One of the greatest challenges facing housing providers and local authorities at the moment is their need to deliver the same services to residents while being unable to offer the same level of personal interaction. Restrictions on face-to-face contact have meant that housing officers can only visit those in the greatest need, while call-centres are fielding unprecedented call volumes.
At the same time, councils and housing providers are expected to provide a higher level of service for their customers, improve housing standards and achieve faster response times, while budgets have been reduced in many areas. They must find ways to focus their resources on the activities and customers needing the most attention, while still improving service levels for all customers. As a result, councils and housing providers are turning to self-service portals.
Managing more customer enquiries
Calls to customer contact centres have rocketed during the pandemic. Having identified that a large proportion of its inbound calls were related to simple account enquiries such as rent statements and updating contact data, Wiltshire Council realised that it needed to encourage customers to serve themselves via an online portal in order to reduce the volume of calls and prioritise customers in the greatest need.
With over 5,000 properties under its management, Wiltshire Council has been using the Aareon QL housing management software for many years and realised that a new customer portal would need to integrate closely with this system. Knowing that similar organisations such as Curo Housing were also using the system gave the council confidence that Aareon’s portal would also suit Wiltshire’s customers.
Aareon’s 360 Customer Portal integrates directly with Aareon QL, meaning that data can be captured once and then shared across the housing department via ‘a single source of the truth’.
Tailored to Wiltshire’s own website and branding, the portal provides a consistent and intuitive interface for customers. The portal allows them to access self-service facilities through any web-enabled device so that they can view their rent account, set up payment arrangements and direct debit mandates, raise repairs and check their repairs history. The portal also features a budget planner to help customers manage their finances.
Aareon began the implementation in September 2020 and the portal went live two months later, including seamless integration with the council’s instance of Aareon QL.
Improved access to services
The council has already seen considerable take-up of the new portal; in the first three months of live operation, over 1700 Wiltshire residents signed up. Wiltshire Council is running a personalised communications programme to encourage further uptake.
Simon Hendey, director of housing, Wiltshire Council, said, “The new portal has enabled customers to self-serve at their own convenience, providing a more responsive and efficient service. It reduces the number of calls we have to manage and that helps us focus on other priorities.”
Usage data from the portal has also indicated that the majority of registered customers are using the portal to manage their accounts just as Wiltshire Council hoped, such as using it to check their rent statements and request repairs, helping to reduce the volume of calls to the council. This has reduced the council’s housing officers’ workloads as well as cut the cost of recording and responding to inbound enquiries.
Customers are also updating their personal records, contact details, preferences and more. These records can easily become out-of-date, so the customer-led updates are proving hugely beneficial for data insights and empowering the customer to review their own data and manage the changes themselves.
Feedback has been extremely positive, pointing to strong confidence in customers using the portal, better access to routine services and increased satisfaction overall.
Hendey said, “Since inviting customers to sign up to the Aareon 360 Customer Portal, we have had great feedback on how intuitive and convenient it is to use. Customers have welcomed the ability to manage their housing accounts without having to call the contact centre because it saves them time.”
Wiltshire Council is now taking part in Aareon’s ‘next-generation programme’, a customer-led engagement and development programme for Aareon’s new browser-based, cloud-ready housing management software.