A tenant online self-service portal provides housing association tenants with instant access to commonly requested information and the ability to undertake repeatable transactional services (like paying rent and reporting repairs) through a private, secure web based platform using any device at any time. A portal is a customer contact channel that should work alongside existing communication mechanisms like phone, email and face-to-face for the benefit of tenant and organisation alike.
This frees up work and leisure time for tenants, and lets housing association staff reduce the time spent on routine queries and transactions, and increase time spent with those with more complex needs.
So how does a self-service customer portal remove the admin burden of basic, repeatable tasks from your team? There are four basic groups of functions or ‘pillars’ of a self-service portal in the housing sector – profile, payments, repairs and contact – and this is how they work...
The profile-related group of functions should include functionality that allows tenants to self-register for an account so they can actually use the self-service functions of a portal. The registration process usually requires that some individually identifiable information (like name, date of birth and tenancy reference) is collected from each person who wants to create an account via a form. This will be cross referenced against your customer database to ensure the person is a genuine tenant and ensure they see the correct information once registered.
The same group of functionality will allow registered tenants to sign in to their account, view and edit personal details like phone numbers or email addresses, see a list of tenancies they have with you and get an overview of each one through some kind of dashboard including accessing tenancy documents.
One of the key benefits of a self-service tenant portal is that it can allow customers to pay their rent when and where they want to, whilst clearly showing whether they’re ahead or behind on payments at any given time.
A well-designed portal will not only allow tenants to clearly see their account balance on their dashboard and dedicated account page, but will also enable them to drill down into all the information they might need about their payment history.
Ideally, they should be able to filter through all charges and payments from the start of a tenancy, as well download their transaction history and see a breakdown of how their charges are calculated. The ability to create personalised rent statement between any dates that can be downloaded to keep if desired is an important feature to maintain the level of service tenants rightly expect and can help reduce the administrative burden of sending out paper statements if tenants are willing to accept them digitally.
Finally, the payments function must make it simple to action making a payment at any time of day, via clear links to or integrations with trusted, familiar payment providers.
For many housing associations, repairs is the one area that creates the most dialogue and friction between tenant and housing association. From a tenant point of view, repairs can be broken down into 3 basic areas:
- Getting updates on progress of outstanding jobs
- Diagnosing and raising new repairs
- Securing or changing appointment slots with contractors
A portal can help to field enquiries in all three of these areas because all three either simply require reading back information stored in an existing system (like status of a current repair, or availability of contractors) or follow a very defined, logical process that doesn’t change regardless of who’s asking (like diagnosis and reporting)
Ideally, your portal will be able to provide an end-to-end repairs service that gives tenants the ability to get updates on repair progress as well as to diagnose, raise, schedule and if possible, reschedule their own repair jobs without having to call you and without your teams having to do any work (other than fixing the repair of course!).
It (hopefully!) goes without saying that this functionality should all be delivered to tenants through a simple, intuitive and clean interface that makes it as easy as possible to use and as a result, as successful as possible for your organisation.
In order to get the end-to-end experience you’ll need clarity on tenant/landlord repair responsibilities including SOR (Schedule of Rates) codes to map across to your repairs diagnosis tool. When doing this, ensure you pay good attention to repairs that are not your responsibility as landlord to address - these jobs may still need doing in tenant’s homes, so should be included in your diagnosis journey with self-help information or video attached.
From a technical perspective, to make this work you will likely need your portal to be integrated with your housing management system or CRM as well as your repairs contractor diary, often referred to as DRS (Dynamic Resource Scheduler). This should enable a closed loop repair system where the only touchpoints are the tenant reporting the job and the contractor fixing the repair.
In short, a well-designed repairs function should allow tenants to:
- Track both personal and communal repairs
- View new, upcoming and historic repairs
- Diagnose and report repairs
- Access self-help information for repairs that are not the landlords responsibility
- Schedule repair jobs into contractor diaries with DRS
- Use contextual options for rescheduling and cancelling
Of course, while a self-service portal is intended to alleviate the housing association of easily automatable administrative tasks, it shouldn’t create a barrier to direct communication when it’s needed. The contact area of the portal should give tenants clear recourse to connect with a human when they have an enquiry that is more complex than the system allows.
The intention here is to allow the tenant to transfer easily to a different, traditional channel where they can comfortably progress their enquiry – if necessary. That might be as simple as using a contact form or displaying a phone number, but they may prefer to live-chat, email,phone or meet face-to-face. The contact area should allow them to self-determine their preferred communication method, which may be done through a quick diagnostic selector tool, while guiding them towards a suitable resolution.
In addition, your portal may give the ability to send notifications to tenants which they can pick up through their account. These may even be filterable by tenant type or locality. Use cases might include making important announcements, letting tenants know about new portal features or planned downtime.
A self-service tenant portal is supported by the four pillars of profile, payments, repairs and contact, and all of these elements should be integrated for a positive user experience. While your priority as a housing association may be to cut down on easily automatable administrative tasks, your tenants will only feel inclined to use a portal that meets their needs in an accessible and user-friendly way. Here, the key is not necessarily complexity, but finding a portal solution that delivers the essential pillars really well.