Ultimately, if your organisation has invested in digital platforms, you need to start getting people actively using them. You’ll likely have big channel shift targets to start moving customers away from traditional contact methods and towards choosing your digital channels.
This is no easy task! For housing associations of all shapes and sizes, it can be a delicate balance between moving forward with the digital evolution without leaving anyone behind. Your residents are likely a varied group of people – some will be resistant to change, some will be literally unable to digitally interact with you, and others might be willing but just need a little nudge in the right direction.
We've been leaders in digital transformation for over two decades, so we've pulled together some of our top tips and ideas for encouraging your tenants to adopt digital as a channel of choice…
Supporting your most vulnerable
Of course, supporting all of your tenants is at the top of your priorities across all projects, so supporting the most vulnerable will likely be an essential part of your overarching strategy. But when it comes to channel shift, digital exclusion is an issue that’s not going to go away and can be a major inhibitor to success – 20% of housing associations surveyed cited community or client resistance as a barrier to implementing a digital strategy.
Research by the Office for National Statistics shows over 5 million people in the UK have either never used the internet or have not used it in the past three months – around 85% of which are people over the age of 55.
Whilst many older generations tend to say that they don’t need or want to go online, they are most likely concerned about cost, security and lack of skills. Elderly people aren’t the only ones to consider, either.
Tenants could be classed as vulnerable for many reasons – mental health, disability, age or illness – though many with these circumstances can equally be fully independent, but it is the housing association’s responsibility to ensure that their needs are being met, no less so than their access and ability to use online services.
It can’t be taken for granted that those defined as digitally excluded are because they lack internet access and/or have low levels of digital literacy, with the main factor being age, as well as other determinants including disability, learning difficulties, ethnic origin, location, culture and language.
These people are at risk of being left behind, as more information and services move online, with no means to access the many benefits of the internet. Arguably, they have the greatest need to use digital services, with impacts of digital exclusion ranging from loss of earnings to employment opportunities, according to this ONS report on the UK’s digital divide.
One size does not fit all
Just as how there is no one set definition of a vulnerable customer, there isn’t one clear strategy to implement channel shift. It isn’t something that’s achieved overnight and there’ll be plenty of hurdles along the way as there will always be some customers who will never make the shift to digital platforms. But as a housing provider, your tenants need to be at the forefront of your channel shift program.
If you’re finding resistance or lack of uptake, go straight to the source – ask people why they’re not using your online services and evolve your offering. Just because you have an online service, doesn’t mean that it’s fit for purpose or solving your tenant's specific pain points.
Connect with vulnerable tenants on a one-to-one basis to understand why they’re not online, with clear communication and education around the benefits. They might highlight key issues that are stopping them from using it – such as poor accessibility or unclear calls-to-action. They might simply not even realise it exists!
Supporting all accessibility needs
Making your online services accessible isn’t only a legal requirement, but a moral one too, and difficulties in accessing services are far more likely for vulnerable consumers. This could range from limited access to a decent broadband service to age-related issues such as poor eyesight.
You have to consider the innate circumstances of your vulnerable tenants – older people are more likely to use Internet Explorer, for example, so you need to make sure your website and portal have full browser compatibility.
Other aspects of accessibility are driven by an inclusive design, covering things like optimum colour contrast for those with low vision or colour blindness, to accessible font families for cognitive impairments like dyslexia.
In general, signposting vulnerable people to clear support and guidance on how to use your website and portal can really help. If you can give direct instructions or start using videos and screen recordings to direct people, even better.
Understanding the customer’s journey with you
Dig deep into your customer data to consider their current journey with you, from website engagement to contact centres to face-to-face interactions in order to see how they arrive via these channels. You can then amend those journeys to slowly push them towards your online options.
Analyse the data you have at every possible touchpoint – why do customers report problems? What kinds of problems do they report? What channels do they currently use most? How do your digital platforms solve this? How can you show your customers (at scale) how to use your online channels to self-serve? Being able to recognise the drivers of customer behaviour can give you opportunities to change the interactions over time.
Channel shift can provide unique new ways of connecting with you – someone facing domestic abuse, for example, might prefer to use an online channel to reach out confidentially, but they might not realise it’s an option.
Once you understand the reasons why they contact you and how, you’ll be in a much better position to promote your online services in relevant ways to each individual. For a while, especially in the early launch stages of your new online services, you’ll need to do a lot of groundwork with more vulnerable or digitally-unskilled tenants, in particular, to make sure they have the access and support they need.
Implementing floorwalkers can be a great option to start having conversations face-to-face with residents who drop in to speak to you, using digital tablets and computers to get them set up and guided through the process. Adverts in resident publications, direct mail, promotional leaflets, and informative posters placed in high-traffic areas of group homes can all help boost awareness of your online services.
Tell them how good it is
With many citing reasons like no interest and lack of skills as the reason why they’re not online, it’s your job to help residents see the benefits of your online resources. When it comes to vulnerable customers especially, it’s the housing associations' responsibility to deliver clear and comprehensive education – it shouldn’t be left down to the tenants to teach themselves.
All promotional outreach needs to clearly define the advantages to your tenants for using an online portal or a chatbot rather than picking up the phone – a long-term habit that’s going to be hard to break. Whilst creating educational content like infographics, videos and blogs are great, it’s digital, so you need to drive awareness around these resources offline, first.
Encourage phone agents and housing officers to enquire why people aren’t choosing to use your online platforms, with in-person support groups and sessions available for people to learn. But tact is key – just because someone is vulnerable, doesn’t mean they’re incapable. Housing organisations need to invest in embedding digital inclusion support with localised, personal and responsive services.
By providing broader communal sessions with intensive breakout sessions, people will feel more included and independent, thus more likely to embrace digital as a channel of their own choice.