Peter Paterson
Executive Director
Housing providers are adopting digital tools in order to improve the customer experience and reduce the cost to serve. From our experience putting the customer at the front and centre of a digital strategy, where technology is used to meet actual needs, can help to speed up adoption rates, reduce dependence on legacy channels (such as the telephone) and bring down operating costs dramatically.


Yet, don’t just take our word for it. Below we’ve highlighted how four major digital trends are currently being adopted in the housing sector and cited how they are enhancing the customer experience and reducing costs.


1. The ‘one and done’

Paper-based systems are dead. They are expensive to administer and are far too inefficient for a digital world. Today’s consumers want to avoid time wasting and repetitive tasks (such as answering the same questions in multiple forms), which is fuelling the ‘one and done’ trend. Digitally savvy customers want a better streamlined and joined up experience with every brand, company or institution they deal with. Recent research by Forrester found that 71% of those it surveyed said the most important thing a company can do for them is to provide good customer service. These same customers said they want companies to provide them with information in one click.


The London Borough of Croydon’s “Digital and Enabling” program, which is set to deliver a £20 million saving by 2018, allows its customers to use digital to apply, book, pay and report. Most importantly, its users are only asked for basic information once.


2. Self-serve

In our fast-paced 24/7 world, many customer transactions and complaints are taking place outside office hours, which is leading to a demand for self-serve options.  By digitising the customer journey, and allowing customers to self-serve online, housing providers can not only meet the new needs of their digital customer but also reduce their ongoing operational costs too. The Government’s recent Digital Efficiency report showed that transactions conducted online can be 20 times cheaper than by phone, 30 times cheaper than by post and as much as 50 times cheaper than face-to-face.


The majority of Birmingham City Council’s tenants now self-serve online. Tenants have a personalised digital log book, as well as an individual tenant digital portal and as a result, 97% transact online. The digital portal has had an added benefit for Birmingham City Council – it has helped it to reduce rent arrears by £134k.


The Richmond Housing Partnership has also moved towards adopting a digital housing solution, where currently 60% of all tenancy transactions are carried out online. It has reported that this channel shift has led to improved customer satisfaction and a 40% reduction in the operational cost per unit.


3. Flexible and remote working

Introducing digital technology can allow roles within organisations to change and become more customer focused. Take Neighbourhood Housing Officers. Currently, much of an NHO’s time is spent on non-customer facing activities and travelling between jobs. Only a small proportion of it is spent actively managing the assets and acquiring new tenants. The remainder is taken up by responsive activities. Giving NHOs digital tools to log issues and incidents remotely, can free them up to manage properties/estates and allow them to become more customer facing.


In addition, digital tools combined with better IT systems can allow NHOs to work flexibly, and in some cases remotely. This will reduce their time spent travelling and also reduce the costs associated with travel which are incurred by the housing provider.


Bristol City Council has adopted digital technology which has taken 60 of its Neighbourhood Managers out of the office and made them completely mobile. Aided by tablets, its Neighbourhood Managers now log all incidents and issues they come across remotely. The ‘Facilities Reduction Programme’ is set to save the council £10 million during the next three years.


4. Digital by default

The Government’s ‘Digital by Default’ campaign is spearheading the move for its departments to go digital, in the expectation of deriving £1.8billion of cost-savings a year. This message is filtering through to housing providers who are under pressure to provide greater value for money and efficiency in an environment where there are reduced subsidies, benefit cuts and imposed rent reductions.


Optivo, one of the largest housing providers in the UK, has been on a digital transformation journey for more than four years. The major housing provider, which houses more than 90,000 people in London, the Midlands and the South East, has an aim of using digital to become ‘an organisation renowned for customer service’. It says that currently 35% of its tenants are signed up to online services, but it hopes that by 2020 60% will be according to its 2017-2020 Strategic Plan. As part of its digital strategy, it is encouraging residents (who can) to go online to pay their rent, order and track repairs, and get information about their tenancy. So far in facilitating this, they’ve reduced calls to their customer support centre, now manage up to 10% of repairs online, and have driven significant cost reductions across the business.  


ORM's view 

Customer expectations are changing with increasing demand for greater ease, flexibility, speed and efficiency. By using technology to automate processes, housing providers can offer more and better services online, whilst ultimately driving the much-needed cost savings they are under pressure to deliver.