In order to deliver consistently excellent customer service, the social housing sector is increasingly turning to contact, case and customer management systems. The traditional housing management systems offer varying levels of customer management within or alongside their core functionality. We also have access to purpose-built CRM, systems such as Kana Lagan Enterprise and Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
There are three main options for improving the way housing providers deal with the complexities of customer management. The first is to use the contact management module included within your housing management system, which will have built-in links to the standard housing management processes. The second is to use a ‘bolt on’ CRM system, typically provided by your housing management system supplier and linked to the core system. The third is to implement a separate CRM system that has process and data integrations with all of your other core systems.
Successful customer relationship management hinges on having a system that encapsulates as closely as possible the real world the customer lives in. It needs record types for all the ‘things’ or entities that exist in and around your customer and you. It needs placeholders for all the bits of information that define those entities. And it needs to map the relationships that exist between them, however complex. All of this needs to be underpinned by three principles: a good data model, consistent design and excellent records management. So how do our three options for improving customer service stack up against these requirements?
Existing CRM modules
Contact management modules tend to be fairly simple in their approach. They hook into the existing housing management system’s data model, a model born in the age where property management was at the centre of housing management. It’s unlikely that all the required entities and relationships that you need today exist in a contact management module. And your supplier may struggle to meet the conflicting demands of its many customers. Nevertheless, contact management modules offer a simple solution to deliver efficiencies in customer service.
Typically, a bolt-on CRM system implemented by your housing management system supplier will be constrained by the data model of the housing management system itself. These models have stood the test of time but may not now reflect the world your customer lives in. But the CRM system itself will have a data model that is better able to support customer-focused processes. On the downside are the restrictions that the supplier may place on you; this type of CRM implementation has to meet the needs of all of the supplier’s customers, not just yours, and that can impose ‘lowest common denominator’ constraints on the system with all of the attendant frustrations that can bring. Alongside that, tight integration with the parent system may not provide you with enough flexibility or agility when introducing new business-specific processes.
Best of breed
Arguably, and perhaps counter-intuitively, a separate but integrated ‘best of breed’ CRM system may provide a better match to the requirements of today’s housing providers. For starters, the underlying data model will be designed from the ground up to make customer management processes very slick indeed; the success or failure of marketing and customer service operations in the largest of commercial companies is dependent on an efficient, focused and agile CRM. Out-of-the-box CRM systems have all the fundamental customer entities and relationships built in. But these will be generic, and need to be added to when operating the software in a specific sector such as housing. Unfortunately, this opens up the opportunity for poor design to creep in. CRM implementation projects are not easy to do and are often very time constrained. The solution provider may well cut corners on the design side and ‘requirements creep’ from the housing provider can have a significantly detrimental effect.
The importance of good design
These problems are avoidable. We are starting to see suppliers taking the issue of good design seriously, coming to the table with robust CRM solutions that a housing provider can take ownership of and build their business processes on. For example, we have the promise of a better world from Civica Housing CX, described as ‘built from the ground up’ and benefitting from a comprehensive and consistently-designed data model. And Esuasive has recently come to market with ‘CRM for Housing’, based on Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which puts the customer at the centre and out-of-the-box comes with a broadly-defined housing data model and pre-developed configurable processes ready for local customisation and integration.
You may have noticed that in the comparisons I haven’t addressed the third of the underpinning principles; excellent record management. To meet this, organisations will need to promote good record keeping as a fundamental part of everyone’s job. All three types of solutions will help with that promotion but any lack of flexibility or agility in your chosen system will likely result in some resistance to change.
Pete Davis is a CRM consultant at Esuasive.