Embracing the future

We’re planning for a digital future and making use of some innovative new tools. Sheila Starr, Assistant Director of Technology and Innovation explains.

When I originally set up our customer service team, I couldn’t have imagined the innovative directions we’d be driving the business towards 15 years later.

With my customer service background, I was always really keen to implement digital solutions for our customers. Back then it was things like setting up automated telephone systems, or streamlining email contact, and it makes me laugh now because it sounds so dated.

I was driving the agenda for customers to self-serve and one of the first ways we improved this was by implementing a customer online portal where they could pay their rent and see their statements – at the time we were ahead of the curve in social housing. We also then implemented Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which holds all customer information and all customer contact is tracked in one place. In my opinion, there’s often a misconception that social housing tenants aren’t online or ‘tech people’ – but this is not the case. Our customers are the same people who buy things on Amazon or who do their banking online.

So when I looked at ways we could improve our technology, I realised the wrong questions were being asked. If you asked someone if they had broadband, the answer might have been ’no’. But with nearly everyone on smart mobile devices, and things like Pay as You Go, the majority of our residents are accessing the internet in just the same way as you and me.


Looking ahead

We’re now planning for a future where we will develop self-service portals and internal automation services that are mobile friendly. Whatever we build now, we want it to be able to cope with future innovations. That’s why whatever solutions we develop we will make sure they link to the Internet of Things, which has vast potential to further improve our services.

Supporting our new corporate strategy is Future Thinking Now – our digital transformation programme where technology works with people to make magic happen. This includes reporting repairs online, tracking tradespeople, automating processes, removing duplication and paperwork, offering digital verification instead of wet signatures, and using Skype for Business so we can have video calls with residents. We will have an end-to-end online process to rent and buy homes and, longer term, we will be offering digital viewings of properties to people who can’t be there in person.

Crucially, any business efficiencies will be passed directly onto the quality of our customer service – we can free up staff time so that when we do need to speak in person we are better resourced to do so.


Watch this space

In the near future we’re going to make use of some amazing new tools at our disposal. Innovative technology is already available providing predictive services – predictive maintenance (where the boiler will tell you when it needs servicing), automatically sending tradespeople out to a property before a customer even knows there is a fault, and predictive reporting that will analyse usage habits around the home.

The Internet of Things is really exciting. There’s no reason why, sooner rather than later, we shouldn’t build houses that automatically send the repair job to a tradesman or even houses that repair themselves automatically.