You may consider the most challenging part of implementing and managing a resident portal is securing the initial funds to implement it in the first place. In reality, funding is only half the battle. Once in place, there will be a huge amount of attention on the platform as pressure grows to justify its expense and long-term success.
The key metrics for most housing providers’ portal will be:
- Are people using it?
- Are we seeing efficiencies in other areas, such as the contact centre or repairs teams?
- Are we maintaining or improving customer satisfaction?
Making an online platform available is just the first step on the journey to successful implementation. While you’ll find some ‘early adopter’ tenants who jump in with both feet, it takes a concerted, ongoing effort to change most tenants’ long-standing habits and create a groundswell of enthusiasm for your platform. Where do you start?
Prime the pump
You will have hopefully begun initial communications about your portal before its launch, making use of the regular touch points you have with customers to ensure they know that change is coming and that the change in question is positive.
This might be simple things, such as including a leaflet in posted communications, posters on notice boards or mentions in tenant newsletters, but it gives you the opportunity to start generating some early interest. In our experience, 30-40 per cent of residents will adopt an online solution naturally, so simple promotional steps like this can make a big difference.
Another great way of generating early interest is engaging your customers during the implementation process. Not only will they provide invaluable insights about how your portal might be received, but in our experience those involved often become great champions for the portals they helped shape, and we all know the value of independent endorsement.
Similarly, running a ‘beta’ or closed launch to selected users is also a great way of assessing tenants’ early perceptions of the portal.
Natural, nudge and pull
The most effective way to really generate engagement is with a blend of ‘push’ (persuading tenants to come to the portal) and ‘pull’ (incentivising them to come). In our experience, a perfect blend of this would span three main areas:
- Natural contact points
Using those channels through which you already naturally interact with your customers is a reliable means of generating interest. Using soft messaging about the availability and benefits of your new platform is a great starting point. This could include promotion in existing postal communications, placing posters in communal areas and promoting the portal on your main website.
- Nudging customers to your portal
Ask any marketer and they’ll tell you that the average consumer needs to see or hear at least eight advertisements before trying a new product; the same applies to portal adoption. In fact, the same applies when encouraging adoption of any new digital channel.
This may mean making all new customers ‘digital-first tenants’, making some services only available through the portal or offering more repair appointments through the portal than over the phone.
In addition, targeted email and text messages highlighting drop-in sessions, coffee mornings and virtual webinars with incentives such as competitions and prizes can increase portal registrations enormously.
- Pull techniques
In order to make the most of your online portal and ensure it delivers the expected return on investment, it’s likely you’ll need to employ some pull tactics. At this stage, the aim is to demonstrate that using the portal really does have significant benefits over traditional channels.
The best time to do this is when onboarding new customers. By making the application and onboarding process online-first, customers can be opted-in and persuaded of the value of the portal from their very first interactions with your organisation. In such cases, it’s rare for customers to then seek out non-digital means.
Some organisations have also tried methods such as increasing the waiting times for traditional channels, call-queuing systems based on customer type and reduced phone-based services. While these methods have been successful in some instances, we would advise caution because without a strong communication plan, customer satisfaction can start to decline.
Where are you in your journey?
Serious consideration needs to be given to how you encourage adoption of your portal long before its launch date. Failing to do so will dramatically extend the amount of time needed to deliver your RoI and generate a critical mass of adoptees, with consequent delays in retiring old systems and reallocating resources from outdated channels; time really is of the essence.
Simon Wilkes is head of sales and marketing at Active Housing (Hallnet).