How to build an agile housing provider

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

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Today’s housing providers are undergoing massive change. They need to be commercially viable, maintain service levels to tenants and meet the demands of an increasingly mobile workforce. Welfare Reform, including the introduction of Universal Credit, and an increased focus on channel-shifting customers to new and more efficient forms of communication means they are tasked with using technology to deliver transformation and business agility.

In response, Boards and Executive Management teams are seeking better ways for their employees and tenants to interact, whilst improving services, boosting efficiencies and ensuring robust accountability. Arguably, this is nothing new - isn’t the purpose of all workplace technology ultimately to support the collaborative efforts of its employees and provide better services to end-users?

There are three key elements that housing providers must respond to:

  • Connected tenants - this encompasses the actual delivery of services and the way that tenants interact with the association.
  • Collaborative employees – introducing new ways of working including mobility and the optimisation of existing resources.
  • Networked organisation – delivering tangible and sustainable benefits in terms of efficiency and enhanced collaboration.

  • Connected Tenants

    Tenants are the primary drivers of change within the housing sector. The vision for many organisations is to allow tenants to access information and services from any screen, any device and at any time. These channels may encompass anything from websites and web chat, multi-channel contact centres to access points and booths on housing estates, traditional voice solutions and office access. What is clear is that no effective customer contact strategy can rely on just one or two channels. The skill lies in understanding tenant needs, knowing when it is appropriate to use different channels and ensuring the services are easily accessible and easy to use whatever the means.

    Undoubtedly the biggest shifts in tenant behaviour in recent years have been the rise in internet use, the exponential growth in mobile phone ownership and use of social media. Social networks alone grew into a multi-billion pound business by tapping into people’s desire to share information, respond to new developments and answer other users’ queries in real-time - often at a speed that can be bewildering to the uninitiated.

    This shift in behaviour has major implications for housing providers, because the majority of their employees and their tenants use the internet and are active on social networks. They have had to modify their contact strategies to meet new expectations. Web chat, social media and increasingly video calling are part of the wider digital inclusion strategy and central to the multi-channel contact centre. While telephone, IVR and self-service remain strong components of any multimedia contact centre, Generation Y uses these channels significantly less than other age groups and they hold high expectations of a seamless omnichannel experience.

    Housing providers need to consider how to weave all channels - voice, webchat, social, SMS - into a consistent user experience with a 360° view of the tenant, irrespective of the communication channel chosen. Residents need faster access to the correct information, leading to faster resolution of problems.

    Collaborative Employees

    In an agile housing association, not all employees work under the same roof. In many cases, key personnel are based at multiple sites across the area, work from home or are out visiting tenants. This means that employees must frequently coordinate their activities with colleagues who are dispersed. Once popular methods of collaboration, such as weekly conferences involving everyone in the office, have become inadequate. Just as important is the time and cost implications of individuals who may have to travel to attend these face-to-face meetings. Add the consumerisation of IT into the equation, and it’s clear that most employees now expect a more collaborative working environment. They want the ability to reach colleagues instantly when they’re online and know immediately when they’re available using the appropriate means of communication for the desired outcome, be it instant messaging, conference calls or video chat.

    The trend towards Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has enabled people to take their digital experience into the workplace - literally. However, the impact of BYOD extends much further than an employee accessing Twitter via their own tablet at a workstation. It means that workers can have the same seamless experience when using technology at work that they enjoy with their devices at home, delivering immediate access to all applications.

    Cloud technology has allowed established workplace tools to be enhanced with fresh capabilities that support collaboration, transforming internal processes with greater employee productivity and optimised processes that eliminate silos of separated services and resources.

    For mobile workers on home visits, employees can be equipped with laptops and PDAs that connect via Wi-Fi to the headquarters’ infrastructure with a single login, enabling them to find information and answers quickly for the tenant. With this kind of technology, many queries or problems can be resolved on the spot instead of requiring multiple visits or additional work when the employee returns to the office.

    A move towards more home-based working can improve employee retention and recruitment, as well boosting productivity. Advanced communication and collaboration tools, such as instant messaging and video conferencing, can accelerate cycle times for the development and delivery of services, while e-learning can dramatically reduce the cost of training, both in terms of expenditure and time away from the office.

    The Networked Organisation

    Driving the development of a collaborative workforce is the concept behind the networked organisation, enabling network processes to be optimised across the whole organisation, rather than just within particular departments. The convergence of voice, data and video services, such as CCTV, onto a single IP-based network can eliminate substantial operational and capital expenditures, while the standardisation of platforms across departments can simplify network management and generate still more cost-efficiencies. Reduced total cost of ownership and simplified maintenance are additional benefits, as well as access to flexible architecture in a scalable solution that can accommodate future growth.

    Security continues to be a crucial area of consideration for the organisation. Today’s intelligent, intuitive security solutions build security into the fabric of the network and can simplify management of the most complex and distributed architectures. Security becomes an enabler for new services rather than a barrier to deployment, allowing organisations to extend the full productive power of the network to its furthest endpoints.

    Increasingly, housing providers are finding that specific internal issues can be addressed through improved collaboration and certainly tenant satisfaction is achieved through efficient multi-channel contact strategies. This can be achieved by aligning specific collaboration tools with the core needs of the business. The initial investment in the platform rapidly begins to pay for itself as businesses achieve genuine productivity gains, increased operational efficiency and higher rates of customer satisfaction. Tools like video conferencing can also have a major impact on business travel expenditure and training costs for organisations with multiple sites.

    There is no doubt that tools which promote seamless communication and the exchange of rich information across physical boundaries are increasingly important for success. For Housing Associations, leveraging the opportunities of improved collaboration and customer contact are crucial because they will determine their prospects for future success.

    To learn more about Incom's communications solutions for the Housing sector, click here

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