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How housing associations are navigating digital self-service

Sponsored by Prodo

Rob Walker, head of product and marketing at Prodo, argues that there is still a very big role for self-service to play in the housing sector

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Self-service is ideal for small organisations as it not only gives customers access to services but gives staff more time for other jobs (sponsored) #UKHousing

Research undertaken in the housing sector indicates that associations aren't making the most of digital channels (sponsored) #UKHousing

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Digital self-service, whether we recognise it or not, is part of the fabric of our everyday lives. As a concept, it affects not only how we interact with providers of goods and services, but also what we expect from them.

The idea of customers dealing with an organisation without directly interacting with a member of staff is certainly not new. It is no secret either that self-service can save businesses money. But for a growing group of us, having that choice is not a ‘nice-to-have’, but an inherent expectation.

Housing associations face many of the same challenges as their counterparts outside the sector, including the drive in the face of a challenging economic landscape to increase efficiencies and make tangible operational savings through initiatives to shift customers to new channels. Many of their customers, too, are already used to self-service with other organisations.

Without exception, all the associations we have worked with over the past 16 years have a strong focus on providing excellent customer service and strive to make it as easy as possible for customers to access their services. In many cases, this means offering contact by phone or in person. But for a growing majority, there is a preference to transact online.

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Housing is ultimately about people and the need for human contact in the sector has never been more important. Nevertheless, there is still a very big role for self-service to play – by providing an extra channel through which customers can access core services and information, self-service frees staff from routine, repeatable queries to dedicate more time to those who need it the most.

Most housing associations now have self-service facilities. But our research suggests their customers are not using them. Our survey of 205 housing sector workers across 87 housing associations also revealed that more than 45% invest little to no effort in continuous monitoring and improvement of digital channels for customers.

We’ve built many self-service portals – fully integrated, bespoke systems that are easy for customers to use. But this type of quality solution has not always been within the reach of smaller associations, which often lack the resources needed to make this ideal a reality.

We were determined to address this challenge to help level the playing field in self-service across the sector. Our answer is based on 20 years’ digital experience gained through thousands of user-focused projects both inside and outside the housing sector.

This subscription-based, self-service portal for housing associations of all sizes is called Franklin. Franklin’s tenant-focused user interface is customisable to fit any brand, works on any device and provides tenants with secure, personal accounts through which they can access a full suite of self-service functionality, including rent and fully automated end-to-end repairs.

We’ve made Franklin available in four subscription tiers to suit any budget – one of which is free to organisations with fewer than 250 homes.

A Franklin portal can be up and running in just three to four minutes – that’s less time than it takes to make a good cup of tea, but more than enough to empower any housing association to place a self-service channel of choice in the hands of its tenants.

Rob Walker, head of product and marketing, Prodo

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