How can digital support the social housing sector?

15th April 2020

While providers respond to the current pandemic, Michelle Tyler, Director, Social Housing at Civica, looks at how housing associations can use cloud technology to support tenants

Tenants have come to expect more than ever before; speedier service, easier rent management, always-on assistance and improved communication channels. This is while everyone in the sector is fully committed to responding to the current pandemic, against a further backdrop of tightening budgets and a multitude of channels to manage.

With the need to support and protect people and communities like never before, and large swathes of employees adapting to new ways of remote working, how can technology help housing providers streamline ways of working?  And what should we expect to see in 2020 when it comes to emerging technology within the housing sector?

Empowering tenants with self-service
We’re seeing more and more housing organisations offering digital self-service options to customers via mobile apps or online. While housing providers will always need people to respond to the most complex or urgent queries, a self-service portal allows front-line employees to spend less time answering simple questions and dealing with repetitive requests. Likewise, it simplifies processes for the end-user by empowering them to find information, make transactions and update personal details with one click of a button. 

Devon-based Teign Housing has rolled out a customer self-service portal, as part of Civica’s Cx housing management system. The digital platform is also used by employees to access real-time tenant information. 

Customers are already using several functions within Cx’s customer portal, including paying rent, logging repairs, viewing rent statements and amending personal details. The aim for 2020 is for Civica to work with Teign Housing to further improve the user-experience, navigation and functionality. This will enable a marketing campaign to get all customers up and running on the portal, with at least 60% actively engaging with it, to make significant time and cost savings in the medium to long term.

Chatbots bring 24/7 communication 
In 2020, we’ll also see an uptake in chatbots within the housing sector. Today’s residents demand instant access to everything, and while humans aren’t programmed to work 24/7, AI-powered chatbots can be. Civica NorthStar has led the establishment of a conversational AI platform and is exploring emerging assisted technologies to further help housing providers.

Across the sector, one organisation getting a head-start is Havebury Housing Partnership. By adopting the LUIS chatbot, which seamlessly integrates with the Azure Bot Service. LUIS enables real-time data analysis and always-on customer communication. 

One use case for Havebury’s chatbot which has seen enormous success is in repairs diagnostics. By inputting 100,000 repair descriptions and outcomes into the AI (and testing and refining it over a six-month period) Havebury can now accurately establish the issue, predict the type of repair needed, the urgency of the repair and therefore what action to take next.

Improving the employee experience
Teign Housing is also running a new mobile working pilot, supported by Civica’s Cx cloud enabled software. The team plans to empower employees with more mobile devices and create digital drop-in zones or ‘hubs’ across their estates. The Wi-Fi enabled hubs will support mobile working for employees so they can quickly connect to Cx to update rent accounts or log information following an inspection. Using cloud apps and software, Teign Housing employees can work more effectively in the field; responding to ‘on-the-spot’ queries. 

There’s no doubt this will help housing authorities save both time and money and improve the speed and accuracy of customer service. Karen Johnson, Head of Corporate Services at Teign Housing, said:  “We’ve never had that ability to do so before and we can’t wait to see the difference in our speed and efficiency. We’re going to save so much time on processing and reporting through the increased automation in the new system, which will allow us to invest resources differently to redirect the time to those who need it most.” 

In 2020, housing associations must ensure they start using technology to meet the growing volume and complexity of customers’ needs. With consumers today able to order their morning coffee, taxi or even a new outfit through the swipe of an app, they’ll soon start expecting similar levels of customer service from their housing provider. 

When it comes to implementing technology, it’s important to understand what outcomes you want to achieve and set a clear strategy. To meet the challenges of 2020 and beyond, a digital transformation vision that starts with the cloud will be key. The cloud represents the foundations from which you can design and build new technology use cases, such as apps, AI chatbots or predictive maintenance, to stay relevant, deliver the best service and ultimately provide safe, secure homes and better outcomes for tenants and the wider community.

Civica NorthStar

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