Trevor Hampton, director of housing solutions at NEC Software Solutions UK, explains why putting the emphasis back on people rather than processes will drive tenant engagement and build trust.
The human connection
“The biggest single problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” – George Bernard Shaw’s quote is more applicable than ever now that much of our communication is not face-to-face these days but online.
For some people, sending a message or a request into cyberspace is rather akin to putting a message in a bottle and hoping that it will wash up on the right shore; contactless communication involves a high degree of trust and the need to remove uncertainty.
Although the digital revolution took place over three decades ago, not everyone is a digital native or comfortable and trusting of technology. It’s therefore worth bearing in mind that although we are all technically more connected than ever, not everyone is on the same (web) page.
This is particularly true for your tenants, who can be more vulnerable than others and who might need more personal support to help them navigate difficult personal circumstances. They may need more reassurance and signs of encouragement that they are being heard and listened to. They may also be harder to engage with if they feel there is no one on the other side of the screen who ‘gets them’ or wants to get them.
One way for tenants to feel connected and a part of the process is to ensure all your communication channels are joined up and integrated, that there are no leaky pipes so to speak. Then there’s less chance for a wrongly disconnected call about anti-social behaviour or a report about a fire hazard to appear ‘resolved’ and in need of no further action, when a DM about it on social media has been overlooked.
Tenants need to feel confident when they contact their housing provider, that their rent query or repair request isn’t just going into a black hole but will actually be dealt with by the organisation. Counterintuitively, offering multiple channels for tenants to make contact can inadvertently exacerbate the ‘black hole’ feeling if those channels aren’t all threaded together. This can leave tenants feeling that they aren’t important or being listened to.
And nothing breaks trust down faster than tenants who feel that they or their problems are being ignored; they wouldn’t think, “my broken boiler still isn’t fixed because the record of my phone call hasn’t been linked to my online portal request.” They would just assume that their housing provider didn’t care.
Meaningful engagement requires a fully-integrated approach so that a two-way relationship based on trust and understanding can be built. This is only achieved when all the correspondence is joined up, giving housing providers the 360-degree views that all effective engagement and understanding requires.
While there’s always been an abundance of data in our sector, it hasn’t always yielded rich insights. That has changed over time as housing providers have started to take less siloed approaches to data collection and sharing at the same time as advances in machine learning have made it easier to spot patterns and trends at scale. This has helped ensure problems are picked up and alerts are sent in real time, generating confidence and trust.
Advances in technology mean it’s now more possible than ever to get to know your tenants and your housing stock in much the same way as the ‘patch managers’ did in the 1980s, enabling housing officers to arrange early interventions when and where they are needed most. Above all, understanding tenants and their individual situations is fundamental to fostering engagement and satisfaction.
Context is key
A unified communications platform provides a fuller picture for housing providers so that they can see any concerns, queries or repair requests in context. A repair request from a 75-year-old tenant with a health issue needs to be flagged and dealt with faster than a similar one from a tenant in their 20s, for example. Having a holistic view of tenants means providers can manage relationships better and provide the appropriate responses.
A fuller picture also enables housing providers to take a far more proactive and preventative approach to repairs and maintenance. A call out to a leaky roof could also be an opportunity to service the boiler because by having access to all the tenancy information, the housing officer would be able to see that there were also calls from the tenant about this. This would help the tenant feel supported and help sustain them in their home, building a stronger relationship.
A two-way process
To be fully effective, communications with tenants need to be based on mutual trust and understanding. People aren’t one dimensional; many tenants have complicated lives and chaotic personal situations to deal with that require the kind of empathy and consideration not solvable at the push of a button. For that you need the human touch.
Trevor Hampton is the director of housing solutions at NEC Software Solutions UK.