Providing essential services for residents across the East Suffolk area, East Suffolk Council manages over 4,500 social housing properties, including 12 retired living schemes. The team at East Suffolk Council aim to become the best in class for social housing management and customer service.
With a focus on delivering an excellent service to tenants, East Suffolk Council wanted to provide a digital solution to customers which would allow them to access information and manage their tenancies online. With the government white paper “The charter for social housing residents” being introduced, evolving the council’s tenant engagement strategy was particularly important, and as part of a wider digital transformation, this would also help to streamline the council’s customer service processes.
As existing users of MRI’s Housing Enterprise (formerly Orchard Housing) social housing management solution, the team at East Suffolk Council opted for MRI Digital Tenants Portal, thanks to their already strong relationship with MRI.
The portal has the capability to allow tenants access to their tenancy agreements, repairs history, payment information, and account balance. It also allows customers to send secure messages directly to the customer service team on their own terms, without the need to find time within work hours.
With the new portal, called ‘myhome East Suffolk’ the team at East Suffolk Council are currently working on increasing registration rates among existing customers. With new customers being automatically signed up, and a campaign underway to encourage others to register, the council are already noticing benefits to customers.
Giving Control to Tenants
“What we wanted to achieve was transparency for the tenants, including full visibility of their rent account balance. This is their data, so I wanted them to be able to own their data.” – Lynne Thomas-Mead, Housing Transformation Programme Manager, East Suffolk Council
Through the Digital Tenants Portal, customers can now take more control over their tenancies, including managing their own accounts and spotting any discrepancies; one tenant even identified a total of £400 of overpayments on their account and was able to receive a refund. Giving tenants control over their own information not only means that they are more engaged in their tenancy but also call volume to the customer service centre is reduced, as answers to common questions can be accessed through the portal.
Implementing the Digital Tenants Portal is in many ways a response to current trends in customer behaviour, with many of East Suffolk’s tenants preferring more flexible methods of contact such as email or messaging rather than phone calls.
A clear sign that our telephone-led repair reporting process was cumbersome for the tenant, was that multiple repairs tended to be called in at once, suggesting that tenants found the process difficult and preferred to wait until it was unavoidable. East Suffolk Council hopes that the new customer portal will encourage tenants to report problems as and when they arise, reducing the risk of issues worsening before being reported.
The portal also means that those tenants who find it difficult to call during contact centre opening hours or who are unable to use the telephone can now contact the council and request repairs to their property more easily.
“We’ve had a comment passed to a housing officer from a new tenant, who was really pleased that they could report repairs or contact us online because they have autism and aren’t confident speaking over the phone.” – Martin Swan, Project Officer and Supervisor, Housing Support team, East Suffolk Council
While developing tenant engagement and delivering improved customer service is the team’s main goal, the Digital Tenants Portal is also delivering operational advantages.
With tenants being able to manage their tenancies online, fewer calls to the customer service centre mean that the support services team can refocus their resources away from everyday enquiries and simple processes towards solving more complex problems and providing personalised support to more vulnerable customers.
Administration and manual processes are also reduced, with direct debit instructions and other paperwork now being handled online.
Improved Customer Feedback
The team are planning to increase tenant engagement via the Digital Tenants Portal by making use of e-forms to administer tenant surveys. Having a direct line to customers via the portal means that tenant engagement can move from a few focus groups per year to more targeted and specific surveys to gather feedback on certain questions and issues.
“Evolving our tenant engagement strategy is important to us going forward, and we see the portal as being key to that,” – Samantha Shimmon, Tenancy Services Manager, East Suffolk Council.
Accurate, Useful Data
The use of the Digital Tenants Portal allows the team at East Suffolk Council access to a plethora of data, which can inform new initiatives and help them to deliver more personalised and targeted support to their tenants.
For instance, the team can gather data on portal users’ preferred first languages, which includes Romanian, Arabic, Polish, Italian, and Portuguese. The team can use this information to evaluate how they interact with tenants in future.
A Strong Partnership
Throughout the implementation of the Digital Services Portal, the teams at MRI and East Suffolk Council have developed a strong working relationship.
“Not everything was straightforward with our implementation because we wanted to introduce single sign-on integrated with our ‘myEastSuffolk’ accounts. We had to work closely with the [MRI] team to get that done, we have a good relationship and we were able to work through obstacles to the final solution.” – Stephanie Rogers, System Development Officer, East Suffolk Council
Looking to the Future
The team at East Suffolk Council are continuing to work towards their goal of being the best in class, which, going forward, includes building new properties for tenants and the monitoring of tenant feedback through the new portal to identify areas for improvement and further innovation. With more tenants comes the need for more technology to maintain and improve service levels, the team are looking at ways in which digital technologies can be utilised to form exclusively digital tenancies and deliver even better customer service.