Saturday, 31 March 2012

Channel Z

If you do the Twitter thing, follow me at @hotpixUK

Channel shifting is a recent phrase that many organisations and IS teams have recently been given to wrestle with. I have even been at a rather excellent presentation extolling the virtues of moving enquiries from expensive to less expensive channels. Often the process is that consumers start the initiative, business follows, then public sector get on the bus last of all.

As at 2010, the last time anyone appears to have checked, the costs of a face to face transaction was around £8.70, call centre £1.65 and website, just five pence. They say that there are damn lies and statistics. Quite rightly I cannot find the source of these taken from a Capita presentation, but it shows that this strategy has some legs. Volumes were not quoted, if they were I think we would have learnt marginally more.

I have seen the process at first hand. At one software demonstration I was involved in, residents lined up to tap at the satellite office window, trying to gain entry. It was explained that the room we were in was an area office, closed 3 months ago and these residents should be calling the 0845 number or visiting the head office in town, six miles away.

It made me smile as I could imagine my old mum doing something like that. If she was still alive today I could imagine she would be avoiding the internet with a vengeance. The internet and web access is often touted as one of the preferred channels for driving contact to. The government ICT strategy from March 2011 Government states it “will work to make citizen-focused transactional services ‘digital by default’ “.  Buoyed by the success of on-line tax returns and DVLA tax disc renewals, surely it’s the right way to go?

RSL’s are positive and receptive to this. There are many solutions out there too, so it should not be so taxing for the IS team to sort this for you. Most of the more switched on HMS suppliers have an out of the box internet facing solution for your residents these days. Also a few other third party solutions out there, such as SeeMyData. The more adventurous can also go down the DIY route. So what might be best for you?

It all depends on cost, how it’s to be supported (if it’s a package, that’s less of an issue, just pay your annual maintenance), what features you want to expose, do you want to reach just tenants or anyone in your contacts database, importantly how much do you want or need to customise? Remember, if you build it yourself, the application should be properly documented, so you are not vulnerable to staff changes or other risks.

Many solutions effectively utilise a data warehouse (a bit of a grand term, maybe just six tables populated overnight). While this can create resilience (ie if your main system goes down, your residents still have access), if you have a problem populating it, you lose service for some hours or days. Also you can be tied down to a limited set of tables and columns.

The ideal solution would be an out of the box solution from your HMS supplier, flexible and expandable to beyond your HMS tables & modules. For example, could you add additional info to the CMS like TP activity or locality info? Direct interactivity is a must too. If a customer can submit a query direct to the CRM or customer service team (as a call), rather than submit an email into some remote box, checked and emptied twice a day, that’s real joined up thinking. Also, can it easily be accessed in a mobile device browser, such as Safari on iPhone. Maybe even an app for Android or Apple IOS on ipad or iPhone.

Don’t forget security either. How will you sign up residents and contacts, what password and username arrangements will you need. Will you opt them all in, or ask them to sign up? Be sure to have your data protection lady as part of the project team. I just know she will have an interest! For goodness sake, don’t make it too hard though. Many solutions can be vulnerable to SQL injection attack too. Have someone in to undertake a belt and braces penetration test. It can reduce much embarrassment later.

One big disappointment with most channel shifting projects, is the terrible lack of take up. To take a solution at £1 a year per resident sounds good value, but not if the take up is only 270 people. If you manage 30,000 properties that works out at £111 each. Blimey, you could have nearly 3,500 face to face transactions for that. So what is the secret of getting your customers engaged?

Well, give them something useful. Make sure they have access to see their repairs and others in their block, close or scheme. Same with planned works, it’s great to see what’s going on in the neighbourhood and how it might affect you.  Access to rent account and rent changes is great if you are a leaseholder or not on HB. Ability to see local events is useful; parking suspensions or community events etc. ASB and the ability to see locally what issues are in play or to log ASB diary entries would attract me to log on more often. Also if you are a RSL with training and other initiatives in the community, promoting those via the web channel, as well as the usual CBL opportunities, is one more reason for your customers to engage.

Worth a mention here too, is digital exclusion. A big issue for older, unemployed and social housing residents in particular. Some RSL’s are tackling this by adding WiFi into schemes and doing tie-ups with charities such as ‘Help The Aged’ and others. Recent research suggests that over 60% of the over 65’s have never used the internet. For the unemployed 76% use the telephone and 10% attend the office whilst only 13% use the web/email. Only 10% of council house tenants and 6% of housing association tenants use the web/email.

In summary, I am sure it’s essential the RSL truly understands what customer service means and is dedicated to providing the lowest cost service of the kind that residents actually want. Internet/smartphone is part of that jigsaw, remember it’s not a silver bullet, just a chunk of what will be a piece of the overall ying and yang. Oh and keep an eye on your ROI. Essential before initiating any project of this type.

Read on to : Service Charges, how are yours managed?

Channel shifting, its not new, I am sure they have had it in Athens GA too.


(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting

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