An excerpt from 'Shift!' The future is now: What services can look like

Pippa Adams
Pippa Adams
03 / 02 / 2020 | Channel Shift, Housing

Want to know more about how to make your digital aspirations as a housing association a reality? 

Shift! How to make channel shift happen in housing is the first guide out there specifically for housing associations looking to implement digital transformation, with a four-phase framework to achieve the best possible results for associations and tenants alike.   

Featuring interviews from housing professionals around the UK, the book draws on their experience of delivering such programmes, who talk frankly about their experiences of running channel shift projects. 

To give you a little sneak peek, we’ve pulled an excerpt that describes the liberating effects of digital transformation – all based on existing technology. 

Shift! How to make channel shift happen in housing

Chapter 2 - The future is now: What services can look like

Millions of applicants for residents of social housing in the UK still have to fill in lengthy paper forms when signing up for their tenancy. When the boiler isn’t working, tenants have to telephone a call centre, during opening hours, to arrange a repair, and wait in all day on the assigned date for the maintenance engineer to fix it. 

The housing association’s staff’s experience can be similarly time-consuming. A housing officer has to manually input all the information from an application form into a housing management system. In the case of a tenant ordering a repair, the call centre operative has to manually log the repair into the customer relationship management system, and assign a task to a maintenance team to book the engineer.

These older, time-consuming ways of arranging basic housing services are no longer necessary. A smoother process is possible with existing technology. Routine activities like filling out forms and reporting repairs can be made far quicker and easier, for tenant and staff alike, through automation of repeatable tasks and integrating systems to empower tenants to self-serve. 

This will provide more work and leisure time for tenants, and enable housing association staff to reduce time on routine queries and transactions, and increase time spent with those with more complex needs. This chapter describes the liberating effects of such an approach – all based on existing technology. 

While none of the housing associations featured in our research had achieved the ‘perfect’ implementation across the range of all services, several have made significant progress, and offer more than a glimpse of the potential for enhancing, even transforming, services and quality of life, and we quote some examples throughout this chapter. We discuss the implementation process in more detail in later chapters. It is more complicated than some envisage, but more doable than many fear.

 

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It is about optimal, not maximum, use of technology, with people and systems working together in harmony. At its core, social housing is a humanitarian movement. Since its foundation, it has existed to alleviate poverty and create decent living standards for people who might otherwise struggle to achieve this. It always will, and always should, retain the direct care from person to person, where this is necessary. But far from diluting this human contact, the smartest uses of technology enhance it. As Matt Cooney, Chief Operating Officer at PA Housing, puts it:

“We’re a people business, we always have to give choice in contacting us. We have some pretty vulnerable people we provide services to, who really need to phone us, and who need people to advocate on their behalf. I’m very much of the school of thinking that if we have a digital application that works for people, people who want to use it will use it by choice. That takes away a lot of reactive stuff, and provides genuine efficiency, thereby increasing the number of people using that as a result. My personal view is that the telephone will still be highly prevalent in five to ten years’ time.

“The choice between phone and digital isn’t binary; this or that. If low-level antisocial behaviour issues are done digitally, for example, rather than officers’ time dealing with that, there is more time to spend on the serious cases. At the moment, work on benefits is increasingly complex because of Universal Credit – a UC claim is complicated, but it’s in our interests to help, because if they can’t pay their rent it affects our income.”

 

"We are a people business. We always have to give choice in ways of contacting us."
Matt Cooney, Chief Operating Officer at PA Housing

 

It would be a mistake to assume that paper-based, telephone or face-to-face modes of contact always provide this human touch more effectively than digital channels can. As Matt indicates, it is common for tenants and staff to experience wasted time and other frustrations with non-digital systems, many of which can be avoided by providing a strong digital offering. 

For example, a resident may have to set aside time during business hours to undertake a frustratingly long wait attempting to get through to a contact centre simply to pay their rent. Having a platform available to do this online means no waiting on hold during a lunch break – the transaction can be completed at a time or place that suits the tenant. Equally, trained, experienced housing officers may be expected to contact maintenance staff to clean some graffiti, when they would be better employed guiding a vulnerable client through a complicated and stressful benefits application.

Consider the following examples: 

‘The tap in the bathroom is leaking.’

‘There’s a light bulb gone in the stairwell.’

‘I’m struggling to afford my rent. It’s causing me real stress.’’

The first two issues here can be swiftly and effectively dealt with through digital channels, freeing the housing officer to deal with the last. At their most advanced, systems can move not only from being reactive to proactive, but can even become predictive, with data used to anticipate issues that are looming as well as those that have already occurred. 

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Like what you’ve read so far?

Download the next chapter for free – ‘Chapter 3 Describing the steps to progress: Mindset, Planning, Delivery and Measurement & Improvement’, which outlines the framework to start realising true digital transformation. 

Download a free e-chapter from Shift