Plymouth Community Homes (PCH) is Plymouth's largest social housing landlord, providing homes to over 35,000 people across 16,000 properties. They started acquiring and managing homes in 2010.
They also have a separate sales brand, SO Living, which offers shared ownership homes and a personal approach to helping people own their own homes.
Everything they do is driven towards their central goals of providing affordable homes, great services, and supporting local communities.
Digital plays a huge role in helping them achieve these goals. Prodo started working with PCH in 2016 across various digital transformation projects, including building their new website and self-service portal. Both on the Umbraco CMS, they provide a foundation from which to encourage channel shift and ease the burden on customer-facing teams.
The next logical step for them was to digitise the lettings process…
The lettings onboarding process is really ingrained into the business, with multiple touchpoints all being manual and therefore costly. All of the applications were done via physical paperwork and each evidential document needed to be manually scanned and uploaded.
Not only that, it was a long-winded experience for the applicant, with four face-to-face meetings having to happen for each and every one prior to tenancy commencement.
The digital solution itself was the tip of the iceberg when it came to the project as a whole: the preparation of data, internal buy-in, culture shift and planning formed a huge part of the planning and implementation.
The approach to digitising the lettings process took a real culture shift internally. With so many people being involved with a process that seemed to just ‘work’ to some extent, the team at Plymouth Community Housing had the job of gaining internal buy-in for this project. It was essential to get the potential efficiency savings and improvement in customer experience across to push this shift in culture through.
The importance and attitude change towards this project were helped by the pandemic. With those face-to-face meetings no longer happening, a way of assessing and onboarding applicants digitally now carried much more serious clout. To support PCH in their early conversations, we provided extended consultancy and a wireframe video to demonstrate the art of the possible.
John Yates, Senior IT Business Analyst at PCH
Following extensive workshops and consultation, Prodo designed and developed a custom lettings portal solution. Following an invitation from PCH’s CBL provider, Devon Home Choice, the portal enables users to complete their applications online.
Staff at PCH can then login to the portal to review and progress applications. The information submitted integrates back to PCH’s housing management system, Northgate. The form fields are flexible to what PCH needs. Staff can request further information from the applicant or send them email updates, notifications and reminders.
The lettings portal is integrated with Castleton, the electronic document management system used across the organisation, via a custom API we developed. This means that documents can be uploaded via the portal, like driving licences, passports etc., which are then automatically tagged into their document system with the appropriate label.
It’s been built to be fully responsive across all devices to enable users to access their application and upload documents on their preferred device, especially important as most of their users choose their mobile. Users can take pictures via their mobile phone camera to upload onto the portal in seconds.
Successful applicants are then seamlessly passed through to the tenancy management self-service portal to a MyPCH tenant, able to pay rent, report repairs etc.
The digitised lettings portal has completely overhauled a laborious and time-intensive process, both for the end-user and internal teams at PCH.
From a customer experience perspective, it’s now much easier and more straightforward to apply for a home.
Applicants can work through the property forms at a time, pace and place that suits them. They’ll receive helpful information and reminders wherever relevant, ensuring the process is as frictionless as possible.
User feedback has been really positive with people embracing the platform as their ‘go-to’ route for application.
For PCH, through building a fully-integrated data capture system, they’ve seen massive efficiency gains internally. The information gathered is stored and tagged across systems, enabling full visibility and context on the applicant, as well as being automatically transferred into a portal user once successful. (Which is a huge win for channel shift!)
Improving the data collection and quality means PCH can now produce much more accurate reports around their lettings process and make more data-driven decisions. For example, understanding how many applicants they receive that don’t meet the affordability boundary, or how many applicants fail to provide certain data points.
This all works towards reducing the resources required to process these applications, giving them time back to focus on the residents that may need more specific care and support. This is ultimately what digital transformation is all about; improving processes in order to use resources more effectively.
John Yates, Senior IT Business Analyst at PCH
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