05th July 2018
Golding Homes, based in the heart of Kent, provides services to over 20,000 customers and owns and manages 7,323 properties across eight local authorities.
It also offers accommodation for rent, shared ownership and private housing in rural and urban Kent. Its corporate plan to 2020 sets out its vision to achieve growth and deliver excellent customer services, with key services and information being easier to access.
Behind the scenes, as with any customer-facing organisation, technological effciency is a pressing matter. How do you capitalise on digital technologies to provide more efficient customer services and balance this against the cost to invest, serve customers, while minimising business disruption?
The drive for digital
Sarah Dey, Head of Customer Services at Golding Homes says,
‘Ideally, at the front end, we want customers accessing our services to get what they need, simply and efficiently. We also want, at the back end, to make sure our systems can work together. There’s little point in a customer duplicating information in several digital touchpoints.’
Since the new Chief Executive arrived in 2017, change has been in the air. Internal processes are being reviewed, with the aim to achieve lean; creating more value for customers with fewer resources. Golding receives 140,000 calls every year and the target is to reduce these by 50 percent. To do this, means bringing people online. Sarah knew Jo Sedley-Burke, Sovereign’s Managing Director, so introduced Sovereign to Golding Homes.
As an established ICT business services organisation, that has worked with housing providers for over 20 years, it was well-placed to respond to the request for how it could assist with the procurement of a new corporate website and customer portal, to improve access to services. In addition, a technical appraisal was proposed to audit the current environment and analyse how the new solution would best deliver services to customers and streamline back office processes.
Making sense of all the IT systems
Golding Homes has been using Orchard’s housing management, CRM and Contact Manager as the key IT systems supporting their housing function. Other systems are used, providing mobile access, document management and asset management as well as the repair contractor’s system.
Today there is a great sense of enthusiasm as the customer portal procurement process is now underway. Several workshops to gather information, will ensure it is able to interface with as many other IT systems as possible, not just Orchard. It is also designed to discover what it is that people want to know, when they call.
As you would expect, this can range from rent payments and information, booking of repairs, ASB complaints, setting up direct debits or updating tenancy information, to various permissions, i.e. for pets, satellite dishes and online surveys.
Making full use of digital means that, in future, a customer will be able to take and upload a photo, video and documents, to report a repair, book an appointment cutting down the time to report/explain, and ensuring the maintenance person is adequately equipped to fix it. Call backs will decrease, reducing the time required to serve.
Using technology to keep it simple
In an ideal world switching to online should make life simpler and there is a great emphasis from the Golding team to achieve this. Including things like printing rent statements or how to fill out a housing application form. The other aspiration is to be able to enhance communications with customers – for instance, a pop up appears as they log on to tell them their Gas Safety inspection is due for renewal – so they do not miss an important deadline.
Jenny Shorter, Senior Consultant at Sovereign, is overseeing the procurement. As far as she is concerned, staff expectations are equally as important as the customer ones. She says,
“It’s absolutely critical, managing a project of this type, to get staff involved when it comes to looking at the possibility for portals, the providers that are out there. Their day-to-day expertise with customers comes into its own, as they’ll have a good idea what will work for them.”
Additionally, it is also important that any contractor interface is part of the proposition. If it is about maintenance or repairs, they are ‘on the page’ in tandem with Golding.
Once this has been achieved, it makes sense to include other stakeholders, such as users. It also makes sense to include leaseholders, customers of Golding Places, as its website presently operates outside of the Golding Homes one.
Creating efficiencies in housing processes
As Sarah points out,
“Ultimately, it’s about looking at processes and how to provide information, to remove direct contact that can be avoided. For example, when someone books a repair, the tracking should be web-based. Or, an app for the customer, with text options, would be the ideal integration.”
To help Golding ensure it has explored all that it thinks it needs in this discovery phase, Jenny Shorter has offered to set up a visit to another Sovereign client based in Buckinghamshire. She sees synergies between the two organisations. Seeing what the other housing provider has achieved, will help to build the bigger picture of what can be accomplished at Golding Homes.
Once the customer portal is nearing completion, there will be a drive to ensure the corporate website, also fits into the bigger digital picture. With this piece of the puzzle in place, a seamless digital customer interface, is definitely achievable.
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