Technology is reshaping how housing providers engage with their tenants and contractors. Self-service apps and portals have emerged as dynamic tools to streamline processes and enhance communications; they are no longer considered ‘nice to have’ but a necessity for well-functioning housing operations.
Exceptional self-service apps & portals
User-centric design is paramount when creating self-service solutions. A good app or portal should be intuitive, accessible and comprehensive, ensuring tenants and contractors can effortlessly navigate its features; there’s no point in adding flashy features just for the sake of appearance.
As a creator of a customer-centred portal and app myself, I believe in a seamless user experience that empowers users with information and tools, all at their fingertips. In 2023, there’s no room for waiting, slow-loading information or hiding key information. The expectations from housing providers and their residents are around transparency and speed.
Just as brands are expected to offer a range of digital services, residents also expect their housing providers to be on the digital platforms they already use. According to a 2021 report from Peabody, the pandemic led to a surge in residents’ online activity, including 30 per cent of households adopting broadband for the first time and almost 90 per cent of housing providers seeing an increase in residents’ demand for digital services.
Bridging the gap
Integration is the backbone of a successful self-service ecosystem. Through open APIs, endpoints, and webhooks, self-service apps and portals can seamlessly connect with housing providers’ existing core business applications to enhance data flows and automation. The key is to ensure easy implementation; the tools and apps are meant to help, not to add more work for already-stretched housing staff and IT teams.
The abundant benefits of self-service
Streamlining operations lies at the core of self-service solutions. By enabling tenants to report issues, pay rent and access vital documents, housing providers save time, money and resources.
Why? Because waiting, whether online or in a housing office, is becoming obsolete. Research by HubSpot reveals that 90 per cent of consumers now expect an immediate response to a customer service question (with ‘immediate’ defined as ‘within 10 minutes’).
One significant factor in using apps and self-service portals is the shift in approach, from reactive to proactive. Today, being a good housing provider entails not only listening and responding but also predicting potential problems and acting pre-emptively. This is where technology comes into play, by enabling such predictions. They can automatically remind residents (and staff) of specific maintenance actions required to upkeep the property’s condition, or proactively send texts or emails to residents, soliciting their thoughts and feelings.
Revitalising contractor workflows
Contractors play a pivotal role in housing management. Self-service solutions offer a direct channel for them to receive tasks, track progress and communicate transparently. This results in faster response times, improved collaboration and enhanced service delivery.
Seamless implementation necessitates addressing user onboarding challenges, privacy concerns and technical glitches. Consequently, good support mechanisms, along with 24/7 chat and phone assistance are essential.
Driving adoption and usage requires a focus on design and engagement. Incorporating ‘gamification’ elements and continuous enhancements encourages users to make self-service a habit, transforming how they interact with their housing services.
User-feedback loops also play a pivotal role in driving sustained usage. In 2022, we surveyed KeyNest clients about their approach to incorporating user feedback into their online tools. The results showed that housing providers who actively sought and acted on tenants’ feedback experienced a 50 per cent higher retention rate among users of their self-service apps and portals. This underlines the importance of listening to users’ input and continuously refining the self-service functionalities based on their preferences and needs.
Innovative housing providers
Real-world success stories are truly inspiring. For example, our KeyNest Points service offers secure key management solutions, helping housing providers during voids and emergencies. One of the first organisations to adopt it was a London-based housing provider (and a G15 member) which used KeyNest Points to enable the seamless transfer of keys between contractors and staff. After a successful pilot, the service was rolled out nationwide and continues to function perfectly several years later.
Florian Hoven is the co-founder of KeyNest.