Roger Birkinshaw, Director of Housing at Northgate Public Services, talks about how merging providers can use technology to keep tenants at the heart of what they do. Article featured in 24 housing
When managed well, mergers between housing providers can bring benefits to the growing organisation and its tenants.
But there is often a fear that with growth, customer service can suffer – that a larger provider might lose sight of the needs of individual tenants.
An increase in customers post-merger, means it is vital for housing officers to be able to access reliable and current data.
Data that will enable customer service agents to have access to the full history of dealings with a tenant, so service is just as personal as before – or even more so.
But that means at the time of the merger, IT needs to be made a higher priority than perhaps it has been in many mergers.
Often the “make do and mend” approach to systems is adopted as there is so much other work to do to make the merger a success.
Tempting though it might be to adopt a quick fix solution and join two systems together, it can result in endless repairs to often outdated systems that should have been replaced from the beginning.
Instead if IT is prioritised from the outset, the goal of an integrated system bringing data together from two organisations can be achieved and employees can respond to the changes brought about by the merger more quickly, reducing costs.
They will also spend less time dealing with complaints and more time on finding the best ways to support their tenants.
This results in a situation more closely aligned with the holy grail following a merger – to be able to resolve more queries at the first point of contact and offer an enhanced service for customers at a lower cost.
Staff can manage the diversity of a customer’s needs and help them build more positive relationships with tenants, by providing better support.
Likewise, the system can be designed from day one from what the customer needs rather than ‘what the system is able to do’.
The chances are your customers want to contact you by SMS, Facebook or via a portal.
If your system is designed with what the customer wants in mind from the start, you not only have happy customers but increase the options for self-service to boost efficiency, often reducing the need for tenants to call the help desk or attend face-to-face meetings.
This frees up time for employees to support more vulnerable customers and those who are not currently online.
When two organisations merge, one of the biggest challenges is streamlining different cultures and work processes, while ensuring good service to a larger customer base.
The right technology can help achieve these aims by putting the customer firmly at the centre and ensuring they are dealt with effectively from the outset