By Peter Watson – Senior Solutions Consultant, Housing at GCI
The UK housing market crisis has left millions of Britons unable to buy a home, instead being stuck in a relentless private or social housing cycle. The cost of the average house rose by a further 7.2% last year, and while market predictions foresee some stabilisation in the coming years, it will do little to mend a sector which the government calls “broken”.
Unveiled in February, government’s housing whitepaper announced their intention to continue creating affordable housing in a bid to provide some relief. Such measures certainly help, but meanwhile, the number of people living in rented accommodation is growing year on year, with 4.1 million people across England and Wales now living in social housing. However, as the number of tenants rise so too do the expectations of renters, whether they live in social housing or have a private rental. However, as customer demands grow so do the opportunities to disappoint, presenting a key challenge for housing providers in adapting to take on this challenge.
The frustrations of tenants
Research into the rental market found that half of renters living in properties across the UK have cited poor landlord communications, not being treated as a customer, and the time it takes to get property issues resolved as their top irritations. In any other sector the main concern for businesses would be a loss of custom, and it shouldn’t be underestimated how important this also is in the housing market too. Unhappy tenants are quicker to move on, which heightens the chances of a property becoming empty, leaving the housing provider out of pocket. Frustrated tenants can potentially become less likely to pay on time or report problems with the property, leading them to become bigger issues (and therefore more expensive to fix). Add in the social media factor, where disgruntled customers are quick to share their negative experiences with the world, and we can begin to craft a picture of just how important customer service really is. However, this is an area in which housing is lagging behind almost every other sector, with one reason cited as the lack of a self-service provision which has become an integral offering in many other sectors.
Statistics from Forrester show that 70% of consumers prefer to use a company’s website to find answers to their questions themselves. It’s no wonder that research analysts herald self-service as the future of customer service; indeed, Gartner predicts that by 2020, 85% of a customer’s relationship with a business will not involve interacting with a human.
In today’s digitally-connected age, consumers are used to accessing the services they want, when they want them. Customer-facing sectors, such as retailers and banks, are therefore quickly adopting user-centric technology to meet the ever-growing demands of their customers. The housing market should be no exception, with renters demand high levels of customer service – not another reason to complain. Serving the needs of the consumer is not the only benefit of integrating self-service technology; it also enables organisations to support customers in the most timely and cost-efficient manner.
A shift in communication
Using self-service technology to create a shift in communication can enable housing providers to add value while improving service delivery, empowering customers by providing them with all the information and support relevant to their home and neighbourhood at their fingertips. This move not only serve the needs of tenants, but also enables significant efficiencies to be made for the organisation.
Meeting the needs and expectations of residents requires a lot of back-office work. As well as maintenance requests, payment enquiries and time spent handling payments can be a drain on customer service resources, yet increasing pressure on in-house teams means the requirement to become more efficient is more important than ever before. By automating time-consuming administrative processes and encouraging tenants to make rent payments, report repairs and more online, housing providers can deliver faster, more efficient services. The end result is more satisfied tenants, as well as time and money saved for the organisation.
A case in point
Integrated self-service technology transforms customer engagement. Most housing providers want to modernise service offerings and engage customers online, yet many have failed to deliver a successful self-service capability. Introducing a self-service portal as part of a digital modernisation and transformation strategy can provide key services online, enabling tenants to view and manage their rent payments plus send repair and maintenance requests, while also creating targeted communications and resident-centric content to promote community engagement. Meanwhile the housing providers can quickly and efficiently view information on its entire property portfolio, with data on everything from maintenance requests to rent arrears. Generally, consumer uptake of a self-service offering is quick; 40% of maintenance requests made through the portal in the first six months of launch, is not unusual.
Spotlight on the rental sector
As the number of tenants increases so does their voice, already being used to demand more of the services they use in other parts of their daily lives. It’s hardly surprising that the spotlight has also been turned to the rental sector.
It’s time for the housing sector to put customer service as their number one priority and the use of technology that will create a shift in communication channels with tenants is key to this. Such a step change for service delivery is a fundamental part of the modernisation and transformation strategy of any housing association. Those who fail to adapt will be the ones who will continue to waste both time and money in the long run.
Want to know more?
Join GCI and Enghouse Interactive at Microsoft’s UK Headquarters on the 17th January to learn how your Housing Association can deliver exceptional customer service on a limited budget through the Skype Contact Centre. Learn more and register
Peter Watson – Senior Solutions Consultant, Housing at GCI
Peter has over 20 years’ experience of helping deliver customer-focused transformation projects. He has a deep understanding of both legacy solutions and emerging technologies, which enables him to perfectly advise GCI customers in the Housing Sector who often have disparate and unsupported systems. Peter has the ability to quickly understand customers’ requirements and interpret them into a scalable solution to support business growth and transformation.