Digital enablement solutions are already delivering tangible business advantages in social housing, from enhancing customer communications and services to improving organisational efficiency and managing the impact of universal credit. The sector is starting to see real benefits from the data and intelligence it’s gathering, as more and better data is helping drive business transformation based on well-informed decisions.
A key part of this digital revolution is putting the customer at the centre of everything, whether that’s improving resident interactions, providing more tailored self-service options or modernising processes to enable a flexible, mobile workforce to manage customers in real time.
It’s also true that as part of this drive, housing providers need to make cost savings wherever they can and automating the engagement process will help towards achieving this. To enable real digital transformation, housing providers must look at the power of data and how effective customer relationship and customer experience management will help set them on their business transformation journey.
Historically, many people have considered CRM as simply being a ‘records management tool’ for recording telephone calls and customer interactions. However, as the housing sector moves away from traditional call-handling, paper processes, letters, paper forms and onsite visits towards online chat, unified communications interactions such as WhatsApp for Business, Facebook Messenger and other social media channels, CRM will come into its own, but with far less paper and much more digital recording.
This evolution is giving CRM a new lease of life, and with all the additional information gathering, housing providers will have the opportunity to build better relationships with their residents; CRM will provide a 360-degree view of each one, enabling faster call-handling, first-time resolution of issues, on-time payments and mobile working.
With such an important decision, how can housing providers be sure about choosing the right CRM system for them, one that integrates with their existing software and delivers their business goals cost-effectively?
Sector-specific CRM vs off-the-shelf
With a number of great CRM platforms on the market, it’s important to consider the outcomes you want to achieve and how each solution differs.
A good CRM system should bring together all of the disconnected solutions and communication methods that a housing provider uses into a ‘single pane of glass’ dashboard; it’s the glue that holds them all together and is the key enabler for the quick entry of contacts, tenant records, the exporting of records and notices for any legal matters such as eviction notices.
On the one hand, generic CRM platforms such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 provide a blank canvas on which housing providers can build a bespoke CRM platform.
On the other hand, housing-specific products such as our CRM system have been developed specifically for housing providers in conjunction with others in the sector. It’s an out-of-the-box CRM solution that puts your residents at the core of your operations and provides complete 360-degree visibility of your residents, properties and services on a single screen.
Designed to bring together historically disconnected systems and put them into a single, clean and clear user interface (UI), it simplifies and updates information that’s relevant to the user, quickly and efficiently. Its speed combined with the ability to orient specific data very quickly to relevant job roles within the housing provider make a significant difference to the user, providing instant access to all the information they need for successful and efficient customer interactions.
It’s this UI, designed specifically for housing providers, that makes Castleton CRM different. Our collaborative approach to its development, working with organisations such as Connect Housing, has ensured that sector-specific features are integrated into our CRM system, such as campaign management for targeted customer interactions and validation checks to ensure the security of sensitive data.
Residents’ interactions and updates are also shown in real-time, and when combined with our Castleton .Digital solution and Alexa platform, it allows residents to perform a wide variety of self-service tasks such as accessing and updating their personal details online, viewing rent statements, making payments, reporting a repair and checking on its progress. The latest version of CRM also allows housing providers’ end-users to build their own digital dashboards from any of the information that is available, whether that’s resident engagement channel uptake, resident details or account information.
What about the data?
The bigger questions might then be, “how and where do you store all of that data while remaining GDPR compliant?”, “how can you ensure that the information held in the system is up-to-date?”, and that the data you have gathered in your CRM system feeds and integrates into other systems, and ultimately, “what are you going to use that data for?”
It’s not just about information gathering in order to simply to put a tick in the box, but to apply business intelligence to the data to help housing providers become more efficient and more closely relate to their residents by enhancing their service offerings.
The real cost of moving to a new CRM
Transitioning costs to a new CRM depend on an organisation’s size and complexity and, in our view, a sector-specific solution will always deliver the best value.
How long a CRM implementation will take and ultimately cost depends on a number of factors including: how many apps are you implementing; how many users do you have; is it an upgrade or a completely new solution; are you moving from on-premise to the cloud; how much legacy data needs to be migrated; and how much integration work is needed to make the solution meet the users’ needs?
As with many solutions, integration is often the biggest challenge. It’s important to check how easily your new CRM solution integrates with other systems and what the anticipated cost to do this would be. Our CRM ensures easy integration by using customisable ‘data-driven services’ and fully open and documented web services, whereas the project timescales for Dynamics 365, Salesforce and other ‘vanilla’ solutions can be difficult to predict and often take much longer to implement than initially forecast.
We would always recommend organisations compare what’s included with an out-of-the-box solution and how much a more bespoke solution will cost, and whether the business case stacks up.
Of course, there’s a bigger challenge than cost alone, and that’s managing the organisation’s business transformation; the CRM software is simply part of this and is an enabler to driving this transformation. We know from experience that technology definitely isn’t the biggest challenge, it’s usually changing the culture of the organisation.
What are the risks?
There are risks in all IT projects, but the biggest risk is the non-adoption by staff and that all they see is a new system that been imposed on them rather than a system they want to use that will deliver greater benefits to them and their residents.
Connect Housing is in the process of driving a digital-by-choice, customer-centric strategy using Castleton solutions. To mitigate risk, we created a joint roadmap from April 2019 to July 2020 to cover a phased introduction of their new systems so that they are seamlessly integrated and interface with Connect Housing’s legacy systems until they are retired.
Where do I start?
The direction you take with your new CRM systems depends on what you want to achieve. For example, do you want to facilitate customer self-service, improve customer service and interaction, will you want to drive targeted marketing from it, develop more robust service improvement methodologies, and/or better tenant sustainment because you understand your residents better?
Collaboration is key; understand your organisation’s pain points and why you want to undertake a CRM project. Then decide what your ‘future state’ looks like, how CRM will impact the business, and be very clear on your project goals.
James Massey is the COO of Castleton Technology.