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How do you get your customers to self-serve?

Self-service is now an integral part of our daily lives. Self-service check outs at supermarkets are second nature and in banking, self-service apps are ubiquitous.

It is now commonplace to book medical appointments online and to receive texts reminding you to attend.  Naturally, this sets a marvellous precedent for social housing.

There have been many technology advances that have impacted social housing: digital by default, IoT, big data and cloud to name just a few, where each raises both challenges and opportunities.  However, of all of these, it is self-service that is likely to have the greatest impact, whether through customer portals or dedicated apps.

At Aareon we have a number of customers who have pioneered self-service, such as Raven Housing, Thrive Homes, Thenue and Halton Housing.  Their aim is to encourage the majority of customers to manage their accounts online.  This significantly reduces the transactional demand on the organisation, particularly around call-centre costs where staffing and 'on-costs' such as office space are significant.

What's they key to the widespread adoption of self-service technology?

It is a process of changing customers hearts and minds to convert desire into action.  To effect this change, there are three areas to address.

omni-channel marketing

I'm always impressed by the marketing ingenuity of housing providers to drive self-service use. There are traditional methods such as advertising, PR and direct mail. Even more interesting though, is when housing providers add targeted customer messages to their vans or print them on rent statements.  Others product slick social media content to emphasis the benefits.

online content and service availability

There is now an enormous range of information and a plethora of services that can be accessed through self-service systems.  For example, customers can update contact details: view rent statements, balances and arrears: make payments: request and schedule repairs and view repairs history: generate electrical and gas certificates: log estate issues and anti-social behavious: rent garages: upload photos and videos (eg. grafitti or fly-tipping).

To be effective though, all of these need to be viewable simultaneously within an online 360-degree dashboard, ensuring that all customer requests, actions and opportunities are contextual and holistic.

professional UX and UI

when housing systems were first developed, they were by an IT supplier for a housing provider ie. business to business (b2b).  By contrast, self-service is business to consumer (b2c).  Such systems only work properly if they are extremely easy to use.  Consumers are quite knowedlgeable today and they have high usability expectations.  The failure to recognise this inhibits adoption and damages credibility.

At Aareon we need to get this right first time with best practice technology.  We need to develop agile systems that housing providers could tailor to customers' needs. 

The emergence of self-service at the operational heart of social housing customer management will certainly evolve further, delivering even more benefits to customers who need it most.  This in itself is a worthy and valid outcome, but add in efficiency savings and heightened value-for-money delivered through business case is complete.  Much of the success of self-service will be driven by inclusion and be fine-tuning the marketing campaings used to persuade customer to adopt it. In a away through, by making b2c interface so easy to use the chances are that it ultimately could be ucstomer demand itself leading housing providers to offer even more self-help.

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