It’s a sector where the demand far outpaces supply. As the cost of living continues to rise in the UK increasing pressure will be placed on housing associations to deliver affordable housing. Using technology in housing and going digital will help.
The trouble is often in housing associations, there’s too much legacy thinking and not enough of a growth mindset. You’ve got to be a brave change leader to be the one who commences digital transformation.
In this article we’ll outline the key organisation concerns, what digital transformation means for housing and five amazing technologies that will help housing associations to address their key concerns.
Key Concerns for Housing Associations
To understand how to change, it’s important to recognise what the key concerns are. Maybe some (or all) of these keep you awake at night? It might look bleak, but don’t worry; this journey needs to start somewhere logical.
Funding Cuts and Rent Cuts
The ability to build more homes to help solve the UK housing crisis is being hampered by centrally-imposed funding cuts. In 2010, the government cut the level of grant funding for housing associations by 60% and it has stayed low ever since.
To make matters worse, the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 outlined that providers of social housing must reduce rent payments by 1% for the next for years. With the level of uncertainty reaching boiling point and Brexit in the pipeline, margins and cost efficiency are vital for housing associations.
Attracting and Retaining Talent
This is a concern for all organisations, but even more so for housing associations; hindered by a lack of resource and an aging workforce. Struggling to attract and retain talent due to the funding cuts and being typically slower to move away from clunky infrastructures and modernise ways of working is a key trend. But this area is so vital and worth the return on investment.
Unfortunately, this is something that is happening now. And yes, it will drastically affect UK housing associations. There are CO2 emission targets to meet, set for 2050 in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The need to become cost effective in other areas so that more budget can be allocated to tackling climate change will become a requirement.
With Brexit, comes uncertainty, for housing associations and many other UK businesses. It’s been communicated that the effect that Brexit will have on housing associations and their ability to provide affordable homes will be negative and significant in all parts of the UK.
Stress testing is vital, to ensure that there are mitigation strategies in place that housing associations can implement.
Productivity, Collaboration & Remote Working
Housing associations need to do more with less, but having limited resources means productivity is tricky. With collaboration and remote working or working on the move available, productivity rates will soar.
We’ve know this for a while, so why is it hard for housing associations to implement? Simple, they don’t have the right technology and choosing the right technology for this is a difficult and long process. It’s not just about the technology selection, but the new ways of working that come with it and how these will be rolled out across the organisation.
Archaic legacy systems hold back housing associations. There’s no doubt about that. All too often, they are seen as too expensive to replace for new technologies that are available. Keeping an unintegrated, clunky infrastructure does not encourage successful digital transformation projects. All you’ll end up with is quick fixes and systems that are not future-proofed.
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Digital Transformation for Housing Associations
You might not think this should be a priority for the sector, but it’s vital that housing associations embrace and act upon the digital shift. Standing still when you’re in the housing sector is just not an option. The government pressures faced are a reason to move forwards; do not stay static.
Now is the time for housing associations to adapt in order to financially survive. According to Inside Housing, the portfolio of assets for housing associations is to:
- Contribute to increasing their housing stock, with a commercial focus to drive profit and value creation
- Deliver social value with more affordable, quality and safe accommodation
- Provide adequate resources to support their tenants including the most vulnerable in our society.
Digital transformation has the power to help the housing sector do more than just survive financially, but to thrive and disrupt.
However, it’s important to remember that digital transformation is a never-ending journey, a series of smaller projects. Some of which might just mean getting the right infrastructure in place. That’s right, not all digital transformation projects are something revolutionary and a big change. You might just start with a migration to SIP, which isn’t something your customers (or even your employees) will necessarily notice, but it’s an important and essential cog in creating the bigger, better picture.
Roadmapping your Journey
Deconstructing your digital transformation is vital and so is roadmapping your journey. If you want successful projects that avoid a scope creep nightmare and achieve your business goals, you need a suitable plan in place.
At Britannic we’ve got the Five Point plan methodology. Having recently implemented it with one of the UK’s leading housing associations, we know it’s a great fit for making sure your projects are delivered: on time, on budget and more than meet expectations.
Using the Five Point Plan, we were able to successfully implement a resilient Mitel contact centre. Part of the wider project to transform the organisation’s communications. With ideas to later introduce more innovative ways of communicating with tenants through text messages and Web Real Time Communications (WebRTC). Meaning that the housing association will be able to talk to its customers’ through the channels they want to communicate with the organisation.
The methodology itself centres around Five Points: Discover, Demonstrate, Design, Deliver and Develop.
Each stage ensure the success of the digital transformation project. Through Digital Discovery Sessions, Britannic is able to understand your current technology, business processes and working practices and your reporting and KPI capabilities. Working with business decision makers and senior IT people to explore to explore ideas and communication technologies that support process automation, improve customer experience and make day-to-day interactions easy for your employees, customers and suppliers.
