This month’s article on ‘simplifying unified communications’ is the second of five, looking at how collaborative technologies can be used as part of an ongoing business strategy to support key goals shared by management teams across the housing sector. In this article, the focus is on how the modern IP-enabled contact centre can improve human touch and improve housing associations’ performance against key lines of enquiry (KLOE) as used by the Audit Commission to inform their inspection ratings.
As customer-focused organisations, today’s housing associations are by definition, ‘in business for communities’. It is vital that housing associations focus on service delivery and understand the needs of their tenants. Having a clear vision of your tenant profile is critical to delivering a specification of requirements that can efficiently and effectively deliver customer services that are relevant, accessible, flexible and on-demand.
As the delivery of customer service moves away from traditional face-to-face transactions, it is even more important for housing associations to ensure that the experience is still personal, effective and efficient. While human contact in community offices is still an important part of a rounded service, the telephone is usually the preferred and most widely-used means of contact between a tenant and their housing provider.
New communication media such as e-mail and instant messaging (IM) are important communication channels for the growing online community demanding access to housing services. Known as ‘Generation Y‘, young people moving into the job and housing markets want services delivered in ways that are familiar and convenient to them. Housing associations able to support all types of communication are the ones that will be agile enough to deliver business growth during these pivotal times.
One interesting KLOE that housing associations must balance is that of ‘access to services’. This looks at how a housing association enables its tenants to contact the organisation by telephone, in person or via the internet. While the internet will be crucial for the future delivery of tenant services, research shows that access is only available to around 20 per cent of tenants. This means that services such as rent/arrears enquiries and direct debit payments already offered via the internet must also be available over the phone and on the same 24/7/365 basis as it is on the internet.
If certain customers are unable to access services which are only available via the internet, the Audit Commission could review whether appropriate action is being taken to remove these barriers. Contact centre solutions that use speech self-service to provide rent payments, direct debit set-up, brochure requests and choice-based lettings over the phone are already helping public sector organisations to provide better access to services for customers and improving KLOE performance.
Another important point to consider is the beneficial effect on resources. Once these types of services start to be embraced by users, these repetitive and mundane tasks, which are presently carried out by skilled agents, can be dealt with automatically.
The critical point here is one of choice.
The majority of bank transactions today take place via ATMs but you can still deal with a bank assistant; supermarkets are introducing self-service check-outs but you can still queue if you choose. The choice is often clear; the most popular route for simple transactions is usually the one that is fastest and most convenient. The result of this is increased customer satisfaction and the ability for the service provider to focus their skilled resources on more complex transactions or customers.
This shows that even within a virtual world, human touch can be delivered by using technology. In some cases, minimal interaction is required and if this is the case, it means more resources can be made available for those who need a more hands-on approach. The key is to ensure that you understand your customers and how they want to contact you.
The huge variation of personal preferences for communication media means that all service-based organisations must find a way of efficiently and intelligently handling this proliferation of communication; this is where a unified contact centre approach is required.
Nick Boon is social housing team manager for ONI plc.