Last year, ForHousing introduced the MyAccount+ app for tenants to use when contacting the landlord. Jenny Chapman, group director of innovation and excellence, explains the nature of the data it is collecting and how it is being used. Picture by Getty
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Across the sector, housing providers collect large amounts of data as a core part of their business activities. Effective use of this data is important because it allows for better decision-making and the opportunity to improve outcomes by providing tailored and tenant-appropriate services, while reducing operating costs.
ForHousing has 24,000 homes and wants to improve its tenants’ experience and have a positive impact on their lives. It has previously held data in multiple systems, but has had no simple way to bring the systems together and deliver analysis to support data-driven decisions – this is something it wanted to change.
What digital services does ForHousing use to help residents?
Digital innovation is an increasingly important factor within the housing sector and we are keen to be on the front foot, encouraging tenants to use digital services more frequently. Digital platforms and self-service tools are a crucial step in empowering tenants to support themselves to give them a feeling of greater control over their home.
About a year ago, we launched the MyAccount+ app as another route for tenants to contact us more easily, quickly and with greater transparency. It has been a joy to witness tenants who were not frequent users of technology, or were perhaps reluctant to move from the traditional routes of contact, embrace digital offerings such as the app, the new ForHousing website, ‘tech and tea’ events, and other digital access points, such as webchats and social media platforms like Facebook and Snapchat, really getting involved in the technology shift.
The advantage of these digital services is that they’re available 24/7 so tenants can contact us when they choose and when it is most convenient for them.
We are also in the early stages of investing in a broadband solution for tenants as we’ve realised many tenants are not digitally connected. We aim to have this complete and in place by 2020. Other options we’re looking at include tablet lending and communal wi-fi initiatives.
What technology innovations have you developed to offer an improved experience for residents?
We are currently in the stages of developing a business intelligence dashboard that will allow us to understand a tenant’s digital journey from beginning to end.
We’re also going to be making better use of data. We have agreed with Hitachi an on-site incremental and collaborative approach to development that will ensure maximum knowledge transfer to the ForHousing team.
Ongoing discussions are continually highlighting opportunities for this work to play an integral role in supporting a growing number of initiatives, such as a better understanding of interactions with tenants in sheltered housing.
There is also Passport to Wellbeing, a first-of-its-kind, hyper-local social prescribing project in Ellesmere Port. Led by ForHousing and using the Elemental Software digital platform, GPs can refer tenants to a well-being team which can offer health and lifestyle activities such as gardening, and also money advice and counselling.
How did ForHousing go about evaluating its digital services?
We started with a problem statement: is the app doing for us what we wanted it to do? Were we shifting people’s behaviour?
What we discovered almost immediately was that the answer is no. Sixty per cent of the calls we receive from tenants are related to repairs: we had 54,000 cases this year and only 4,000 were dealt with exclusively by digital channels. We’ve also received 13,500 enquires about rent and only 1,000 of these were via digital. Probably the lowest ratio was for the 12,650 tenants who contacted us about heating issues – only 650 of these were through digital.
We wanted to find out who was using the app and what they were using it for, and more importantly, who wasn’t using it. Power BI allows us to do this very quickly. Data can be consolidated from multiple sources in a dataset that can be analysed using various slices and filters.
In other words, it means it’s easier for us to make better, more informed decisions and answer a whole range of questions about tenants that we would not otherwise be in a position to do.
What did you discover from the research about how residents are interacting with the services you already offer?
We were hoping that those tenants who could connect with us digitally would do so and that by using our automated services it would increase the time that service centre staff had to help tenants who needed a stronger relationship – we know that 27% of our tenants have never contacted us digitally and that this group has contacted us 148,000 times by phone.
However what we saw on the dashboard is that people weren’t shifting their behaviour. We simply gave tenants more channels – they were calling us, contacting us digitally and sending emails and webchat messages. So, in effect, we were creating increased demand on our service centre.
The website and live webchat usage is increasing each month and is fast becoming our most utilised digital platform. The data collected shows that we’ve received 58,000 digital contacts from tenants who haven’t registered for the app.
Feedback from tenants highlights that the real-time convenience with an instant response makes it popular.
The good point about using the dashboard to test the value of this is that it has given us insight on how to best build our services.
It has made us ask why people are still using the phone. We think this is because we’re successful at handling issues over the phone so there’s no incentive to use other channels. This has made us realise that perhaps we need to alter our call centre services and measure the success of our performance in a different way, such as reducing call waiting times.
Did it highlight anything that you didn’t previously know about your residents?
Tenants are keen to have real-time services, such as the ability to manage their own repairs schedule, which usually would have been handled by the service centre.
MyAccount+ is in the early stages of development and in summer 2020 we are planning to launch a version two that will enable tenants to take control of their tenancy in new ways, allowing them the opportunity to reschedule and book their own appointments.
How has this knowledge influenced how you would like to shape your digital services for future use?
We have to listen to tenants. They will be the driver in how we shape digital services in the future.
The next dashboard that we are hoping to set up is one that works between the tenant and the contractor for repairs and we’re going to pull some data from our complaints system. We want increased visibility on all areas of the business so that we can project where we’re going.
It’s about real-time data so that we can make improvements as we go along, rather than retrospectively after receiving tenant feedback via surveys because actually we do already know this, we just haven’t had the data presented in a useable format.
Tenant voice is paramount for ForHousing in deciding future technological and digital investments. We are committed to providing imaginative solutions to ever-changing housing needs.
Ciara McMillan, industry director for housing, Hitachi Solutions
The challenge is on for housing associations to create an effortless digital experience for customers. Everyone’s striving for better service at a significantly lower cost.
But in the rush to achieve this goal, I’ve witnessed businesses falling into the trap of making assumptions that go on to cost them substantial amounts of time and money.
It’s time to stop making decisions about your digital customer experience based on what you think you know, even if you are under pressure to move things forward quickly. Instead, take a pause, look in depth at the data you have, and then use this insight to drive your decisions.
Don’t be drawn in to implementing lots of new technologies and services until you know how your current digital landscape is making a difference to customers and your business. Base your strategy on facts, not assumptions.
That’s exactly what ForViva wanted to do when it approached Hitachi Solutions to help it use its data to build a picture of ForHousing’s interactions with its tenants.
Using Microsoft Power BI, we initiated a ‘starter for 10’ that meant we spent 10 days uncovering data insights that turned assumptions on their head.
ForViva’s experience highlights how housing associations should use data to create the most effective digital customer experience.
Interrogate your existing data in a way that challenges your assumptions — not only might it throw up some surprises, but what you learn will help you channel your spending to where it can best drive your service forward.
ForViva’s smart approach is an ideal example of how to use data to ensure your digital transformation decisions are based on facts rather than assumptions.
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