As rent controls squeeze its income from social housing, Origin is plugging the gap by selling and letting more properties at market rates – a model that demands a superior level of customer service.
Working with IBM and Microsoft, Origin is transforming its customer service to deliver faster, more-helpful responses to enquiries from tenants and homeowners.
60%of enquiries resolved at first point of contact
94.5%of queries resolved overall
75%of customers responded to within agreed service levels
Business challenge story
Change is afoot
In the United Kingdom, associations such as Origin Housing provide low-cost social housing for people in need of a home. The organizations are private and not-for-profit, and they invest any trade surplus in building new homes and maintaining their existing housing stock.
In 2015, the UK government introduced new rules forcing housing associations to reduce the rent payable by their tenants by one percent each year from 2016 to 2020. As a result of these changes, Origin is facing an income shortfall of GBP 3 million by 2020.
Housing associations also expect their incomes to be reduced as the government consolidates various means-tested welfare benefits into a single payment known as Universal Credit. In the past, people who qualified for social housing had some or all of their rent paid by the local authority directly to the housing association. Under Universal Credit, social tenants will be obliged to pay their own rent – and housing associations expect to encounter greater difficulty collecting payments and consequent higher levels of rent arrears.
To continue financing new homes and maintaining its existing properties, Origin must bridge its income gap. Its strategy is to boost levels of cross-subsidy from other revenue-generating operations. This may include property developments with an increased proportion of homes for outright sale and shared ownership, raising rent on some properties closer to market levels, and selling off some assets.
This shift towards an increasingly commercial way of managing properties presents Origin with fresh challenges in terms of customer service.
Cathy McCarthy, Director of Corporate Services at Origin, begins: “People who purchase properties outright or through shared ownership, or those who are paying close to market rent, have much greater choice in where they live. To win and retain their business, we need to up our game in terms of customer service.
“Previously, we managed customer enquiries using our legacy housing management system. Because the system lacked sophisticated functionality and was not used consistently across the business, we lacked a clear view of the issues that customers faced, how long the problems had persisted, and how long it took us to resolve them.
“To raise standards, we first needed to identify where the problems lay. We set out to find a solution that could deliver greater visibility of resident enquiries across our property portfolio.”
Finding the right fit
After examining proposals from several vendors, Origin decided to deploy the IBM® Public Sector Solution for Microsoft Dynamics – Social Housing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution, which runs in the Microsoft Cloud. IBM Services provided on-site consultancy services during the implementation, helping Origin design and configure the solution to suit its business, and supplying training for Origin’s employees. The IBM Services team provided the technical know-how and knowledge transfer to guide Origin through the development of the enquiries process, so that the organization could develop further services with minimal dependence on third parties.
Mark Lordon, Assistant Director of IT and Office Services at Origin, recalls: “During the selection process, it became clear that IBM Public Sector Solution for Microsoft Dynamics – Social Housing was the best fit for the business, because it supported integration with our legacy systems, and featured a lot of our desired functionality out-of-the-box. By selecting a solution developed for social housing, we got a head start by buying the entities that we needed – such as people, properties and tenancies – and some relevant process templates.
“In our sector, most Microsoft Dynamics implementations have been done on-premises. We decided to follow the product’s roadmap and go for a cloud deployment, taking advantage of the latest functionality whenever new updates are released.
“We hit some bumps along the way, but IBM stepped up to the challenge and helped us to deploy a solution that would provide real value to our business.”
Thanks to two-way integration with Origin’s housing management system and document management platform, the IBM and Microsoft solution delivers a near-360-degree view of each customer across all tenures and service offerings. Once Origin has moved some remaining documents to the platform, it will achieve that elusive full visibility. What’s more, the solution offers an effective means for tracking and resolving customer enquiries, with progress measured against agreed service levels.
Paula Steel, Digital Product Manager at Origin Housing, adds: “The IBM and Microsoft solution helps around 150 employees across our customer-facing business units to find the information they need quickly. We focused on delivering high-quality in-house training to help staff use the solution proficiently. Our efforts are paying off, as user adherence is strong.”
Putting people first
Equipped with the IBM and Microsoft solution, Origin Housing is transforming the level of service it provides to tenants.
Paula Steel continues: “Within the first month of going live, we are already resolving 60 percent of customer enquiries at the first point of contact. Tenants are enjoying a better service, and we are reaping efficiencies by reducing the need to forward requests to specialist units such as the income-management team.
“Since the deployment, we have resolved 94.5 percent of customers’ enquiries, and responded to 75 percent of customers within agreed service levels. It’s still early days, but we are pleased with progress and eager to improve further in future.
“In those cases where we haven’t been able to resolve a request within agreed timescales, we can drill down into the data to identify the root of the problem. The end-to-end visibility afforded by the IBM and Microsoft solution is key to helping us pinpoint areas for improvement and target our efforts.”
The customer-service initiative is a key element of a broader business transformation going on at Origin.
Cathy McCarthy, Director of Corporate Services at Origin, explains: “We are transforming our business to improve customer service and reduce operational costs. For example, in the past we operated lots of small specialist teams – such as a separate income-management team for each type of tenancy. Now, we are bringing those teams together and equipping contact-center staff to solve basic enquiries immediately, so that we can grow our property portfolio without having to hire additional staff.
“By reducing our operational costs, we can plough more money back into maintaining our existing housing stock and acquiring new properties, providing high-quality services for growing numbers of residents as well as continuing stay true to our original charitable objectives, as a community based housing association, to make a difference to people’s lives.
The IBM and Microsoft solution lays the foundations for Origin to shift towards digital channels. For example, Origin is keen to improve its self-service online portal, so that digitally capable customers can complete tasks such as paying rent independently. The IBM Microsoft solution stores the data in a suitable form for it to be made available via an interactive portal.
Additionally, Origin is keen to enable mobile access to the CRM solution, to allow staff to view and update information – such as the status of repairs – when they are on-site in a customer's home.
Paula Steel concludes: “Our housing management system, which is where we previously recorded customer contact, did not have a good uptake by staff who managed customer enquiries, so we lacked visibility of what was going on. That has changed; staff are positive about the CRM solution, and are very engaged in bringing new ideas to the table on how to improve it. The challenge is prioritizing the initiatives and freeing up the resources to deliver them. We’ve made good progress already, and we’re now working with IBM and our business to make the most of IBM Public Sector Solution for Microsoft Dynamics – Social Housing for our staff and customers.”
About Origin Housing
Origin Housing is a registered social landlord that provides affordable housing plus related care and support services in London and Hertfordshire. The organization manages over 6,500 properties, generates annual revenues of around GBP 50 million, and employs more than 300 people.
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