The social housing self-service revolution

Peter Graddon, director of Omfax Systems, providers of Keyfax, dynamic scripting solutions for the social housing sector.

Customer service in social housing is undergoing a dramatic digital transformation, with the growth of multi-channel contact centres and online self-service tools, which enable residents to make contact with landlords.

Simply put, self-service means that residents now have greater control over how and when they can access support from their landlords, empowering them as customers and helping landlords to improve customer service journeys.

Residents can now report repairs online, make rent payments and gain support in real-time – all without picking up the phone.

The result is that pressure on the contact centre is eased giving greater opportunities to deal with matters that require more personal intervention and focus on more business-critical activities, such as rent and arrears collections.

Maximising efficiency

There is some apprehension within the social housing sector about the use of online self-service technology, a primary concern being that it might isolate the great number of residents who don’t have access to the internet.

However, the rise in smartphone use means that, while as many as 60 per cent of social housing tenants are unable to connect to the internet using traditional digital methods in their homes, such as laptops or desktop computers, access to online self-service tools is no longer as restricted as it once was.

What’s more, online self-service technology is not designed to replace the contact centre but supplement it by enhancing the customer service experience and easing the burden on contact centre staff.

By giving residents control over when and how they report repairs and other service queries, social housing providers are able to maximise their contact centre efficiency.

A further key concern is that self-service can lead to incorrect service requests or insufficient information being provided, resulting in additional work and communication problems.

The solution is to provide the same level of guidance on-line as residents receive from the contact centre. An online self-service solution makes use of prompts and diagrams to guide residents with their issues. Relevant questions and pop-up information further clarify their issue to determine the service they require.

Such service also helps to identify repairs and tasks which are the responsibility of the residents, with handy hints and even videos to help residents to self-diagnose and, if feasible, to fix the problem themselves. The system can make extensive use of existing information about the property, the resident and their tenancy, to help personalise and tailor the repair or other service request and make it more likely it can be fixed right first time.

The landlord is then able to deal with resident enquiries in a way they prefer, while significantly reducing the cost of call handling. As a result, the level of customer service on offer can be vastly improved – with online self-service and telephone working simultaneously to drive forward an exemplary customer service offering.

This approach is highly dependent on the resident being able to use the online software to give sufficient and accurate information. Online service must be at least as good as the contact centre in ‘diagnosing’ the query or it will result in being more costly – and ultimately residents will stop using it. This requires a simple, intuitive and smart platform to help ensure the correct service response is given.

For online self-service to work there also has to be a commitment of resources to its operation and an understanding of how it fundamentally operates. Cost and time efficiencies are there to be had, but it requires investment, ongoing support and innovation of the services to keep them relevant and up-to-date.

The future is AI

In terms of innovation, we are on the cusp of an artificial intelligence revolution, which will transform all customer service.

Currently, the application of AI in social housing customer services is primarily in automated voice recognition – a significant step forward in technology which provides residents with a system to handle their own queries or their service requests. Again, this can help to maximise efficiency, resulting in cost and time savings in the long run.

With Keyfax, for example, data sets relating to the resident, their property, their relationship with the organisation and their history are added to create personalised responses, which assist residents to self-diagnose in similar ways to AI.

However, the application of AI in social housing goes far beyond repairs diagnostics. AI essentially uses algorithms that effectively ‘learn’ patterns of behaviour without manual intervention to make customer interactions as fluid as they can be.

The use of AI is pushing at the boundaries of customer services in social housing and may, in the not too distant future, make current technologies obsolete, as the sector continues to innovate.