The terms ‘digital transformation’, ‘customer experience’ and ‘user adoption’ are hot topics in the housing sector at the moment, and for good reason given the rapidly changing landscape. It’s pleasing to see that traditional ICT departments are now rebranding into digital teams working collaboratively with colleagues from housing and contact centres.
There’s been a considerable shift towards putting the customer at the heart of services and adapting to meet tenants’ changing needs. This will not only improve relationships but enable significant efficiencies to be made for any housing provider. However, in this connected age where tenants expect more from the services they consume, the challenge for housing providers is to re-evaluate their communications infrastructures in order to be agile and innovative. Before we move on to look at technology infrastructure and what housing providers can do to ensure a solid foundation for future growth, let’s remember what’s driving the changing demands:
- Housing providers’ tenants are no different from the rest of the UK population with 82 per cent of all UK adults using the internet daily. However, housing providers are also committed to providing services for all, including those digitally excluded.
- Similarly, tenants’ expectations of services via the internet and apps on their phones have increased in line with their use of online consumer services.
- While telephone/voice remains the most popular channel, email, web chat and social media are fast becoming the channels of choice.
A look back at housing technology infrastructure
A report by Incom Business Systems detailed four key challenges facing the housing sector, technology infrastructure being one. For many years, housing providers have functioned using familiar and unchanging business processes and systems. Business applications have either been bought and adapted in-house or have been developed using internal resources to fit business needs.
The result has been disparate systems and applications being used independently within the organisation. The main takeaway from this is that housing providers face considerable legacy system issues, with an array of mutually-exclusive systems in place. This affects productivity as there could be challenges around collaboration and integration impacting on front-line staff who will find it hard to deal with tenants’ enquiries effectively.
Taking into account all of these factors – the changing demands of tenants, a legacy issue of disparate systems and limited collaboration within the sector – we come back to the question: how can housing providers create a communications environment that will enable innovation and growth?
At Geomant, we believe a flexible unified communication (UC) solution is the answer. UC acts as a core pillar, enabling omni-channel interaction – tenants can engage with their provider via the web, phone, email, SMS, chat or social media. They can also switch between channels without their journey or conversation flow being interrupted.
The reason we emphasised ‘flexible’ above is that you’ll want to choose a UC system that not only has the ability to connect with your existing contact centre and telephony functionality but you’ll also want to ensure that it is flexible enough to connect with other business applications such as CRM or housing management in order to bridge the gap between any disparate systems.
Let’s take a look at an example of a housing provider that’s leading the way in preparing for future growth and laying the foundations that will allow them to keep up with tenant demands and the changing environment.
Accent owns and manages over 21,000 properties in five regions across the UK. We have a 40-seat contact centre in Shipley which receives around a quarter of a million telephone calls from tenants every year. For every incoming call, one outbound call is generated (on average), making a total of half a million calls per year. 80 per cent of calls are about either repairs or rents.
In February 2018, we launched our Accent Connect programme, a powerful, omni-channel contact centre solution (powered by Geomant) that enhances services to tenants while improving the working environment for our staff and providing the Accent management team with rich, real-time information for strategic decision-making and good governance.
In summary, Accent Connect is a single integrated communications platform that encapsulates voice, email, web chat, social media and video conferencing. Customer interactions have SLAs and are automatically routed to contact advisers according to their skillset. As with many of the new breed of technology solutions, Connect is easy to administer from within the contact centre (such as changing queues, recording messages and emergency mode), rather than having to rely on help from ICT support, so making it ‘agile’ to manage.
Accent’s traditional voice channel has been enhanced, providing customers with the ability to request a call back rather than queuing to speak to an agent. Staff are provided with ‘screen-popping’, so the system automatically finds the customer’s CRM record before the call/email is answered. It allows the agent to consult CRM before answering the call so they are better prepared, saving time and impressing the customer with how their information is immediately available at the fingertips of staff.
Connect is integrated with our housing management system, MIS ActiveH, and will push the content of emails and web chats into ActiveH so that all staff have a full, real-time 360-degree view of the contact with customers. Another reason staff love the system is that they now complete one task at a time rather than having to manage multiple calls and emails simultaneously. Contact advisers can also seamlessly allow housing officers, surveyors and contractors to join the customer on the call.
The management information produced by Connect is excellent and is starting to be used to allow Accent to know, understand and segment our customers better, as well as manage the contact centre far more responsively. Importantly, this intelligence is used for strategic decision making, providing our executive team and board with the information required for good governance.
Outgoing campaigns have been created to use the quieter times of advisers to contact customers about their levels of rent arrears or whether they need help with universal credit. More resources have been deployed during evenings and weekends to enhance email as an equally accessible channel of communication.
Contact advisers can now resolve more customer enquiries at first point of contact by having information immediately available and by connecting customers to agents with the right specialist skillset, regardless of where they are.
The wider benefits of the project include:
- Mobile and flexible working has been embraced. There is less need for staff to travel to attend meetings because video conferencing is available and encouraged using Skype4Business.
- Accent staff share their ‘presence’ with all colleagues so allowing staff to decide whether to make contact with each other without having to actually try.
- There is an instant messaging facility between one or more people and the ability to share and collaborate on documents.
- At the push of a button, other staff and external contacts (such as contractors) can now be pulled into conference calls as needed.
Accent Connect has been a great success and is having a very positive impact on customer perception, staff efficiency and the working environment. The solution allows for easy integration so if we need to integrate other functions to keep up with changing demands, it can be done easily.
A massive opportunity exists for housing providers to take advantage of new and innovative products to support and improve service delivery. The key takeaway from this article is to have a core structure in place first to allow this to happen in the most efficient and cost-effective way.
Steve Dungworth is director of digital transformation at Accent Group. Charlotte Houston is the content marketing manager at Geomant.