Technologies that Solve Real Problems for Housing Associations
Contact centres play a crucial role. For housing, the contact centre is a central hub for all customer service. Though often overloaded with calls and extensive wait times, with new exciting technology, you’re empowered to create an experience for your customers that you can be proud of.
There are five key technologies that housing associations should be considering in order to take action during this time of digitisation. All are crucial to improving the customer experience and reducing costs.
Harnessing the Power of the Cloud
Cloud is far from new, but it’s vital because it enables you to wave goodbye to that clunky infrastructure. Which degree of cloudiness is your contact centre? (If any). With reliance falling heavily on legacy systems, this is technology that housing associations are reluctant to rely on. However in this digital world, cloud is vital for all businesses.
There’s plenty of options to choose from, you can go for public, private or a mixture of both (hybrid cloud). We encourage housing associations to do more than dip their toe in and extend their use of cloud beyond the contact centre.
There are several key benefits that can deliver for housing associations; some are likely to bust any perceived myths you’ve got going round and round in your head.
It’s low cost – despite some assumptions, yes moving to the cloud will save you money (and make you money), without a doubt. With the cloud payment model, you only pay for what you use.
It’s flexible and scalable – Cloud is like elastic, it stretches as far as you need; without breaking! For example, during particularly busy times like in winter, notorious for boilers breaking, you’ll be able to scale to meet the demand.
Building blocks to more exciting technology – You can’t proceed with your exciting digital transformation plans without having the right infrastructure in place first. Cloud provides the right platform for many other plugin technologies and solutions that you can rapidly deploy.
Security – Key perceived myths about cloud is that your data is more at risk. This is untrue, technology companies invest billions and billions into making their cloud platforms safe and secure.
All Britannic contact centre technology is cloud-based and integrates with your CRM. Enabling you to adapt quickly as your requirements change. You select the voice and UC services that suit your user groups, we’ll host and manage the applications for you.
Resources within housing associations are scarce and yet, there’s so much work incoming constantly that self-serve technologies are going to become vital for the sector. Imagine if you could free your agents from the menial work and enable customers to serve themselves in more scenarios and how much of an impact this would have on the customer experience, your productivity levels and being able to hang onto talent.
Inundated with requests and queries; housing association’s contact centres are overflowing with actions that could be left to a digital agent, like Bizibot.
Ami is the first digital agent that learns from having real conversations with customers and colleagues. Using content from trawling your website, she’ll take the drudge away from your contact centre staff. Conversational AI is there to complement your employees and free them from menial work, not replace them.
Housing associations can utilise Conversational AI to help deal with maintenance, generic and welfare enquiries. There’s no need for a human to intervene unless your customer requests or if the situation is too complex for Ami to handle. Unlike people, Conversational AI is available 24/7, 365 and doesn’t need any drinks to help maintain maximum performance.
WebRTC is another key way that you can help to introduce self service into your housing association. For example, our solution WebCall enables you to enrich your customer service with solutions that enable click-to-call on your website or app, text chat and click to video chat. Creating a seamless transition and resulting in the customer being able to help themselves. No routing around trying to find phone numbers or waiting for a call back. Just real-time communication at your customer’s fingertips.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
With RPA, Self Service technologies, Ami for example, get taken to the next level. Making entire processes easy and seamless without the need for any human interaction. Logging a maintenance request for example, like a faulty boiler in your customer’s home.
A fully automated process with the power of our clever RPA capabilities might look like:
1. Customer reports a faulty boiler via Ami
They give details, attach pictures and give a date and time when someone from maintenance can come round to fix the issue.
2. Ami utilises RPA to report the issue
She pulls through all the details the customer gave to her and logs all information with the maintenance request.
3. RPA informs the maintenance team of the date and time when they can go round to fix the issue for the customer
The appointment is booked automatically with the engineer, likely spares required are booked out, and they are able to go out and complete the job.
4. The customer is sent a confirmation of the maintenance appointment
A task that previously might have meant that your customer was sat on hold for what seemed like an eternity; now made painless. There are so many more processes that these RPA scenarios can be replicated for within housing associations like booking in appointments for viewing houses, rent arrears and when maintenance has been completed.
Gamification to Increase Agent Productivity and Motivation
Digital transformation is changing the face of being a contact centre agent, along with many other job roles. In the future, contact centre agents will become more proactive customer service points of contact for housing associations. With menial jobs taking up such a large amount of contact centre agent time currently, their job is reactive. With new technologies like Conversational AI and RPA emerging, the role of the contact centre agent will be able to become increasingly proactive. As the role of the contact centre agent changes, housing associations need to find new ways to engage and motivate their employees. It’s crucial for attracting and retaining the top class customer service talent.
We know that a key issue for contact centres is how they can keep their employees engaged and empowered. Particularly in housing associations where resource is stretched to the limit. Gamification in the contact centre has arrived.
Utilising gamification in your contact centre enables you to produce motivated and engaged employees. Our solution enables you to host tournaments, game battles, map user performance against process automation, reward and give recognition and much more!