The challenges housing providers are dealing with today provide a real impetus for becoming more technology-driven. The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) is bringing in more active consumer regulation next April (with quality of housing a key focus), yet a report from the regulator last autumn highlighted a number of risks for housing providers’ compliance. These ranged from access to labour and skills to the ability to deliver services and rising costs and inflation. In addition, the cost-of-living is a major challenge for residents, with two-thirds worried about meeting their living expenses.
The days of paper & problems
Back in 2002 when I began my journey in this sector as a customer service agent with a small local housing provider, we dealt with repair calls, conducted face-to-face tenant interviews and took rent payments in cash. Our office was located in the heart of the housing estate we served and we took it in turns to run over to ‘The Yard’ where our internal contractors lived, with paper invoices and queries from residents.
Mergers brought change, expansion and a multitude of new systems. These included an Access database for rents, a scheduling system for repairs where we still had to telephone to book an appointment and a CRM system that was essentially a Word document to log customer interactions. This siloed way of working often led to dissatisfied customers and agents frustrated by their inability to help.
Fast forward 10 years and we’re still hearing the same stories. Manual processes, different teams using disconnected systems, data duplication, paper-based forms and an over-reliance on phone calls and emails are all familiar contributors to poor experiences for staff and residents alike.
Meeting expectations through technology
We all receive (or at least expect to receive) a high-quality, attentive and personalised customer experience when we buy goods or services online. This is no different for social housing residents who expect modern, tailored and easy-to-use communications with their housing provider. Such expectations include prompt service and resolution of issues, knowledge of past interactions and the ability to communicate through whichever channel suits them, and preferably when it suits them too. As residents, they also want efficient and transparent housing services so they can be confident their properties and tenancies are safe.
Achieving this resident-centric approach relies on having technologies in place that put every person front and centre of everything a social housing organisation does.
And it’s not just good for residents, but modern cloud technology is of enormous benefit to all stakeholders including staff members, partners and suppliers. With the right technology, organisations are taking control of their data, defining and understanding the metrics and insights they want to measure, and delivering greater process efficiencies.
Housing providers such as Riverside and Broadacres are among those making digital changes to enable them to deliver more effective outcomes for customers and staff.
Using a CRM to manage residents’ entire journeys, from online portal enquiries and transactions to quantifiable results and outcomes, Broadacres has implemented a digital-first experience for residents, streamlining service delivery and resulting in a 55 per cent increase in efficiency. Meanwhile, Riverside’s implementation of a customer portal and its use of bots have helped it achieve a 50 per cent reduction in call-handling times and improve first-time resolutions as well as customer self-sufficiency. It has seen more than 17,000 residents sign up to the portal, which provides real-time status updates on repairs and web-chat options.
Graham Weaver, Riverside’s head of digital products, said, “By empowering our customers through self-service, we can increase the quality and efficiency of our services. A digital approach enables us to capture richer insights into the needs of our customers and the maintenance of our properties.”
Putting residents first
Having a 360-degree view of residents means all housing staff are empowered with a single source of information that is accurate and current. Residents can be confident that their issues are not only being recorded but will also be resolved in a satisfactory manner, with the ability to have their voice heard when needed. Surveys, satisfaction measures and transparent reporting are all key indicators that ensure residents feel safe, secure and happy in their homes.
Technology also puts more control into residents’ hands. Customer portals help to increase satisfaction by allowing them to self-serve in key areas, such as logging and scheduling repairs, checking rent statements, making payments and receiving real-time status updates on repairs. The provision of multiple communication channels such as web chat and WhatsApp enables them to get in touch and ask questions when it suits them. And when they do need help from the customer-service team, the CRM’s ‘single view’ approach means the agent has immediate access to all the information needed for a speedy, efficient resolution.
With greater protection for tenants’ rights and their rising expectations of a good customer experience, the onus is on housing providers to remain compliant and to deliver, and this is impossible without the right tools.
Some housing providers, such as Riverside and Broadacres are already ahead of the game in adopting the technologies needed to transform their approach. As the benefits for housing providers and their residents become better known, I look forward to seeing others follow their lead.
Judith Comber is an account executive at Salesforce for Housing.