Self-service is now an integral part of our daily lives. Self-service check-outs at supermarkets are second nature and in banking, self-service apps are ubiquitous. It’s also commonplace to book medical appointments online and to receive texts reminding you to attend. Naturally, this sets a marvellous precedent for social housing.
There have been many technology advances that have impacted social housing: digital by default, IoT, big data and cloud to name just a few, where each raises both challenges and opportunities. However, of all these, it’s self-service that is likely to have the greatest impact, whether through tenant portals or dedicated apps.
At Aareon, we have a number of customers who have pioneered self-service, such as Raven Housing, Thrive Homes, Thenue and Halton Housing. Their aim is to encourage the majority of tenants to manage their accounts online. This significantly reduces the transactional demand on the organisation, particularly around call-centre costs where staffing and ‘on-costs’, such as office space, are significant.
So what’s the key to the widespread adoption of self-service technology? It’s a process of changing customers’ hearts and minds to convert desire into action. To effect this change, there are three areas to address:
I’m always impressed by the marketing ingenuity of housing providers to drive self-service use. There are traditional methods such as advertising, PR and direct mail. Even more interesting though, is when the housing providers add targeted customer messages to their vans or print them on rent statements. Others produce slick social media content to emphasise the benefits.
Online content and service availability
There is now an enormous range of information and a plethora of services that can be accessed through self-service systems. For example, tenants can: update contact details; view rent-statements, balances and arrears; make payments; request and schedule repairs and view repairs history; generate electrical and gas certificates; log estate issues and anti-social behaviour; rent garages; and upload photos and videos (e.g. graffiti or fly-tipping).
To be effective though, all of these need to be viewable simultaneously within an online 360-degree dashboard, ensuring that all customer requests, actions and opportunities are contextual and holistic. Customers gain a single-view of their own tenancy, property and estate and can also view this when visited by their landlord’s staff. Thus, they can discuss care issues with their own housing-officer or report an estate issue to a gas engineer. This cross-functional visibility negates the traditional view of organisational silos and boosts both efficiency and customer care.
Professional UX and UI
When housing systems were first developed, they were by an IT supplier for a housing provider – i.e. they were business-to-business (B2B). By contrast, self-service is business-to-consumer (B2C). Such systems only work properly if they are extremely easy-to-use. Consumers are quite knowledgeable today and they have high usability expectations. The failure to recognise this inhibits adoption and damages credibility.
At Aareon, we needed to get this right-first-time with best-practice technology. We needed to develop agile systems that housing providers could tailor to customers’ needs. To this effect, we have partnered with digital agency Dootrix, widely acclaimed for their excellence in this field. Dootrix is working on the UX and UI integrally deployed though our self-service systems.
Dootrix’s agile development teams are expert, multi-discipline specialists who design and develop mobile, web and cloud applications. Through detailed analysis and prototyping, they use agile techniques to deliver truly intuitive and frictionless customer solutions.
Dootrix’s head of marketing Elliott King said, “The end-user hates clunky technology and appreciates intuitive alternatives. We add exactly that expertise to our clients’ digital propositions. As one of the UK’s leading suppliers of housing systems, Aareon’s software represents top-flight integration and eloquent development, setting high standards across all aspects of their work including self-service.”
The emergence of self-service at the operational heart of social housing customer management will certainly evolve further, delivering even more benefits to customers who need it most. This in itself is a worthy and valid outcome, but add in the efficiency savings and heightened value-for-money delivered through technology and the business case is complete.
Much of the success of self-service will be driven by inclusion and by fine-tuning the marketing campaigns used to persuade customers to adopt it. In a way though, by making the B2C interface so easy to use, the chances are that it ultimately could be customer demand itself leading housing providers to offer even more self-help.
Geraint Griffiths is the managing director of Aareon UK.