Any housing provider that isn’t focused on delivering a superior digital experience for tenants is going to come unstuck in the near future. But providing that seamless experience is challenging when your business systems don’t support it.
Evolution is certainly vital to the longevity of any successful organisation. But the unfortunate by-product can be a mess of disparate and often incompatible technology systems.
The housing sector isn’t alone with this challenge. New software, apps, programmes and digital divisions are commonly bolted on as needs arise. This organic growth often leads to an unwieldy legacy tech stack that isolates data sets and creates silos of information across the organisation.
It’s at this point that your tenant experience starts to reflect your company structure rather than their needs. It’s a classic case of viewing a process from within the organisation and not from the outside in, which is where you need to position your viewpoint if you want to make progressive changes. Tenants will quickly grow frustrated with a disjointed experience which in no way supports the drive for improved engagement and relationships.
In some cases, it seems like the only solution is to rip and replace your standalone legacy systems with new ones; an expensive and, in many cases, near impossible task.
Join the dots with a digital experience platform (DXP)
Those unfamiliar with DXP (it is still a relatively new term) can think of it, in its most simple form, as the evolution of content management systems (CMS). Where your organisation uses a CMS to deliver a corporate website, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to deliver more complicated digital demands in the same way.
In today’s world, tenants need to search, pay, book and communicate with your organisation digitally. They may do this via a number of devices and the expectation will be that things will work seamlessly. These expectations stretch management systems and so the evolution is a DXP – a collection of integrated tools that enable organisations to deliver complex digital services.
A DXP works silently in the background to provide a joined-up digital journey for users. It draws in data from across your business, allowing you to repurpose it in new ways that provide value for tenants and employees. With this digital layer in place, you can integrate your services and redesign the digital experience for your tenants without having to replace legacy systems.
Where to begin?
Where once a great tenant experience was a nice-to-have (and rare) attribute, it is now expected and the absence of it is increasingly conspicuous. The housing sector has a long way to go before it can change the general perceptions that exist within resident communities but there is momentum and determination to act.
Using digital services to support a tenant experience is commonplace, yet the maturity, effectiveness and usability of those services often falls woefully short of modern expectations. Other sectors can be looked at for inspiration to learn from successful digital service provision, where value is placed on customer experience.
Improving customer experience (CX) involves looking at operational processes across the entire customer journey, and digital typically plays a key role in many of those processes. Assessment of the effectiveness of current digital services should be carried out without bias; for example, if a portal has been developed for tenants to enable them to pay their rent, then have the number of people using the portal been at the levels expected? Does the portal provide a smooth, hassle-free alternative or is it a slow and problematic solution that fuels further frustration?
We’re encouraging housing providers to look at the challenging touchpoints within the customer journey and consider where digital services can support or automate the experience.
Tenant expectations aren’t easy to manage
People want to interact with companies as seamlessly as their experience with digital leaders such as Uber, Spotify, Netflix, Instagram and WhatsApp. Yet most daily interactions still remain in legacy systems and complex bureaucracy. This results in poor service and a gritty, difficult and often resentful relationship with the tenants.
Rapidly changing expectations means continuous improvement and innovation, and as a minimum, tenants expect:
- Easy access at all times on all devices – Personalised, mobile-responsive information so that tenants can view and manage their payments, book repairs, look for a home or find information at any time.
- Speed – People find that it’s no longer acceptable to wait for a taxi to arrive “as soon as possible” or to wait in line to check in for a flight. Tenants demand more and more convenience, or we complain loudly and share our experiences through social media.
- Connectedness – Tenants want their lives, their devices and your services to be seamless.
- A retail experience – Tenants want to feel wanted and be served in the same way as they are by online retailers.
- Transparency of their data and your operations; good examples are seeing their payment histories, paying rent securely, and automated reminders for rent payments and repairs appointments.
- Online self-service – Picking up the phone and calling is dead for younger generations.
You must focus on aligning the touch points that exist between an experience provided to tenants, and the operations and systems that enable that experience to be delivered. It’s therefore about making sure the ‘front stage’ (the tenant) and the ‘back stage’ (your people, processes and platforms) are both aligned to deliver the best possible digital experience.
There is nothing new about designing the front stage to maximise the tenant experience but it’s often performed in isolation from what’s going on behind the scenes, and it’s usually the same with the back stage, done in isolation by different departments with individual budgets.
Service design principles look at the entire ecosystem and seek to design for the best possible experience at every step while marrying the two together. Service design is how you harness innovation against a tenant experience, by aligning your organisation and the people, processes and technology that exist within it to best deliver that experience.
Mark Cable is the general manager of Squiz.