How housing providers can support tenants effectively

Martin Brown of FM Outsource, explores how housing providers can develop tailored customer service strategies that tackle sensitive concerns and meet tenants’ needs effectively

Social housing has been cast into the spotlight in recent years, with tragic stories of those living in poor conditions catapulting the sector up the public and political agendas.

Of course, many housing associations and registered social landlords are already doing a great job when it comes to accommodating tenant needs. Where improvements are needed, a series of encouraging interventions and efforts have been made to tackle wider issues across the industry, from introducing Awaab’s law to taking steps to improve housing quality and giving a greater voice to tenants.

Going forward, developing, and maintaining positive tenant-landlord relationships will be key to creating a better future for social housing residents. Of course, tenants are the customers of housing providers and the fundamentals of a good customer service strategy remain important. However, the diverse, sensitive, and often emotive nature of tenant queries, concerns, and complaints require tailored care and more considered communication than in the cases of some other sectors.

Here are three principles to help landlords – from social housing to private rental sector providers – create effective customer service strategies that support their tenants effectively.

Communications to accommodate different tenant needs

While customer service strategies in many other industries are targeted to specific customer demographics, the housing tenant population is diverse and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Social tenants come from a wide range of backgrounds and their needs differ depending on circumstances, meaning customer service requires a more tailored approach.

For example, a greater proportion of social tenants are from a Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) background compared to all households, meaning that English may not be the first language of some customers. To avoid excluding tenants, housing providers should offer multilingual communications, and outsourcing this type of support can be a more viable option to accommodate the breadth of tenant languages. Having an agent who can speak fluently and understand the nuances of the conversation helps to ensure that customers feel that their concerns are heard and – crucially – not misinterpreted.

Meanwhile, the data shows that a greater percentage of social renters are disabled, compared to the total population. Disability comes in many forms, and therefore different tenants may have different communication needs. Providing a range of different ways to contact the housing provider enables as many tenants as possible to access customer service easily. For example, a deaf tenant may need to contact their landlord via social media or live chat, while an individual with a learning disability may prefer a phone conversation with an agent who can explain things in a clear, jargon-free way. Deploying intelligent, omnichannel software can be an effective way to collate and manage these various communications streams and monitor the status of queries in one place, ensuring that no tenant concern goes unaddressed.

Consistency and care

While responding to enquiries effectively is important, ensuring that tenants feel empowered to voice their thoughts and raise any concerns in the first place is a critical initial step. But with typical tenant enquiries ranging from emerging leaks to mounting bills, understandably, some customers may lack the confidence to raise these issues proactively.

Fostering a long-term, two-way relationship with tenants should be an absolute priority for housing providers. Regular tenant communication, as well as offering customer support 24/7, 365 days a year, helps to provide round-the-clock reassurance that the housing provider is there to support at any hour of the day and night.

In turn, this builds familiarity and trust, supporting tenants to feel comfortable in expressing concerns with their landlord. With the cost-of-living crisis causing more social housing tenants to be in rent arrears compared to during the pandemic, those customers may feel more compelled to pick up the phone to a ‘real’ person, in the knowledge that they’ll receive empathy about their circumstances in return.

Prevention over cure

By creating this type of reciprocal, ongoing conversation, customer service teams also have a greater opportunity to catch emerging issues through their interactions with tenants and proactively intervene, before they become bigger problems to resolve.

This shift of emphasis from troubleshooting to communicating not only cultivates better relationships and helps empower customers to raise often sensitive issues – it is part of a long-term strategy to help reduce the reputational risks of missing a major issue.

Ultimately, by looking long-term at tenant communications, and taking an authentic, consistent, and inclusive approach to customer care, housing providers can ensure they are accommodating tenant needs and supporting their customers effectively.

Martin Brown is CCO at FM Outsource