A key part of updating RHP’s five-year strategy was understanding the needs of our existing and future customers so we could tailor our services accordingly. We conducted two customer-profiling surveys and gained some really good insights; over a third of customers responded and we were able to identify our demographic breakdown, which helped us think about how we could tailor our services to their needs more effectively in future. The survey results have driven our strategic goals for the next five years, which include building 500 new homes, investing £81 million in keeping our stock up-to-date, and helping 500 customers into work or training. We strive to achieve very high levels of customer satisfaction and deliver sustainable tenancies – giving customers a hand-up, rather than a hand-out.
To help us achieve our strategic goals, we developed an ‘omni-channel’ strategy to harmonise the communications we have with our customers. It has been impossible to ignore the rise of digital channels such as social, mobile, web chat and video in today’s consumer society and they are gradually overshadowing the more traditional methods of phone, letters and face-to-face contact and crucially, they are far more effective at working together to create a seamless, omni-channel customer experience.
To analyse our existing channels and services, we worked with The Foundation, an independent growth and innovation consultancy, to carry out an extensive review. We found that 75 per cent of customers preferred to contact us by phone. Furthermore, the majority of these calls were about repairs, gas servicing and rent – straightforward transactions which could be carried out autonomously and online by the customers themselves, at a time convenient to them and without the need to go through our call centre at all. We knew that fewer inbound calls would allow our staff to deal with more complex customer queries and result in cost efficiencies which we could invest in a better and more convenient mobile service.
The problem was that calls were being answered in an average of 12 seconds and our employees were effectively using data systems and CRM to provide fast, helpful responses. This presented us with a challenge of nudging customers towards digital channels that worked flawlessly and still gave them the choice, convenience and control they expected. Our vision for 2018 is to help our customers move effortlessly from one channel to another with the help of smooth transactions and a single contact management system.
Our omni-channel strategy covers five areas: the development of our website, online repairs bookings, electronic payments, social media and live chat. Across all of these streams, we have looked at best practice elsewhere and thought about how we can deliver our services differently for the benefit of our customers.
For example, only 20 per cent of our customers were using our online services, so using the Ocado model, we introduced two-hour arrival times for our repairs operatives so customers could book their repairs online and not have to wait at home all day. We have also made the bold decision for all non-emergency repairs and rent payments to be made electronically by April 2015, which would free up our employees to deal with more complex issues without increasing our overhead costs.
Cutting out paper
We are already nudging them towards different channels – one customer used to phone our contact centre every week to pay her rent but she has now agreed to pay by direct debit, setting up an online RHP account so she can check her rent statement whenever and wherever she likes. We are also no longer sending paper rent statements to our tenants automatically, and only 15 per cent of our customers still wish to receive these.
In order to focus on digital communication within RHP, we’ve introduced our employees to Yammer, a social media platform for business, which encourages them to share their work successes and think e-first, not last. In April 2014, we launched the first phase of our new CRM system, using Microsoft CRM Dynamics 2013. This is helping us to develop our omni-channel strategy further by building a solid platform for more online services, enabling mobile working for our customer-facing employees and allowing us to build on the technology we have already got.
CRM is also a vital tool on our journey towards being one of the best service providers in the country, responding to customers quickly and easily when they need us and ensuring a consistent outcome every time. It will also make our employees’ lives easier, providing them with a fluid tool to do their jobs more effectively. Crucially, our employees and customers can see the same screens when completing a transaction online. This means we can help customers on their self-service journey and walk them through the process if they are struggling. The more information we have about our customers, and the more we can share it within RHP, the more we can ease any internal frustration about working ‘blind’ and deal with our customers more efficiently.
Encouraging online access
We have begun to make our online services more appealing than simply picking up the phone by providing additional benefits such as the ability to view planned repairs and redecoration. We are also redesigning our website to make it more attractive, working to reduce the number of pages to help our customers find key information quickly and ensuring it is responsive to mobile devices by designing a version of our website specifically for mobile use.
Development of our live chat service will help us understand whether it is a channel our customers want to use. To do this, we are increasing its visibility on our website and making it easier for customers to access and use it. We will soon be introducing proactive chat, as a message promoting live chat which appears when a customer has been idle on a page and removing the prominence of our telephone number from most of our website pages. Live chat ‘champions’ will be trained to replicate the RHP tone of voice so that customers can hardly tell the difference between live chat and a phone call.
We’ve already begun to integrate social media into our desktop site and our mobile site, and now we want to get smarter about how we measure our impact and engagement with customers. We’re using tools like Klout and Hootsuite to help manage our profiles and opening up their management to our customer services teams as well as our communications teams.
Our omni-channel strategy begins and ends with our customers. The possibilities and experiences of engagement may have changed over time but our principles remains the same – to be easy to do business with and to give our customers simple, unrivalled service so they achieve their objective as quickly as possible. We’re looking at our service from the outside-in, making sure that however our customers choose to engage with us, they receive the very best service.
Jonathan Creaser is the head of ICT and Tracey Elliott is a project manager at RHP.