Ever since the government published its UK Digital Strategy report last year, housing providers have found themselves increasingly attuned to the digital needs of tenants. In the policy paper, a digital inclusion agenda calls for people in every part of society, irrespective of age, gender, physical ability, ethnicity, health conditions, or socio-economic status, to be granted access to the opportunities of the internet. The warnings are clear for the housing industry; if this isn’t achieved, tenants can’t take full advantage of the transformational benefits of the digital revolution.
If managed appropriately, the benefits of digital transformation to the tenant experience will be boundless. In order to achieve this, housing providers are now having to broaden the breadth and depth of channels they use to engage tenants. What this means is that they can no longer default to legacy call centres – a medium of communication that can leave tenants feeling frustrated due to the comparative lack of speed, thanks to time spent waiting around on both ends of the call and issues with mobile phone reception. Instead, housing providers need to be online, available and empowering their citizens.
A nationwide framework for housing providers
No one is doubting the vision of the government’s UK Digital Strategy, but it’s clear that for housing providers their work in this area is never finished. Digital transformation is a continual process, rather than one that can be ‘done’. Consequently, by placing the tenant experience at the heart of their operations, housing providers can digitise their services to not only transform their tenants’ lives, but also overhaul their own business operations.
The government approach to delivering these objectives focuses primarily on three strands. First of all, it’s paramount to ensure that efforts are continued to tackle the deep-rooted causes of digital exclusion; to make the most of the digital world, everyone needs to enhance their capability.
Secondly, by developing the full range of digital skills that individuals and organisations across the UK need in a digital economy, tenants can find themselves able to up-skill and re-skill throughout their working lives. In turn, this can help ameliorate turbulent financial situations.
Finally, there’s a call for committed collaboration between the public, private, and third sectors to tackle the digital skills gap in a manner that’s both co-ordinated and coherent. This is where the potential of digital transformation within the housing sector becomes palpably clearer; when adequately harnessed, the technical innovation found in the private sector bolsters the public and third sectors, facilitating better access to digital opportunities for everyone, regardless of background or circumstances.
Cloud collaboration & communication tools
In a sector where tenants can seldom choose their housing provider and success is not always calculated by profits, housing providers can struggle to determine exactly what a good tenant experience is in terms of communications. However, optimising the tenant experience is more important than ever, considering that countless social landlords are increasingly entering competitive new areas of business. One example of this is selling homes on the open market, where competitors have already established entire teams devoted to providing an excellent tenant experience.
This is where the power of digital inclusion becomes so apparent: essentially, landlords must rethink the way that they engage with tenants by harnessing technology to evolve communication channels. Referring back to legacy call centres, one way in which such evolution is taking place is through a distinct shift to social media and online live chats. These channels enable problems to be solved faster, while also providing a greater sense of familiarity through live communication channels. This is as opposed to the static nature of a phone call, which always requires a certain degree of waiting around and lacks the semblance of a continual service, which the likes of social media embodies so well.
All of this results in happy tenants. Crucially, happy tenants need to contact landlords less, taking up less time and saving money in the process.
Following the Grenfell Tower fire, things will never be the same again, with clear implications for corporate governance, asset management, tenant experience and community cohesion. A core element of this is continually updated knowledge about who lives in these homes and communities. Given the dynamic nature of such communities, this isn’t always easy, and so it becomes imperative to harness every point of contact with tenants in order to learn more about them. Crucially, this must go beyond profile characteristics and instead highlight wider aspirations and what they expect from their landlord. Only then does it become possible to tailor and target housing services to have the most effective outcomes.
Ultimately, the networks required to fuel these new forms of communication need to be powerful, reliable and security-conscious. If housing providers don’t have these things underpinning them, then digital transformation cannot be achieved. Ultimately, it’s all about helping housing providers drive digital initiatives and collaboration with tenants and service providers in a way that is supported by robust security of data and services. By investing in a digital future, housing providers can streamline costs, improve operational efficiency, and concentrate on creating an improved tenant experience.
Cary Duffy is senior sales director for housing at Exponential-e.