How can better digital allow Housing Associations to provide a service of excellence?

Digital Inclusion and Digital Transformation are terms you’ll be more than familiar with if you work in Social Housing. These phrases have been bandied around for a while now. But have these objectives been truly embraced and adopted by Housing Providers? With 0.1-1 per cent of their annual turnover going on digital inclusion projects, one would argue it’s being talked about but not acted upon.

Associations on high alert

The recent Grenfell fire has put all Housing Associations on high alert. It was certainly one of the main topics of conversation when we exhibited at the annual Chartered Institute of Housing Conference in June. We were at the conference to speak with the sector about digital trends and some of the website projects we’ve been working on. It was an opportunity for us to catch up with many of our existing clients and also discuss projects with new potential partners. The three days went quickly, packed with presentations and discussions. However it wasn’t just the dark rain clouds in Manchester that evoked a dampened mood.

It has not been an easy few years for this sector and I’m sure that everyone hopes the current climate will improve. This leads us to a question many people are asking right now. How can we make things better?

The disconnect

The tabloids have picked up on an underlying issue which they’re now pulling and prodding at. A disconnect between tenants and some social housing providers. I re-iterate the word “some”. We work a lot in Social Housing so we know first-hand how many associations have worked tirelessly to better connect with their tenants and NetConstruct have helped them achieve this. But within the sector as a whole it seems that there is a lack of understanding. This is a time when associations need to take a step back and re-assess their current digital strategy and thinking. Right now something isn’t working.

Increasing engagement

Before any web project we’ll do in-depth research on the audiences we’re looking to help and engage with. We go back to your user-base and ask questions that have often not been asked for many years. Tenants need to be asked meaningful and insightful questions, listened to and challenged in an effort to uncover genuine thoughts, feelings and issues. With the right systems in place we can then start to collate this information and better plan for what needs to be done both now and in the future.

We work with systems like Kentico EMS to build a profile of web users. From here we’re able to engage with audiences more effectively. We can position the most relevant content at the forefront of their digital experience and start to be proactive rather than reactive. Can we spot a tenant who is about to go into arrears and act upon it before we have to serve a formal notice? With the right tools in place we can achieve this and much more. It requires thought, ambition and the acceptance that we must communicate more with those who we are looking to help.

Bridging the gap

Increasing online engagement is an objective for many associations. Done correctly this will help and not hinder the idea of connecting providers with its tenants. Through personalised user experiences and digital inclusion Social Housing can make the lives of its customers easier. It also drives future thinking and planning because you have the data to work with, interpret and act upon. Being better digitally means they can start to bridge the gap and offer a better service. And I think we can all agree that this is something that’s desperately needed at a time when we would all like to be better connected.