When I started working in PA Housing’s customer contact centre in Leicester three years ago, I was a complete technophobe – I didn’t even know how to use Excel.
I’ve now helped on organisation-wide CRM projects and am helping to build a chatbot. I’m also the person who liaises between residents, staff members and the technical team to iron out any problems with My PA, our customer service app.
Until recently, I wouldn’t have even considered that an IT position in housing could be for me, but everything about my transition between customer services and digital services has felt right.
Lots of opportunities
I joined PA Housing with GCCEs as my only qualifications. My role in the contact centre was an entry-level job, starting off by answering the phones. I was soon given more responsibility, helping to oversee the quality of the services being provided. After just over a year, I was asked to train over 650 colleagues to use the new CRM system in preparation for its roll-out.
I wasn’t a system-based person so when my managers asked me to help on the project, which needed to be completed in a couple of months, I laughed out loud. However, I soon realised they hadn’t asked me because they thought I had IT skills – it was because they knew I’d be able to work with people and communicate the human side of the CRM project.
The team here at PA Housing is great at supporting people to progress so my lack of qualifications was never going to hold me back. Those around me recognised my work ethic and my passion for learning, and they were happy to provide me with the training I needed.
Project management skills
I completed the Prince2 Foundation course to improve my project management skills but I’ve found that I learn most when teaching myself. For example, once I’d committed to training others to use our CRM system, I wanted to know everything about the system. It was that time spent learning something completely new, inside and out, that really kickstarted my love of digital projects.
My first major leap into project management was after the roll out of My PA in February 2019. A few months after this, my role changed to ‘digital customer engagement officer’, and it’s now my job to engage with staff and customers when they start using our digital services.
So far, 45 per cent of our tenants have registered to use our app, with 30 per cent being classed as active users. At the moment, just under 10 per cent of repairs are raised online – this can be done in just four clicks and under two minutes.
Realistic channel shift
While we know that a 100 per cent channel shift is not realistic, there’s nothing to stop us aiming for 70-80 per cent of residents to start using the app as their day-to-day point of contact with us. We’re not going to turn our phones off but if more people choose digital, it means those who do still want to call should get through faster.
We’re continually striving to improve our services, so when a customer reports an issue with My PA, I work between them and the app’s developers to ensure problems are fixed and it operates as it should, and when changes are made to the portal as a result of customer feedback, it’s my job help to test them before they go live.
Women in IT
I don’t think I’ve encountered any internal barriers as a result of being a young woman working in IT. As an organisation, we have a good mixture of men and women working in IT and systems-based roles so it doesn’t feel unusual, and the developers we work with are used to getting on with everybody.
The only time it has been a problem is when I’ve been supporting a small minority of older male residents who don’t seem to like having a young woman telling them how to deal with their technology. Intending to compliment me, I remember one man said, “You exceeded my expectations as a woman in the tech team”, but that’s really just a generational thing.
Now I’m heading down this career-path, I don’t want to stop learning. You can frequently find me glued to an e-book, finding out exactly what I need to know in order to manage our various systems, including Microsoft Power BI and our Umbraco content management system.
I’m currently helping our developers to build a chatbot for our website. This includes inputting lots of data and painstaking testing to ensure that the system is as user-friendly as possible. The plan is to introduce the chatbot in phases, with the aim that it will eventually be able to deal with at least a third of all web enquiries.
In a relatively short space of time, technology has gone from something that scared me a little bit to something that really excites me, and from what I’ve seen, I think the housing sector as a whole is going through a similar transition!
Molly Gilbert is a digital customer engagement officer at PA Housing.