As a supplier of digital self-service solutions, Active Housing has partnered with housing providers of all sizes across the UK. Post-pandemic, we’ve seen a flurry of housing providers embark on a range of self-service projects, such as customer portals, tenancy applications and repairs reporting.
However, amid these exciting projects, we see the same mistakes hindering the success of projects and burning through tight budgets.
We were excited to present a session on the ‘Top five digital self-service mistakes’ at the Housing Technology 2023 conference, giving real-life examples from our experience, showing how these mistakes can be prevented and overcome. Here are a few things we covered in our talk…
We started with the procurement process; in our experience, we’ve found that not all housing providers procuring a solution will share details of their project budget with their potential suppliers, resulting in suppliers bidding with the cheapest but not necessarily the best, most cost-effective solution, which can be matched to budgets.
Most procurement projects list all of the requirements for now and the future to keep a lid on costs, but this results in projects being inflexible, with no contingency budget for variations based on customer and sector demands. The flip-side of this is broad requirements in tenders, with tenant applications, for example, carrying the same score-weighting as minor functionalities, such as supporting hyperlinks.
We recommend cross-department working from day one of the project, alongside current back-office capabilities.
Delivering and dropping
Once live, there can be a lack of project resourcing, with little or no marketing or outreach plan to customers and minimal resourcing for ongoing enhancements and optimisations.
We see self-service projects treated as legacy, like back-office software implementations; instead, consider a minimum viable product (MVP) approach, with continual improvements to deliver more long-term system sustainability, with features added in response to residents’ feedback.
Portals as a tick-box exercise
Self-service portals were the ‘hot ticket’ a few years ago but they now seem to be going back to a tick-box exercise, with some housing providers using portals from their incumbent back-office system providers. If self-service isn’t the supplier’s specialist area, their solutions can have minimal functionality, with a limited development roadmap, inflexible integration, poor accessibility and additional costs for bespoke changes.
Furthermore, the biggest risk if you want to replace an incumbent supplier’s back-office system is using a portal tied to a single supplier because you might have to replace the whole portal all over again.
Self-service tools should be integrated into back-office systems so that transactions are seamless, with service levels via the portal the same as via the telephone otherwise customers will continue to phone your contact centre.
Many housing providers have developed their own self-service solution in-house; this can result in high costs, longer delivery timescales, less functionality, challenges when mergers occur or if staff leave the organisation.
The Active Housing team is committed to enhancing the self-service user journey for residents, including repairs and integrated payments, with the priority of making it easy and intuitive over being perfect for the back office.
Not focusing on ‘big ticket’ items
Our seminar last year focused on ‘big ticket’ self-service items; these continue to be a common mistake. The mentality of the sector is to deliver a feature and then move on, rather than improving and refining the most frequently used and requested services, because customers’ requirements change and technology improves.
To put that in context, there are still very few housing providers who can honestly say that they have fully-integrated payments and self-appointing repairs reporting, which are the two most commonly requested services by customers.
Stephen Hall is a director of Active Housing by Hallnet.