tell because we haven’t had any negative feedback at all, either from our test users or other residents when we went live. It’s an intuitive, tile-based system that isn’t overloaded with information.
At the beginning, we had a specially-formatted ‘date of birth’ question that was causing registrations to fail because people were not inputting the data correctly. We went back to Housing Insight and were able to get this fixed straight away by adding a message that flags the format we need for our system.
Housing Insight: It promotes a ‘digital first’ approach.
Soha: I can’t think why our residents wouldn’t choose ‘digital first’ with the self-service app! We have 7,500 properties to manage so, regardless of how many customer service advisors we have, there will always be a queue on the phone. I’m pleased to say that we already have double the number of registered users for Housing Insight’s self-service app compared with our previous app, and that’s just in the nine months since we went live.
Housing Insight: The app and portal are customisable to each client.
Soha: Generally speaking, I’d say there’s an unspoken problem with customisation in that the more bespoke anything gets, the harder it is to support. That said, although we started with Housing Insight’s original ‘plug and go’ functionality, we have changed some of the tiles in the app, altered some wording and added a few extra drop-down menus.
As soon as we know what we’d like to change, we ask Housing Insight if it’s feasible. Where possible the team gives us options, such as ‘you can change these words for zero cost’ or ‘if you’d prefer to do X, it will cost Y’.
Most things are possible; it’s just a balance of time and money. I’ve had meetings with other IT suppliers where it feels like they’re always trying to sell me something. I appreciate the fact that Housing Insight don’t do a hard sell.
Housing Insight: Our targeted, secure messaging enables two-way, online contact with residents.
Soha: We plan to use one-to-one messaging for our digital tenancy sign-ups. We would use it more widely if residents received a notification when we posted a message for them in the app, but we haven’t yet implemented that option. Meanwhile, we have used the broadcast function to let everyone know our Christmas opening hours, for example.
Housing Insight: The app gives residents the ability to request a service, such as a repair.
Soha: We know that the self-service app can take residents through a step-by-step process that diagnoses repairs and allows residents to schedule maintenance appointments when it’s convenient for them. At the moment Soha residents can report a repair and upload one photo (multiple photos are on our wish-list for the future), which is invaluable in saving our customer service team time on the phone.
These days, people just expect to be able to do things outside normal working hours. If our residents need to let us know about something, we know that it can be very annoying to have to wait until the office opens in the morning or after the weekend, so the app provides instant service.
Housing Insight: Instant savings can be made with our self-service app.
Soha: Without a doubt, the app has already saved money in terms of staff time. And from the initial procurement, I know that Housing Insight was very good value compared with the other companies we considered.
Katrina Heyworth is head of sales at Housing Insight, and Nicola Hansen is a business analyst at Soha Housing.