Why now is the time for social landlords to offer digital self-service

Digital self-service is transforming the resident experience, making it easy for social landlords to engage with their tenants and make sure they feel heard. But what exactly does digital self-service look like?

This post was updated in June 2022

The pandemic was a watershed moment for digital transformation among social housing providers and resident hubs across the country. As the coronavirus crisis led to a months-long nationwide lockdown, housing groups suddenly found themselves dealing with an unprecedented exodus to remote work.

Alongside this, normal face-to-face interaction with frontline operatives has been hard to maintain.

So, it’s little surprise that against this backdrop, residents’ behaviours also changed significantly in 2020.

For one, we saw the world become increasingly digital. Globally, internet usage increased by as much as 70% during the pandemic. And across the UK housing sector, residents’ appetites for digital channel use were no different.

Just as customers expect brands to provide an assortment of digital services, residents also want their landlords to be available in the digital channels they use. According to a 2021 report by Peabody, one of London’s largest and oldest housing associations, the pandemic had increased their residents’ Internet usage. More specifically:

  • During the pandemic, 31% of households had installed broadband for the first time.
  • A further 11% had upgraded their broadband package and purchased new devices.
  • Among online residents, 76% use the internet frequently.

Meanwhile, our survey with Inside Housing found that 88% of social landlords saw increased resident demand for digital products amid the pandemic. This change in customer behaviour also compelled 84% of landlords to increase their focus on digital transformation.

Related reading: Digital transformation in housing: 6 areas of change in housing associations

According to a Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) report, housing organisations in 2020 aimed to be more accessible to tenants by simplifying and making interactions more responsive. For some housing providers, this meant investing in a “better digital self-service offer.”

What is digital self-service in social housing?

Digital self-service or self-serve is a user experience (UX) feature that enables customers to complete an action or task on your digital channels without intervention or assistance from a human being. It puts users in control of their customer journey, allowing them to find the information, products and services they need using self-service customer portals. 

Think of a self-checkout counter at a supermarket, for example. 

A checkout counter provides instructions on scanning your items, where to place them after they’ve been scanned and how to pick a payment option. 

Sure, customers may still need staff assistance, such as when purchasing a bottle of wine or hazardous items. But the process mostly happens with the customer in control.

What is an example of digital self-service technology?

At Futr, our live chat and chatbot platform allows you to enable customer self-service on all your digital channels, whether your website, WhatsApp account or Facebook, Instagram or Twitter profile. 

By providing a list of your housing services and answers to frequently asked questions within the chat, residents can help themselves find the services they need without speaking to one of your contact centre staff.Here’s an example of a chatbot from believe housing, one of the largest housing associations in North East England, signposting users to their services and resources.

Related reading: Dive into our believe housing case study

When implemented correctly, digital self-service solutions can reduce costs associated with customer service and optimise your residents’ experience by giving them the tools and information they need when they need it.

As counterintuitive as it sounds, many of your customers don’t necessarily want to speak to your company representatives. Think of it this way: does a resident really want to sit in a call queue for several minutes just to change their direct debit information? Wouldn’t it be more convenient if they could do that on their own?

It’s no surprise then that 67% of customers prefer using digital self-service options over contacting customer service and speaking with a live agent.

How does digital self-service impact a customer’s overall satisfaction?

For many housing providers, enabling digital self-service was instrumental in making sure residents felt heard at the height of the pandemic. 

In an exclusive interview with Futr, Anna Mitchell, Head of Communications at Catalyst, one of the UK’s leading housing associations, explained that the pandemic accelerated their digital communications rollout. 

“The pandemic has opened up the opportunities to reach, engage and communicate across more digital channels for us. We want to continue to grow our live chat, mass email and text offering,” she said, adding that, “Customers have come to expect this level of service.”

Speed is another factor that makes digital self-service so important to customers. 

In fact, research by HubSpot shows that a massive 90% of consumers now expect an immediate response to a customer service question — “immediate” being 10 minutes or less.

So it is hardly surprising that a key lesson from 2020 for housing associations is that it is “a myth that heaps of customers only want to speak on the phone or via paper,” as Head of Customer Experience at Alliance Homes Group, Cath Pullin, puts it.

Rooftop’s Chief Executive, Boris Worrall, notes that “customer expectations have been rising over time, partly because of our experience as consumers in the private sector.”

This sentiment is echoed in the Social Housing White Paper, which declared that housing providers should provide “the best customer service of the private sector.”

How can social landlords meet the goals outlined in the white paper and meet residents’ expectations?

Providing digital self-service channels to your customers is the key to delivering great customer service in the digital world that we live in today. 

But the challenge is balancing the cost and effort of implementation whilst ensuring sufficient uptake among your residents.

In the current mix of customer portals, apps and new housing management systems, one tool, in particular, is proving a quick-win that can harmonise self-serve tools and capitalise on the wave of multi-channel digital adoption: chatbots.

What are the self-service benefits of chatbots and live chat for social landlords?

Chatbots are the perfect vehicle for self-service technology, as they leverage natural conversation to engage residents and find out what they need. Investing in conversational chatbot technology ensures that your housing association is ready to respond to the growing appetite for omnichannel customer support.

At Futr, our chatbot platform can:

  • Automate answers to a wide variety of your residents’ questions;
  • Educate residents about your services;
  • Signpost to your existing self-serve tools;
  • And provide 24/7 support in the language the customer speaks.

Related reading: Chatbots for housing: How conversational AI supports your residents

Chatbots also allow for consistent messaging — essential in keeping residents up-to-date and connected with you, especially through the rapidly changing circumstances of the pandemic. 

Even better, chatbots free up your customer support colleagues to work on more complex issues. Self-service isn’t about taking away existing services; it’s about giving your residents more choice and thus improving customer service.  

Eight key benefits of chatbots for housing associations

  • Available 24/7: Perfect for weekend warriors, night-owls and Bank Holiday queries!
  • Any channel: Speak to your residents in the apps they use to speak to everyone else in their lives, be that text, Facebook or WhatsApp, as well as on your website – of course!
  • Any language: Automatically translate conversations into over a hundred different languages.
  • Immediate responses: We’re living in a time in which society expects an instant response as standard.
  • Consistent responses: Write the perfect answer to questions and be confident that human error will be a thing of the past.
  • Seamless live chat handover: Sometimes, human-to-human interaction is essential. Let your chatbot hand over seamlessly to a live chat agent at the right moment.
  • Get to know your residents even better: You can learn an enormous amount about your residents from your chatbot, guiding content creation and how demand is managed into the customer experience team.
  • Reduced operational costs: Every repeat question that’s automatically answered by a chatbot translates to contact cost savings.

Learn more about the benefits of using chatbots in social housing by reading “The ultimate guide to chatbots in social housing.” Click the link below to download this Futr eBook.

Download: The ultimate guide to chatbots in social housing

Bring digital self-service solutions to your residents

If you haven’t got a chatbot yet — or have one that isn’t up to scratch — now is the time to begin the conversation. This time tomorrow, you could have a bot live on your site and other digital channels.

Get in touch with Futr, and we can chat about your existing setup, understand your goals and share a little more about how other housing associations are already using this technology! Be sure to follow the Futr blog for more insights on using chatbots to improve customer satisfaction in the housing industry.

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Futr is a VC backed tech start-up with the mission of delivering superpowers to support teams everywhere.  Futr’s superpowers are transforming the way organisations serve their audiences.

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