Digital Ambitions for 2021
In this edition of our Spotlight on Housing series, we spoke to Chris Holloway, Head of Housing and Support Services at Greatwell Homes. Holloway told us of his ambitions to provide customers with a suite of excellent services.
Please could you give a brief introduction to yourself and Greatwell Homes?
“Greatwell Homes was created after a stock transfer from Wellingborough Council.
“We have a varied portfolio from traditional social rented homes through to low-cost home ownership products like rent-to-buy and temporary accommodation for homeless people. In total, we manage over 5,000 homes.
“Myself, I’ve worked in housing since 2004. I started on the front line as a housing officer and have since held a number of management positions across a wide variety of services.
“My current role at Greatwell Homes – where I’ve been for two and a half years – is really broad and enjoyable, and always challenging!”
What services trialled during the pandemic are set to become part of the new normal?
“We initiated outbound contact with older and isolated customers. We wanted to reassure them and let them know about the services that we could provide or refer them to. Be that supplying food parcels or arranging medicine deliveries, and so on.
“We had a lot of positive feedback on that. And with customers responding well to this, we now have a business case to continue this. So, I’m currently looking at how to maintain that.
“On a different note, we found it harder to reach people in person and on the phone during the lockdowns. With everything going on, people have been distracted. So, this made income recovery a more significant challenge.
“This year is going to be all about self-serve.”
“In terms of digital, we’ve been looking at standardising texts and emails. We want to be able to send automated bulk messages tailored to customer preferences.
“On this note, I’m particularly interested in behavioural economics and nudge theory. We’re planning to make small changes to our written communications to increase our customer’s chances of proactively reaching out to us.
“Another change from last year is one that is familiar to many housing associations. We moved to a paperless new tenancy sign-up process, rather than trading lots of paperwork. This is something that we will be continuing.”
What will be the impact of digital transformation for your residents this year?
“This year is going to be all about self-serve. We already have self-serve options available for rent and repairs. Now, we want to see how we can extend this, for example helping customers to self-diagnose repairs.
“I hypothesise that if you’re delighted with your home, you’re more inclined to pay your rent”
“With the social housing white paper in mind, I’d like to generate more real-time satisfaction results.
“We already get quick satisfaction results for repairs. So, this year, we will be looking at how we can apply that to other areas of housing management.
“I’ll be looking at ways to measure satisfaction across tenures to establish if they are the same. Because I hypothesise that if you’re delighted with your home, you’re more inclined to pay your rent and keep to your tenancy conditions.
“The white paper also highlighted the importance of satisfaction with the built environment. That includes how we deal with reports of fly-tipping.
“So, I’m looking at technology our customers can use to report fly-tipping, for example, an app with a pin drop function to notify us of cases of fly-tipping. This will help us to deal with them within hours.”
What do you foresee being the key challenges of digital transformation this year?
“Customers quickly became digitally savvy last year because the pandemic forced people to channel shift. It nudged them online to shop for food and everything else they wanted to buy.
“We noticed that customers were more digitally able than we ever gave them credit for.
“Of course, some customers will prefer to do their business face-to-face or on the phone and might resist using digital channels. So, the challenge for landlords is, how do you provide a suite of options?
“We noticed that customers were more digitally able than we ever gave them credit for.”
“And, how can we ensure those customers who are digitally excluded enjoy the same levels of services as those who get their services online?
“Because a critical aspiration for us is whether a customer chooses to deal with us face-to-face, on the phone or online, we want them to get the same standard of excellent service.”
Discover other insights from some of the UK’s leading housing associations by following our Spotlight Series in the Futr blog. If you are interested in using AI and automation to enhance your customer service, contact the Futr team to see how live chat and chatbots for social landlords can help you.
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