By Liz Haworth, CEO, Halton Housing.

Housing associations who invest heavily in a digital service offer to their customers have often been accused of distancing themselves from their communities, with online services being viewed as impersonal and lacking the human touch.

Indeed, our own customers here in Halton have told us that although they value the convenience of our digital services, there are times when only a telephone conversation or face-to-face contact will do. Is the digital pendulum swinging back the other way?

Should this feedback put us off investing further in our digital future, leading us to reinstate our customer reception or investing more in our contact centre? The answer is a mix of both.

We recognise that our customer app and portal, although once seen as trailblazers within the sector, are starting to show their age and customers often call us because they are not getting the service they want from them.

Our plan is to relaunch our website, app and portal in the coming months, making it easier for customers to navigate and ensuring that the systems that sit behind them are fully integrated and able to fulfil the customer’s request right first time.

Our customers do want choice, however, and we plan to improve our customer reception and contact centre as well as our digital services. At the same time, we are investing in our neighbourhood-based services, recognising that customers value face-to-face contact with someone that knows them and the neighbourhood where they live.

We are learning the lessons from the past 12 months, using technology to help us get closer to our customers. This means providing our colleagues with mobile technology and, most importantly, good quality data about our customers, our homes and our neighbourhoods. This
allows us to put our resources where they are needed most, providing tailored support to those that need it.

We are using technology to better understand asset performance – piloting sensors and smart meters to collect data remotely and help us understand asset data such as energy performance as well as more human factors like fuel poverty.

So, is the digital pendulum swinging back the other way? I do not think so.

Technology has been a real enabler during the pandemic, and its adoption has accelerated out of necessity –witness the use of video conferencing by GPs and hospitals, as well as in care homes to keep older people in touch with their families. The Amazon Prime vans fly around our estates whilst our high streets dwindle away.

Instead of resisting the digital revolution, our aim at Halton Housing is to innovate with purpose, being clear about our commitment to our customers and our neighbourhoods.

We want to use technology to get closer to them, not further away.