Amina Graham, executive director of corporate services at RHP, reports on how putting tenants at the heart of its new IT automation processes has had transformational benefits for both its tenants and the housing provider itself.
A key part of RHP’s vision is to be one of the best service providers in the UK. We know that in order to achieve this vision, we need to be as easy to do business with as possible. In a sector where tenants traditionally have limited choice, we wanted to give them the choice, convenience and control to access our services, anytime, anywhere and from any device.
We started in 2012, where we used the Ocado model to become the first housing provider in the UK to offer two-hour appointment slots for repairs. Building on this, in April 2014 we developed our omni-channel strategy where we set out to improve our online services for our tenants – particularly those that involved transactions.
The aims of this programme were:
- To create an ‘e-first’ culture where our employees are enthused about e-service delivery and are empowered to support tenants to self-serve;
- To create a fully 24/7 model for service delivery, based on better use of e-channels for service delivery, such as online payments and booking tools, social media, and web chat;
- To reduce the cost to serve tenants and to increase capacity within our contact centre by migrating tenants online.
As a result of this, in the past 12 months we’ve seen:
- Tenants booking their own repairs appointment online go from just nine per cent to 62 per cent;
- Electronic rent payments increase to 98 per cent;
- Our web chat service has increased from 20 chats/month to 250 chats/month;
- Calls to our contact centre reduced by 30 per cent;
- Our social media ‘Klout’ score increase from 45 to 51.
We took a unique approach to deliver the strategy and, unlike other omni-channel programmes, ours didn’t focus on technology as the primary driver but instead had an ‘e-first’ cultural transformation programme at its heart.
Putting our people at the heart of the change
To ensure that the omni-channel strategy was a success, it was vital to put employees at the heart of the change and nurture their talents to help them champion and embed the new way of doing things. Our delivery team and governance was structured in order to ensure:
- Strategic direction and alignment from our senior management teams: this was the pivot in helping us gain momentum quickly, and leading by example helped inspire the rest of the business to join in and get behind the move to online bookings;
- Support, engagement, and ownership of key changes: it was really important to engage all levels of the business to enthuse our employees about the change;
- Input from key stakeholders in the organisation to assure the delivery against our objectives.
It’s not been easy. We’ve had to remain committed to our goal and our employees have been resilient and determined in guiding our tenants through the change.
The huge increase in the use of our online services, particularly the shift in repairs appointment bookings, has happened through a combination of well-trained customer service advisors selling the benefits and offering support to tenants where necessary, improvements to our technology to make it really easy to use, and developing consistent and clear messaging, both internally and externally.
It’s not just our customer service advisors who know the score; ask any employee at RHP from a caretaker, a receptionist or someone in finance and they’ll be able to tell you why we’re so committed to driving more of our services online, both in terms of benefits to the tenants and to the business.
For those less confident, we’ve offered additional support through our digital champion initiatives. These are a group of employee and tenant volunteers who run computer clubs at our community centres, retirement schemes and our offices. As well as helping people to use RHP’s services, these sessions open up the social and economic benefits of getting online by showing tenants how to do anything from paying a bill to Skyping a relative abroad. In the last year, our digital champions have helped over 350 tenants to get online.
We understand not all of our tenants have access to the web, so we’ve made sure all of our services are compatible with mobile first, and tablet and laptop second. We also have computers available at our offices and various community centres where tenants can pop in to use our services and receive help where necessary.
Umbar Shakir, RHP’s programme manager, said, “What RHP does really well is always looking to improve capability within its employees. Thanks to our executive directors and key departmental heads inspiring us to ‘be bold’, we have built a sense of pride and community in ‘e-first’ where each employee feels like they’re part of something amazing and everyone has a part to play in achieving our target.”
Continuing to lead the way
One year later and we now have a sector-leading 62 per cent of our tenants booking their repairs appointments online. Shakir said, “By moving more than 60 per cent of tenants online, RHP has debunked the myths that social housing tenants don’t follow general population trends and that tenants aren’t digitally knowledgeable.”
I’m personally delighted that in the first year of delivering the omni-channel strategy, RHP tenants and employees have both benefited. It’s fantastic to be able to offer our tenants a better service any time, any place and on any device which reflects the way that they now want to interact with us. The move to more online services has delivered tangible business benefits by significantly reducing the volume of calls into the contact centre and improving our efficiency. Our repairs partner, Mears, has also benefited as tenants are less likely to cancel their appointment because they themselves have booked it for a time that’s most convenient for them.
We’re not stopping there. Our target for 2015/16 for repairs appointment bookings online is an ambitious 85 per cent. Since April this year, tenants have been able to see online the planned works for their home for the next five years, combined with the ability to rate the work in real time. This autumn, we will be launching our new website which will not only raise the bar in the housing sector in terms of design, tone and style, but it will make it even easier to access our services with key actions achievable in just a few clicks.
Amina Graham is executive director of corporate services at RHP.