There have been discussions about omni-channel communications within the housing sector, the challenges, benefits and best practices since as early as 2013. With many housing associations taking on digital inclusion research and piloting various social media strategies with varying levels of success and take up across the sector. In 2016, the Guardian wrote an article about social housing tenants taking to social media across the UK with varying levels of interaction with their housing associations.

Those working in the housing sector often share best practice and original approaches between organisations. While most will agree that while there is always an appetite to innovate and use emerging technologies to provide a great service to tenants, the success factors in housing for most new IT ventures usually comes down to three key questions:

1. Does it reduce cost?
2. Does it improve the service to tenants/customers?
3. Will it work with our current systems?

With budgets a continuous challenge within the housing sector, along with the requirement to lower rents by 1% year-on-year, any senior figure within a housing provider calling for buy in to a new project must justify how it will pay for itself in the long term. Most housing associations will have social media accounts which they use to actively post updates and news, but this requires staff to be pulled away from the core work of customer service or hired in to work on social media, draining precious resources and time.

While many providers will agree that the more channels to communicate with customers the better, social media is used primarily as a tool to share news with tenants and not much more. The channels help get important updates out quickly but due to varying levels of access to social media, landlords cannot use this platform alone for any announcement or service. Social media as a tool for communication is only a piece of the puzzle, and its use can easily feel superficial if not tied to a wider digital business plan.

According to Nick Atkin, Group Chief Executive qt at Halton Housing, 81% of Halton Housing’s customers have access to the internet, with 61% having accessed their services digitally since April 2017. This does show a shifting mindset and how digital works well within social housing, when business leaders buy into the project as part of an ongoing business strategy. While it is true that there will always be a requirement for face-to-face or over the phone customer service, a holistic solution that ties together web chat, social media and phone/meeting based interactions with tenants is regarded as the ‘holy grail’.

This is where cloudThing’s solution using Microsoft Social Engagement can add value to a Housing organisation. This modular, scalable piece of software works as an add on to your existing infrastructure. Thanks to some clever integration between Dynamics 365, social media APIs, other case management systems and resource management systems such as Dynamic Resource Scheduler (DRS). The software helps organisations sift through the ocean of tweets, Facebook posts and more to identify, triage and flag those using social media to report an issue such as a responsive repair, ASB (anti-social-behaviour) or make a complaint.

cloudThing pioneered the application of this technology, which combines machine learning and case management to automate the management of enquiries coming through social media. It has already been adopted by some Police forces in the UK looking to automate the reporting of crime on social media, by training the service to look for key phrases and accounts to make sure customer service teams do not miss the messages that matter.

The solution can be modified to fit your existing contact centre processes and integrate with resource management systems you are currently using. A tenant can report a broken boiler over Twitter or Facebook and before a human has seen this message, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can identify the account and flag that there are children or elderly people within the home, so it needs urgent repair. The solution then responds with an automated recognition of the message and provides a case reference number in friendly, natural language. Contact centre agents can simply oversee this process through a dashboard to monitor the tweets and cases actioned by AI, as it is integrated into the case management systems they are familiar with.

When AI is able to perform the heavy-lifting of monitoring and responding to social media, contact centre staff can focus more on calls whilst responding to the high priority cases. Social media can now offer real business value to an organisation as it is used as a tool to save cost, increase service efficiency and integrate into existing processes. The service ensures that social media ties into the wider Digital and Business plan, rather than a siloed additional burden on the organisation.

As a modular, pre-built solution, cloudThing can tailor the solution to your business needs and deliver the project (including any integration, bespoke dev or UX requirements) on a fixed price basis ensuring complete control of costs. The natural integration into your existing systems means that you can quickly respond to high priority cases and the staff do not need to learn an entirely new case management system or process. The system can generate a report of cases raised through social media, to ensure auditable proof is available of all action taken, from a case raised via social media, to an engineer at the door of a customer and completion of the service call.

With leaders in the sector looking to ensure that 90% of service requests come through digital by the end of 2018, there is a great divide forming in how services are delivered across the sector. With the rollout of Universal Credit, putting social media at the forefront of strategy is a cost effective, scalable way of connecting with tenants through multiple channels, whilst ensuring consistent service is delivered for less money.