Maximising the enormous potential value of customer communications requires housing associations to make a step-change from customer ‘service’ into customer ‘care’. The greatest proven benefit of accomplishing this is a tangible boost to your KLOE star rating, as easier and more frequent customer interaction with all your underlying services becomes better enabled. Indeed, there are many examples where this has occurred, and in each case a better environment for agent collaboration and teamwork as well as an overall customer experience, is fostered in order to make it happen. What’s more, they all share a common approach to customer care.
You may hold the view that care is reserved for what parents give to their babies, or what nurses give to the unwell. Fair enough. In the cold light of day, good customer communications is all about marrying positive outcomes with maximum efficiency.
A compelling retort would be to point out the great feeling you get as a customer when a query of yours has been resolved quickly, professionally and with an extra dollop of added value. It’s a very welcome feeling and, if we’re honest, it’s a bit of surprise when it happens. Not unlike getting great service at a hotel or restaurant, or when someone really cares enough to be generously, even lovingly, thoughtful and helpful.
Housing associations need to encourage that feeling among their customers, and many are pursuing strategies to do just that. Those that do are driven by hard-headed business reasons like: maintaining optimum staff morale; wasting fewer finite or diminishing time and resources finding the right information or ‘knowledge’; handling fewer complaints; and potentially investing less customer service budget overall. Remember, engaging those strategies successfully means marrying positive outcomes with maximum efficiency.
There are steps to take, which are set out below. Together they constitute an increasingly well-worn pathway toward better KLOE ratings. Already in use at housing associations throughout the UK, these steps embrace technology developments such as virtualisation, which can tremendously reduce operational IT costs, and remote working, which enables agents to achieve their work-life balance. Yet they also brings these agents and their knowledge together; lending them real-time ‘presence’ that enables them to better collaborate with each other, and provide care more effectively and efficiently to customers.
Saying ‘I care’ is the commercially-minded as well as the kind-spirited thing to do. So here’s a suggested recipe to do just that, and one that spells out that aspiration to best use.
Step 1. Intelligence
As with any good recipe, the first step is to get prepared. You need to identify which processes or structures are placing upwards pressure on costs and downwards pressure on customer satisfaction. So gather lots of intelligence through your reporting and management tools, analyse it thoroughly and apply those findings in the following two steps.
Step 2. Consolidation
Remove any organisational structures that limit efficiencies of scale, such as teams exclusively aligned in business divisions, estate locations or distinct housing maintenance areas. You’re aiming for a single services team and a common services portfolio.
Step 3. Automation
Fundamentally, we need to address those repetitive processes or transactions that mire otherwise bright and motivated agents in mind-numbing boredom. In doing so, you are likely to be putting your finger on those transactions which most customers would find much more convenient to do for themselves, at a time that suits them, given a smart and personalised portal. In other words, they are one and the same thing. That doesn’t mean forcing all customers to the web. Care means flexibility, so you should pursue a multi-channel approach to self-service, with an intelligent voice-based portal taking a central role.
Step 4. Right-Size
Agent time that gets freed up from menial and repetitive tasks (that’s as much as 80 per cent of the workload in some cases) can be reassigned to other work. In most cases, sensible automation of frequent transactions means that a contact centre can do more with fewer resources and less infrastructure.
Step 5. Emulate
Emulation is all about adding extra customer service value at no added cost. It means organising actual and virtual resources in clever ways. For example, on-demand support from subject matter experts (e.g. senior building surveyor) from elsewhere in the organisation, driven by agent and desktop ‘presence’ and unified communications. That’s an emulated ‘Expert Support’ service and you have been able to create it without adding to your wage bill.
These principles should stand any housing association in good stead, and indeed many across the UK have already succeeded in following the ICARE recipe to great effect.
This is because managing an effective customer communications infrastructure is about more than simply offering a palatable customer experience. It has to taste good too, and it also has to be satisfying. Most of all, it has to be good for you. I’m confident that a mix of happier customers, employees with the feel-good factor, and better KLOE ratings all add up to very good nutritional value for the typical housing association.
Samuel Williams is general manager of Zeacom Europe.