Future of Customer Service in Housing

The ability to deliver high quality, consistent customer service is essential for housing associations, and is one of the key areas evaluated by the regulator when assessing providers. However, housing associations today face multiple customer service-related challenges, some intensified by the pandemic.

What are these challenges and how can they be overcome? Building on our previous guest post from consultant Phil Riley which identified six key trends in housing association customer service, this article focuses on how technology can help improve service performance.

1. Offer a completely omnichannel service

Housing associations need to be able to interact with tenants via a growing number of channels. They should start by talking to tenants to understand the channels they prefer to use and in what circumstances. Then you can plan the channels you offer and allocate resources effectively.

Achieving this mix of efficiency and omnichannel performance requires a single technology solution. This allows agents to handle multiple types of interaction across different channels within a single queue. It also empowers them to provide a personal service by giving access to the tenant’s full interaction history. New channels, such as self-service and chatbots can further improve efficiency by automating routine queries such as paying rent.

2. Support the move to blended working

A blended working model benefits staff and the housing association itself. Employees have greater choice over their work arrangements, while associations can deliver a better service. For example, they can bring in additional home-based agents to meet higher demand in peak periods or insource out of hours services to reduce costs.

To support blended working effectively all technology solutions need to be integrated and available, wherever agents are working. And housing associations must ensure they can provide additional wellbeing support for agents who are working from home. Here real-time speech analytics technology such as Enghouse Interactive’s VocalCoach can help. This automatically monitors customer calls and identifies if an agent is having a stressful call and needs support, for example. And online chat can help agents share concerns with their colleagues. There’s also a requirement for more soft-skills training for supervisors so they are better able to manage blended teams.

3. Continually improve efficiency

The fall in rental income due to the pandemic, and the higher costs created by lockdown restrictions mean it is more important than ever for housing associations to drive up efficiency while maintaining the service levels expected by tenants.

Technology has an important role to play here. For example, switching to cloud-based tools can help reduce capital expenditure by enabling housing associations to pay for services based on usage. At the same time, digitising and automating routine customer journeys, such as booking repairs makes them quicker and more efficient. And using channels such as WhatsApp to send reminders to tenants can prevent missed appointments. Automation also frees up resources for delivering new commercial services, such as providing community care lines, turning customer service into a profit centre.

4. Harness the benefits of digital transformation

The pandemic is accelerating housing associations’ switch to digital. However, to achieve this shift successfully they need to better understand the digital readiness of their tenants and move at the right speed.

Digital transformation should be built on a cloud-first strategy, with existing solutions migrated to ensure they are available everywhere. Collaboration through Microsoft Teams can support better, cross-departmental collaboration as well as integrating the contact centre with solutions such as CRM and tenant management systems. This enables employees to collaborate more easily to solve tenant issues, sharing documentation and enabling electronic workflows.

5. Put knowledge at the heart of operations

Knowledge is central to meeting the evolving customer service needs within housing associations. It can help deal with the rising number of queries in two ways. Firstly, routine queries can be answered through AI-based self-service and chatbots, with responses coming from a single centralised knowledge base. This frees up time for agents to deal with more complex questions, where they can be empowered by access to the same knowledge base. Equally, this knowledge has to be in the right format to make it accessible. For example, tenants are far more likely to watch a short video that shows how to restart their boiler, rather than search through an 800-page user manual.

6. Agility to cope with regulatory change

Housing Associations have to be agile and able to change their processes and operations quickly in response to changes in legislation and shifting industry regulations. For example, during the pandemic landlords were temporarily banned from evicting tenants who were in arrears, meaning that processes needed to be updated.

Using Microsoft Teams delivers this flexibility by enabling simple and seamless collaboration between departments, however regulations change.

Housing associations need to be able to combine people, processes, skills and technology to deliver high-quality customer service to all tenants. Why not watch the recording of our webinar held on the 15th July for a discussion on how to transform service delivery in the housing sector with the latest technology trends.

Watch recording here:

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