12 / 04 / 2021

What’s Happening with Channel Shift in Local Authority and Housing?

A deep dive into the progress that the social housing sector has made with channel shift in local authority, covering portals, data, bots and more.

Today’s consumers struggle to remember a time when receiving an instant service wasn’t the norm. Whether it’s purchasing, seeking help and advice or booking a service, the process is pretty seamless, quick and easy (usually!) - but what's happening with channel shift in local authority, in particular, the social housing sector? 

Well, with the impact of COVID-19 and the government’s request to stay home and reduce social contact, you can imagine the increase in enquiries and required support.

The fact is, housing associations’ support centres were already inundated with calls before the global pandemic got involved, with topics varying from emergency repairs to queries surrounding bin collections.

So what was the solution then… and still is now?

Channel shift isn't a hazy future ambition anymore 

The ultimate goal for most housing associations is to provide support to their tenants whilst keeping their support team on the emergencies and more pressing cases. Customer service calls are expensive to run, especially when non-issues are being raised that could be solved via a web page.

Whilst COVID-19 has forced instant digital transformation in many ways, it's also given many housing association's the opportunity to put more budget behind projects that had been previously put on the backburner.

Now more than ever, channel shift and digitalisation needs to be at the forefront of housing association's objectives to ease communication in the present as well as safeguard it for future generations of customers where digital is the precedent.

A self-service portal isn't enough

Self-service customer portals aren't anything new - as consumers we now expect the option to find information we're looking for online and make simple transactions through an account.

A dedicated space for tenants to log repairs, make payments and seek support at a click of a button - helping them manage their tenancy from one place, without the need to call the customer service team.

But for many housing associations, their self-service portals just aren't up to the job. Clunky interfaces and limited functionality lead to a poor user experience - if it's easier to pick up the phone than use a self-service portal, why wouldn't they? 

That's why we're focusing our efforts on how to build customer portals that are optimised for engagement and conversion, so that customers want to engage with it and keep coming back to use it time and again. 

We’ve built hundreds of bespoke portals for many housing associations, including RBH, Accent and Bromford. Not to mention our own SaaS self-service portal, Franklin, suitable for all housing organisations. A Franklin portal can be set up and ready in a matter of hours and our API makes integrations with housing systems hassle-free. Want to know more? Meet Franklin here.

The need for data-driven decision making

Part of making a truly successful digital platform is understanding the user behaviour behind it. In order to truly realise their channel shift objectives, housing associations need to dig deep into the data to pick out key attributes, demographics and intent.

For many organisations, they've invested a huge amount into their self-service platform and website, but it's difficult to see true ROI. Forced registrations or low uptake can lead to a frustrating lack of real change or momentum.

Whilst these things take time, and some will never make the shift, the data can show you how to improve and iterate your existing solutions. Once you understand where people are dropping off or losing engagement, you can implement more strategic marketing tools like chatbots, CTAs, pop-ups, retargeting, paid media, automation and email to nudge people in the right way and encourage channel shift.   

The chatbots are coming  

Digital solutions such as a chatbot or live chat integrations are a great way to cut down those customer service calls and give tenants an answer or solution at the click of a button.

Chatbots work really well as a signposting tool around your website, but also help diagnose problems and delegate to the right people via live chat. For example, knowing the difference between emergency and non-emergency enquiries and ensuring those emergencies are being passed onto the right team.

In 2021, Prodo had a housing organisation come to us needing a solution to help their ‘out of hours’ customer service team focus solely on emergency enquiries. We built a chatflow to ensure all non-emergency enquiries were dealt with by the bot, meaning their team could prioritise the more pressing queries, saving time and improving customer satisfaction. 

So... what's next?

Whilst great progress has been made with channel shift in housing over the past few years, there's still much to be done. Channel shift is never truly 'finished', as there'll likely always be another new channel to move customers to as technology evolves.

For too long, the sector falls back on being 'outdated' and 'playing catch-up' when it comes to digitalisation. But housing associations still need to be held to the same standards as general service providers, even with the potential to surpass them with the right minds in place. 

From our experience working with them, every housing association places their customers at the heart of everything they do. And we strive to create customer-centric digital experiences. The two go hand-in-hand - if organisations are willing to invest more time and resources into the projects to ensure progress isn't just made off the back of the pandemic but that real innovation is seen.

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