Recent advancements in technology are helping us to reshape our housing services and reach out to customers in a multitude of different ways. Some of these technologies were available before the pandemic, but lockdown accelerated our use of customer emails, for example, with a majority of customers telling us this is their preferred method of communication, helping us engage faster and more effectively with them while reducing the demand for call-back slots as well as cutting our printing and postage costs.
The introduction of electronic signatures to remotely sign over 2,000 tenancies this year has vastly improved efficiency and increased data security. Prospective tenants receive sign-up packs before their move day, enabling them to read and digest the tenancy terms prior to signing their tenancy. We are now exploring how electronic signatures can be used by other teams across the organisation.
Our customers enjoy engaging with us through mobile with text and video chats. This is particularly popular with customers who maybe on lower incomes and who perhaps only have access to the internet via their smartphones. In parallel with this, we are continuing to build on the benefits that visual assistance software offers as we extend the options for contacting customers through their smartphones.
Microsoft Teams has been a massive breakthrough, in particular for our housing officers who have been able to improve their relationships with partner agencies and attend more partnership meetings. The remote-meeting software has also helped to improve our engagement with customer groups.
Through Microsoft teams and SharePoint, we’ve been able to develop our emergency planning and respond, out of hours, to emergency situations such as the recent World War Two bomb detonation in Exeter.
Teams allowed us to hold daily briefings, often outside working hours, and documents could be shared easily through SharePoint to ensure a coordinated response to what was a worrying time for customers. Microsoft Teams has also made it much easier for our staff to take part in training, particularly around the introduction of our new Civica Cx web-based platform encompassing housing, customer services, repairs, asset management and finance.
Our recruitment processes have improved due to the use of Teams and web-based HR tools, where we’ve recruited several housing officers using the virtual platform to provide a comprehensive induction programme. The virtual recruitment tools also enable new joiners to meet team members and access training and support.
Teams has helped to get important messaging to all of our teams through operational briefings, coffee catch-ups and more training events. Despite lockdown and working from home, staff engagement has considerably improved, with more inter-team collaboration and communication. At the same time, our proposed hybrid approach to home/office working has been well received, providing much greater flexibility for teams to find a good work/life balance.
However, amid our adoption of new technologies and new approaches to work, we’ve had to remember that not all of our residents want to engage with our technology in the same way and in some instances new technology can’t replace the human approach, especially when making important life choices such as moving to a new home.
No more online viewings?
We introduced virtual viewings as the default process for letting our homes, but we soon found that despite tireless efforts to improve the quality of the videos and the virtual ‘walk-throughs’, prospective tenants still wanted to view their new home in person. We also found that the virtual viewings generally increased our administrative burden and generated more customer questions.
Many of our daily team interactions and relationships have benefited from our use of technology during the pandemic and we expect to see these benefits and efficiencies continue in the years to come, through increased staff engagement and value for money savings.
James Reseigh is director of neighbourhoods for LiveWest.