Is digital the answer?

The recent Your Call event in Manchester – the seventh event to examine challenges and opportunities facing the social housing sector – was a great opportunity to reconnect with colleagues from a variety of housing providers, including Contour Homes who hosted the event.

The day focused on the current state of customer service in housing. One thing that was agreed, on is the need to implement a digital strategy. Whilst most organisations discussed they are fairly advanced in terms of technology, many found actually delivering it was less easy, due to internal setbacks.

With the implication of the 1% rent cut, and now Brexit, the repercussions of these has caused housing associations to not only change with the times but cut back on costs whilst doing so. Customer expectations have never been higher and customer needs are becoming more complex, in turn, placing increased pressure on front-line teams. The advancement of digital and technology, in my opinion, is there to overwrite disjointed IT systems that don’t allow a single view of the customer and operating structures. Turning to digital as a tool, can help to achieve a more efficient customer service.

Advancement in technology has excelled over the years and as a result, social housing providers have had to embrace technology. The progression of technology clearly shows no sign of slowing down, so providers must adapt in order to communicate with their tenants in new ways that match their needs.

It was a resounding ‘yes’ that paper documents can use up a lot of internal resource and I believe the future of social housing is about increased and improved tenant engagement. I posed the question: would tenant engagement improve if rent statements where available online or if rent could be paid via an app?

A few organisations spoke about implementing their digital strategy with the use of social media channels, web chats and apps, and have seen the benefits of these. However, although all did agree that digital does require commitment to implement effectively, it really does depend on the customer base of the housing provider for it to be effective and contribute towards efficiencies within the business.

Contour Homes explained its recent culture change over the past 12 months and how they re-examined everything around the future demands of our customers, with the creation of specialist teams in its contact centre. So, is digital the answer? In most cases it is part of the answer but in all cases, the answer to responding to challenges faced by the sector is up to the housing provider and how best they can efficiently improve customer service – and this will only be learnt by trialling new technologies over the next few years. In the meantime, Your Call provides the opportunity for housing providers to come together to share best practice.

To keep up to date on the next Your Call event follow @OmfaxSystems or visit www.omfax.co.uk/yourcall

Peter

Proud to sponsor Your Call

Advertisements

When it comes to communication – we’ve never had it so good

Paul Taylor
Paul Taylor, Innovation Coach, Bromford

The explosion over the past 10 years of free to use social networking, instant messaging, and live chat means we are in a very different place to any generation before us.

On paper this should have meant the housing sector would be building new relationships, and deepening conversations with customers.

In reality the digital era has exposed a decline in trust in organisations – not just housing – as we collectively fail to step up the mark of truly transparent communications.

In reality only a fraction of the sector is genuinely experimenting with new forms of digital engagement. I haven’t the time or inclination to count how many housing CEOs maintain an active social media presence. But I’m taking a considered guesstimate it’s around 15%.

In the digital age we are getting ever more astute in spotting spin, marketing and reading from scripts. The most credible sources of information are not your comms team or your CEO – but a regular employee – “a person like myself”.

However the staple roles of the sector, housing officer, maintenance operative, support worker are – by and large – missing in action and failing to embrace golden opportunities to connect with communities. Board members are pretty much invisible although there are some very notable exceptions.

Organisations that livestream or share from board meetings?

CEOs doing Facebook chats or hangouts?

You could count them on one hand.

Additionally most organisations still have the dial firmly set to Promote rather than Converse.

Do a check on any housing brand account. Check how many of their last 10 posts directly link back to their own website. There’s a prize if you can name ten that don’t reference themselves 90% of the time.

Here’s a shot of realism: UK housing is about 10-15% operational on social media. At best.

This speaks of a lack of curiosity. A lack of adventure.

Of course this isn’t true everywhere: some are setting an astonishing pace. There are a raft of organisations and people who are connecting with others and reaching beyond sector boundaries.

However , endlessly broadcasting a housing “message” just isn’t going to work.

This is a world built on relationships and connections. It involves you listening to others, generously sharing and doing more than just following everyone else in your sector.

A ‘person like yourself’ builds trust – so we need to promote the voices of those engaged in frontline services, not the hierarchy. We need to hear from more tenants and users of our services – they are the best people to promote us and secure the future.

The trust-building opportunity lies squarely in the area of integrity and engagement. For organisations that means adopting behaviours of extreme transparency, honesty and sharing learning from failure.

Rather than gatekeepers our Comms and IT teams must become enablers. The more of our colleagues and customers we hear from, the more honesty we share, the more trust we build.

We’ve never had it so good – so let’s take the opportunity that lies before us.

Scripting – worth another look?

Scripting in contact centres has had a mixed reputation – most people love it or hate it, often based on perceptions of the inflexible scripting tools of the 80s and early 90s. 

Thankfully things have changed a lot since then, with new, dynamic scripting technology.  Whilst scripting won’t be the right solution for all call types, in our experience more and more housing associations are using it to achieve consistency in service delivery, to improve data capture and to achieve cost reductions through reduced handling times and savings made on training.  At a time when greater efficiency is needed without negatively impacting customer satisfaction, scripting is definitely worth another look.

Unlike the static scripting of days gone by, dynamic scripting is flexible, can be configured to multiple scenarios and respond to individual circumstances. Rather than restricting frontline staff, it actively empowers and enables them  to deliver better quality of service by providing them with the right information at the right time during every step of the process and accurately diagnosing the service response.

Here are just a few of the benefits of a dynamically scripted approach:

It enables consistent data capture – which in turn supports effective end to end delivery

It’s all about the data! Good data input is a requirement of good service.  If you enable quality data input at the front end of a process, the end to end fulfilment is more likely to be successful, in turn improving ‘right first time’ delivery and reducing avoidable contact.  Imagine for example that you are raising a repair.  Without a diagnostic tool you might have multiple options to choose from, and each with the potential for inaccuracy, particularly for new staff.  Dynamic scripting can improve accuracy every step of the way, from enabling diagnosis by using pictures rather than written descriptions,  interrogating other data sources for information relevant to the enquiry, property or customer, through to auto populating SOR codes and linking through to raise the repair appointment. 

It standardises the customer experience – but allows for personalisation

Today’s customers want things to be easy and service to be consistent, irrespective of the channel used.  Dynamic scripting tools can be integrated with existing systems to offer a unified customer experience online (online services are essentially scripting for customers), or in the contact centre, pulling relevant data through automatically, depending on who the caller is and what they want.  At the end of the contact, data is written back to systems in real time.

It saves time and money

By standardising processes and automating data input as far as possible, not only is the margin of error significantly reduced, it also speeds up the time taken for the whole customer interaction – be that online, or over the phone.  In contact centres, the introduction of dynamic scripting can lead to improved first contact resolution , resulting in a reduction in end to end enquiry handling times, and freeing up capacity that can be utilised in other ways, or to deliver cashable savings.

It reduces agent training time

Attrition is always an issue in service environments – and the cost of training new staff can be high, particularly for complex services.  Because dynamic scripting is designed to be intuitive and to drive up accuracy, less initial training is needed, in turn releasing capacity and saving time and money.

Effective scripting delivers all of these benefits and more.  Essentially scripts are just a way of making processes simple for customers and staff to understand.  Done well, they can improve accuracy, improve first time fix, reduce avoidable contact provide a personalised service and have a positive impact on costs – surely worth another look?

Peter