Getting your own home is a big step in anyone’s life. It involves signing binding documents and making commitments and promises that you’ll look after the place you’re going to live. This is certainly the case for Sovereign’s tenants. And that can be scary.
In the lettings team it was our job to attract, welcome and sign up new customers. The way we did it had been established for many years. We held our tenants’ hands, leading them through a process that involved lots of meetings and lots of documents, all printed out and posted at great expense. By our own reckoning we sent 28,000 pieces of paper a year. We were the experts, telling tenants how moving in ‘should be done’.
But the world is moving on. By 2022, around 80% of the UK population will use a smart phone or mobile device, rising to 97% for people aged between 16-24. Our customers didn’t want leaflets and meetings any more. In fact, they made it plain that they wanted us to get online, pronto. They still wanted our support, but they wanted us to just back off a little. When our lettings team were told that we would become a paperless department, you could hear the screams for miles around. Paper and folders were our comfort blanket.
Our customers wanted to interact with us at a time and place of their choosing. They wanted information at their fingertips, not time off work for numerous appointments. So the team began mapping the lettings process; letters to be sent, topics to cover. Designing the package in-house meant no cost and few frills. We started slowly, with just a couple of texts and emails. But once we’d begun, things snowballed. We now have 19 text message options in our automated system. Our dedicated web page, with handy PDF and video guides, can be accessed at any time.
Thanks to embracing this technological change, we’ve moved away from an unsustainable parent / child relationship to having adult to adult conversations with our tenants. By better informing our residents, they’re better prepared for our appointments, knowing the documents they should bring along and what will be expected of them. We’re also saving the environment, time and money.
Our on-line induction replaces face to face sign-ups – and proof of understanding must be demonstrated before tenants can accept their new property. A work-book explains complicated concepts. They can’t just sit back and be talked at, waiting impatiently to get their keys. Proof of passing the test is emailed to the customer and to us, before they can ‘pass go’ and move in.
The feedback we’ve received is positive. Residents like communicating this way, the immediate responses they receive. Our teams are happy, as they can see the efficiency of going online. In turn, this means we get to spend more time on those residents who do still like us – or need us – to hold their hand a little bit, as they make these big life decisions.
I was prompted to write this blog after entering the Inside Housing Rising Star award, which celebrates the social housing sector. If you’ve got a minute, please vote for me. Votes close on 18 May 2018.