Ofcom reported in 2017 that 94 per cent of adults in the UK now own or use a mobile phone. Text messaging therefore presents housing providers with a powerful tool to improve the quality of their communications with tenants. OmniLedger’s sales and marketing executive, Eric Lau, explores the implications involved with adopting intelligent text messaging for social housing.
The first thing to be note is that there are lots of SMS solutions available and they come with varying levels of integration services. We have found that the following features are most relevant for housing providers:
Digital communications manager
This will form the core of your text messaging solution. The digital communications manager will include all the core features of your SMS service, enabling you to: manage your database of tenant and supplier contacts (i.e. the participants); save pre-prepared standard text messages; schedule text messages to be sent to a particular group of participants in bulk; and write and send ad-hoc text messages to a particular group of contacts in bulk
With two-way communications, you’ll be able to send and receive text messages, enabling tenants to communicate with you in an automated and intelligent manner. This will let you provide a wide variety of automated 24/7 text-messaging services through the use of workflows designed to your specific requirements.
SMS workflow designer
While the core principles of social housing are similar, the execution varies from organisation to organisation. With a workflow designer, you’ll be able to create a variety of automated services developed specifically for your requirements, such as: a tenant rent balance enquiry; request rent payment bank details; tenant satisfaction surveys; report a repair; and log a communication request with a tenant’s housing officer.
An audit trail that can’t be modified by users will provide your organisation with proof that messages were sent and received by the recipient. This enables you to incorporate text messaging as part of your arrears policy and submit the log as recognised legal evidence.
Your housing management system should already contain all of your tenants and suppliers’ contact details. By integrating your text messaging services and housing management system, the data can be maintained in one location; ensuring consistency and eliminating the need to duplicate input.
Integration also provides opportunities for enhanced services, such as: allowing tenants to reschedule appointments; allowing suppliers to update, cancel or complete a repair order; automatic arrears notifications; automatic benefits entitlement change notifications; and updates about rent changes.
Reducing annual overheads
Adopting a two-way, intelligent text messaging service with a variety of automated features gives housing providers a platform to reduce their overheads through efficiency savings. This is achieved by replacing traditional media with a cheaper, faster text alternative.
The total cost of sending a letter to a tenant can cost between £2 and £25, taking into consideration all of the elements involved in sending a letter (labour, postage, printing, materials, etc). By contrast, the cost of sending a text message can be as little as 8p per text.
A report published by Textlocal found that 90 per cent of text messages will be read within three minutes and 98 per cent by the end of the day. Alternatively, a letter would take up to three days to arrive and even then may not be opened by the recipient.
By taking advantage of the high readability rate of text messages, housing providers can improve their KPIs in areas such as rent arrears, repair appointments kept, average time to re-let (reduced voids) and satisfaction with repairs.
Best practices & things to be aware of
Based on our previous experience, OmniLedger would suggest the following advice and best practice recommendations:
- Before even considering an SMS solution at all, at least 60 per cent of your tenants should have a mobile number recorded against their file. If you have fewer than that then you’ll need to perform a data-gathering exercise with your tenants first.
- Include SMS within your tenancy agreement to your tenants and encourage them to consent to you holding their mobile number on file.
- Include a welcome package to your tenants as part of the launch of your SMS service.
- Include an automated text service so that tenants can update their number or subscribe to the service.
- Keep your messages relevant to your tenants to maintain positive engagement; not doing so will lose the attention of your audience.
- Plan and control your text message usage to ensure you remain within budget.
- Timing is important – noon to 3pm is the most effective time to send a text message. This will vary depending on the type of message, so it’s important to monitor response rates to ascertain when your tenants are most receptive to texts.
Text messaging is still on the rise and has emerged as one of the most reliable communication methods. By adopting text message services, housing providers can promote digital inclusion, reduce overheads and improve KPIs. However, success is dependent on the adoption of best practices to promote engagement with your tenants, keeping the content relevant for them and nurturing your audience.
Eric Lau is a sales & marketing executive at OmniLedger.