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.
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