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North-west social housing provider’s adoption of VerseOne’s powerful product suite leads to 300% rise in online transactions

AS the cost of living continues to rise, Regenda Homes’ core purpose is more important than ever.

Using award-winning ambition and innovation, the socially-aware housing association is dedicated to regenerating places which create opportunities for people.

At our Social Housing Customer Day, Nina Peters, Director of Business Transformation, explained the impact Regendas’ new online presence – particularly its pioneering self-service portal – has had on both clients and staff.

Effective customer portals have become a key part of successful digital strategy – with the best centred around the holy grail of customer service: the ability to help clients achieve their goals.

At our recent Social Housing Customer Day, Nina Peters from Liverpool-based Regenda Homes outlined the startling effect the association’s new self-service site has had on customer behaviour. Despite launching shortly before the pandemic, the portal and its unique CRM software have already transformed the way customers interact and connect with the team.

Since going live with the digital portal using the VerseOne Content management system, online transactions have increased by more than 300%, moving from a figure of £800,000 during the financial year 2018/19, to £3.3 million in 2020/21.

Other key stats highlighted by platform analysis include:

  • 79,000 self-service portal transactions have taken place in the past 12 months, identifying significant channel shift thanks to digital transformation
  • Over half of the self-service portal’s transactions are now made outside of working hours
  • The self-service portal’s VfM figure has been calculated at £0.69 per transaction, compared to £2.30 on the telephone
  • First-time telephone resolutions have now reached 89.7% – smashing a target of 75% – as staff now have more time to dedicate to a fewer number of calls

Nina explained to delegates why such impressive figures matter so much.

“We regenerate places and create opportunities for people. We have made some savings along the way, but our approach has been to invest and learn.

“We hoped that by designing the [self-service] portal based around what our customers needed and wanted, people would choose to use it over other options, and that has started to be the case.”

When Nina and Regenda Homes originally launched their digital strategy, they identified three themes central to their mission: excellent customer service, the ability to enable customers to help deliver Regenda’s plan, and easy access to big data.

“We wanted customers to be able to deliver our plan, to make it easier for staff to be able to deliver better customer service by having all the information they need at their hands,” she added.

“And the other big key thing for us in our digital strategy focused on big data – actually making the most of the data we hold. Could we use it more proactively so that we could predict and pre-empt what our customers’ needs might be?”

Regenda Homes has a track record of putting customer needs first. Within ten years of forming in 2001, it had brought together five housing associations serving clients throughout the north-west: West Pennine and the Limehurst Village Trust in Oldham, Templar in Macclesfield, Wyre in Poulton-le-Fylde, and Maritime in Liverpool. Working as one, Regenda quickly gained a reputation for innovation.

In the last few years, the group has grown both its scope and social conscience, welcoming homelessness charity the Petrus Community, Centre 56 – which delivers childcare for those suffering from domestic abuse – and personal development group Positive Footprints into its portfolio.

It now owns assets worth some £511 million and manages around 13,000 properties throughout the region. In short, Nina explained to Customer Day delegates, both customer service and the bottom line count.

“When we first started looking at some of the savings that we could potentially make through our digital strategy, we identified that if we managed to channel about 50% of our self-service repairs [through the portal], we could save around £80,000 per annum.

“And if we channel shifted 50% of our calls from the contact centre, we could save around a quarter of a million pounds per annum.

“But, because a lot of our feedback from customers told us they actually didn't want to go digital and they preferred to come into the office, and liked to speak to staff over the phone, we actually set our targets fairly low. So, our digital strategy targets for channel shift were actually 4% for the first year (2019/20), 8%, 12%, and 20% (2022/23).”

Of course, the path of true digital strategy never did run smooth, and Regenda’s journey, in reality, has been a little bumpier.

“In terms of our functionality, when we first set out, we were hoping to set out self-service repairs [online]. We already had functionality for customers to be able to pay their rent online, but it was a little clunky and it didn't look like you were actually going to a secure web page that could be trusted and that you'd want to put your credit card details into.

“So, the numbers and take-up were actually pretty low. For us it was about improving that and seeing how we could make it easier to build that trust for customers through the design and functionality of our customer portal.”

Although the Social Housing Customer Day saw Nina focus on the functionality of Regenda Homes’ platform, the overarching Regenda Group’s growth and focus on customer service has led to significant changes to their brand and digital platforms too. Forward-thinking staff partnered with VerseOne to research, design and deliver a rebrand, multiple new websites, and two customer account portals, while ensuring automated solutions could be managed as one by relevant business teams.

Regenda Homes’ Programme Manager, Colin Inkson, led on the social housing portal project with VerseOne and fellow partner Manifest Software Solutions. He said:

“Our aim was to create a self-service portal which was easy to use and ensured our customers received an excellent standard of service, whenever and however they came into contact with us. We also had to integrate the portal with our various back-office systems.”

Regenda Homes’ digital ambitions, however, did not end there.

Nina added: “Since then our strategy has significantly evolved, and we've ended up increasing the scope of what we will deliver under the portal and under our digital strategy.

“We now have an online tenant engagement forum too. If we have another lockdown where we can’t meet our customers face-to-face, we’ve now got a mechanism where we can push out consultation, share documents or ask questions of customers, and if they choose to do so they can answer via our portal.

“We’ve also rolled out a customer feedback module. We always had the form on our website where you could register a complaint, but it just then landed in an inbox somewhere for someone to pick up.

“What we're trying to do now is make sure our complaints process is integrated. When a complaint is logged on the portal you can track progress, say where it's up to and who's dealing with it, and look back at previous complaints.”

And, as Nina explained to delegates, the results speak for themselves.

“By really understanding what our customers’ needs were, thinking about the customer journey, and making sure that people felt safe and secure and could trust the payment options, we’ve definitely seen a significant increase in people starting to take us up on this channel. And it has led to channel shift by choice,” Nina added.

Further key stats include:

  • 38% of Regenda Homes customers now have a self-service portal account
  • Regenda has seen a 34% reduction in calls to the contact centre. Staff can now spend more time on the calls they do receive and deliver better service
  • Regenda Homes has received 151 cases of individual customer feedback
  • Since October 2021, when the portal’s rent arrears facility went live, 16 customers have set up their own rent arrears management programme online

Despite such positive numbers, Nina and the team are still looking forward. Future group websites are now also in the works, as well as a second phase for the Group’s digital service portals, which will include document management and integration with VerseOne Vocoll web chat digital technology.

Summing up Regenda Homes’ new portal, Nina said: “It’s working, our customers are finding it easy to find – and it’s accessible. There’s always room for improvement, and we’re constantly asking our customers what that might be, but so far, so good.

“I think the next steps for us will also include linking the [Regenda Homes] portal with the data side of things, so we know what a customer’s preferences are and how they prefer to transact with us. We want to apply that to everything across the board and pre-empt [customer behaviour].

“We want to become customers’ landlord of choice, and hopefully digital will become their choice too.”