Housing providers of all sizes are increasingly turning to unified communications (UC) to adopt new ways to communicate with tenants and residents while also increasing employee flexibility. One of the main reasons for implementing UC is because customers expect to reach their housing providers via a wide range of integrated communication services. This is not just about accommodating the move towards mobile, instant messaging and communications on the go, but also about the need for housing providers to deliver services tailored to the specific needs of different groups of customers.
UC is the integration of real-time communication services, such as instant messaging, presence, telephony and video conferencing, with non-real time communications such as voicemail, email, SMS and fax. UC enables users to manage all their communications through a single messaging channel. Such integration has several benefits for the housing sector, especially when it comes to improving customer service; tenants and residents expect housing providers to be accessible through a wide range of communication channels such as IM and SMS as well as respond to their requests promptly and efficiently. Therefore broadening the scope of communication channels to customers is an extremely important aspect of improving the overall quality of service. Tenants are often young and predominantly use mobile phones for communication. For example, more than 60 per cent of Devon and Cornwall Housing Group’s (DCHG) customers are under 30, making SMS the preferred means of contact.
UC also enables customers to contact their housing organisation in the most cost-efficient manner. DCHG’s contact centre uses the 0300 numbers available to charities and non-profit organisations, rather than 0800 numbers, so customers can call them using their mobile phones at no charge. In addition to supporting communications on the go, UC is also a powerful tool for enabling flexible working practices and remote working for customer-service employees. This means office hours can easily be extended, letting customers call outside working hours, making housing organisations more customer-friendly.
Contact centres are one of the vital links between companies and their customers. As I have learnt from first-hand experience, there is a lot of scope for service improvement by integrating telephony systems with existing CRM systems. Companies store vast amounts of data in their customer databases and the integration of this information with a UC solution definitely leads to more targeted communications and consequently more tailored and efficient services.
A good example is one of our customers which integrated its CRM system with our unified communications solution to deliver new levels of personalisation and convenience to its customers. In practice, this means that the data on the inbound caller now ‘pops’ onto the business user’s screen using caller line identification (CLI). Screen pops provide instant access to customer data, reducing the time taken per call and increasing the productivity of customer advisors. With CRM integration, callers are connected to the appropriate advisor faster, another factor contributing to better customer service.
There are other benefits of customised communications, such as catering to the needs of a diverse community. For example, following a repair request DCHG profiles customer information and selects the most appropriate communications channel by taking into account any special requirements or disabilities.
We can expect to see increasingly sophisticated and personalised customer services, incorporating SMS, web chat and instant messaging, raising the bar for flexible communications even higher and bringing housing providers closer to their customers. UC is brilliantly simple and effective – by incorporating a wide array of communication in one easy-to-use ‘unified’ channel, a customer advisor can now respond to queries anytime, anywhere and according to a customer’s preferred mode of communication.
Tom Perry is director of marketing in EMEA for ShoreTel.