Artificial intelligence (AI) powered solutions, in particular smart chat-bots, can help housing providers to transform themselves and meet the demands of the digital future.
The digital future of social housing
A recent survey by 3C Consultants suggested that by 2025 the typical housing provider will be fully digitised, offering 24/7, personalised services and having the majority of routine transactions carried out via smart, digital devices. The report also forecast that the housing environment will be very different and highly competitive by 2025, and “organisations will need to provide responsive services that customers want, while operating more efficiently”.
With only a few years to fulfil 3C’s 2025 digital prophecy, housing providers should be seriously looking at planning and executing their digital strategy. Technology is going to be at the forefront of this transformation that will require innovation, new thinking and new skills.
In their journey towards the fully-digitised future, housing organisations should stay smart and determine project priorities based on the best RoI. In this context, AI-powered intelligent chat-bots provide an incredibly cost-effective way of starting the digital journey. Let’s see why and how.
The transformation drivers
Recent data about the status of digital transformation in the UK social housing sector are indicating that:
- The use of the internet is becoming more widespread among tenants, including elder generations;
- The use of smartphones and other mobile devices is rising, reaching 69 per cent digital penetration;
- Tenants are increasingly adopting online communication and self-service;
- More and more millennials are looking for affordable housing, with home ownership among young families having more than halved in some UK regions.
Chat-bots as quick wins
A chat-bot is a service that can interact with customers via an online, text-based conversational interface. In addition:
- AI powered chat-bots can engage in human-like conversation, be trained to understand specific user intents and actions, initiate proactive notifications and execute transactions on their behalf, personalise the service, etc;
- They can be easily deployed onto multiple digital channels and messaging platforms available online and via mobile devices;
- Chat-bots are always-on and therefore can serve customers 24/7.
For example, one of the first housing chat-bots helped people who were evicted from their homes to draft an application letter for emergency housing from the local council by asking a few questions about their personal and legal circumstances.
Let’s now review a few areas where chat-bots can bring immediate benefits for both housing providers and their tenants.
Automating FAQs from tenants and prospects
Implement an FAQ chat-bot that replies to typical questions 24/7. It can be easily fed and trained with existing FAQ lists, knowledge bases or simply using the transcripts of the most frequent conversation topics that you’ve had with your tenants over the years, e.g. how to apply for housing support, eligibility criteria, shared ownership options, etc. You could go even further and deploy an intelligent chat-bot that guides the customer through the entire housing application process online, all in a conversational, easy to follow question-and-answer style, with the convenience of just doing it via your smartphone.
Completing transactions via messaging apps
In a list of the most frequent tenants’ requests provided to us by a housing provider, repair-related enquiries represented by far the highest percentage, followed by complaints about antisocial behaviour and enquiries about renting and swapping properties.
The solution? Implement a transactional chat-bot that can automate these requests and integrate with your back-office systems, and deploy it to the most popular messaging apps, such as Messenger, WhatsApp and Skype. For example:
- Request non-emergency repairs and book appointments;
- Report anti-social behaviour;
- Find a home: search for properties by simply typing your needs, e.g. “I am looking for a 3 bedroom house in Yorkshire for up to £100 a week”;
- Manage my rent: request an account balance, set up payments and request a refund.
The human touch will remain important
While a large percentage of enquiries and requests could be automated and taken online with the help of chat-bots and other AI tools, there will always be the need for personal contact.
For example, tenants falling behind with their rent would most likely want to speak to a person to discuss their situation, review options for repaying their debt or find an alternative financial solution. This highlights another benefit of using chat-bots; they free up a housing provider’s staff to help tenants with the kind of problems that genuinely need the personal touch.
In our case, Geomant chat-bots are an integral part of the customer engagement journey and include the ability to escalate a bot conversation to a live agent, schedule a personal appointment or offer a call-back at a convenient time.
Get ahead of the game
We are proud to already have a few well-known housing providers as customers. They are using Geomant communication products and services to improve their processes and reach their organisational goals. And it’s rewarding to see how these housing providers are taking technology really seriously to create competitive advantage and benefits, as evidenced by our customer Accent Housing who won the ‘best use of technology’ award at this year’s Housing Association National Accountancy (HANA) awards.
Geomant AI-powered chat-bots are the logical next step for housing providers looking to be at the vanguard of customer service and transformation in the digital era. For customers already using our multimedia contact centre solutions, it couldn’t be easier to add an intelligent chat-bot and instantly expand customer reach to messaging apps and mobile platforms.
Gustavo Perez-Lopez is the head of Geomant’s AI practice.