How CRM is the new ‘core system for Social Housing

– An interview with James Massey COO Castleton Technology plc

James Massey

Digital enablement solutions are already delivering tangible business advantages to Social Housing; from enhancing customer communications & services to improving organisational efficiency and managing the impact of Universal Credit. The sector is starting to see real benefits from the data and intelligence its gathering; as more and better data is helping drive business transformation based on well-informed decisions.

A key part of this digital revolution is putting the customer at the centre of everything, whether that’s improving resident interactions, providing better, more tailored customer and self-service or modernising processes to facilitate a flexible, mobile workforce to manage customers in real-time. It’s also true that as part of this drive, Housing Associations (HA’s) need to make cost savings wherever possible and automating the engagement process will help towards achieving this.

To enable real digital transformation, HA’s must look at the power of data and how effective customer relationships and customer experience management will help set them on their business transformation journey. I think historically, people view a CRM solution as simply a ‘records management tool’ for recording telephone calls and customer interactions. However, as the sector moves away from traditional call handling, paper processes, letters, paper forms, and onsite visits; towards online chat, Unified communications interactions such as WhatsApp for business, Facebook Messaging other digital media channels, CRM will come into its own; with far less paper and much more digital recording. This evolution is giving CRM a new lease of life, and with all the additional information gathering, HA’s will have the opportunity to build true relationship management with their residents; CRM will provide a 360-degree view of each one, enabling quicker call handling, first-time resolution of issues, on-time payments, and mobile working.

With such an important decision, how can HA’s be sure they choose the right CRM for them, one that integrates with their existing software and delivers the business goals cost-effectively?

Sector-specific CRM systems vs Off-the-shelf, what’s best?

With some great CRM platforms on the market, it’s important to consider before embarking on such an important project, the outcomes you want to achieve and how each solution differs.

A good CRM system should bring together all the disconnected solutions and communication methods that an HA uses into a single pane of glass, it’s the glue that holds them all together and is the key enabler to quick entry of contacts, tenant records, export of records and notices for any legal matters such as eviction notices. Generic CRM platforms such as Dynamics 365 provide a blank canvas from which organisations can build a bespoke CRM platform.

Sector-specific solutions such as our CRM solution, have been developed specifically for HA’s in conjunction with the sector. It’s an out of the box CRM solution that puts your customer at the core of your system and provides a complete 360° visibility of your residents, properties, and services on a single screen. Designed to bring together historically disconnected solutions and put them into a single clean and clear user interface (UI), it simplifies and updates information that’s relevant to the user, quickly and efficiently. Its speed combined with the ability to orient specific data very quickly to relevant job roles within the HA, makes a significant difference to the user, providing instant access to all the information they require for a successful and efficient customer interaction

It’s this UI, designed specifically for HA’s that makes Castleton CRM different; our collaborative approach to its development has, working with organisations such as Connect Housing, ensured that our CRM has integrated sector-specific features into the solution such as campaign management for targeted customer interaction and validation checks to ensure the security of sensitive data. A key feature is the intuitive UI that can be personalised to each user, to show only relevant information, pulling data from disconnected systems onto a single screen, helping office staff speed up response times to customer queries and giving field operatives real-time access with its mobile-enabled functionality.

Resident interactions and updates are also in real-time, and CRM when combined with our Castleton .DIGITAL solution and Alexa platform, allows them to perform a whole host of ‘self-service’ tasks, including; accessing and updating their details online, viewing rent statements, making payments, reporting a repair and checking on its progress.  The latest version of CRM also allows users to build their custom digital dashboards from any of the information that is available whether that is resident engagement channel uptake, resident details or account information.

What about the data?

The bigger question can then become, “how and where do you store all that data to remain GDPR compliant?”, “How can you ensure that information held in the system is up to date?”, and that the data you have gathered in your CRM system feeds and integrates into other systems, and ultimately “what are you going to use that data for?”. It’s not just about information gathering, simply to put a tick in the box, but to apply Business Intelligence to the data to help HA’s landlords become more efficient and more closely relate to their customers by enhancing their service offering; which could include improving their customers’ life experiences, health, and wellbeing.

Sounds great, but what is the real cost of transitioning to a new CRM?

Transitioning costs to a new CRM solution depend on the size and complexity of an organisation, and a sector-specific solution will always deliver the best value to HA’s. How long a CRM implementation will take and ultimately cost depends on several factors including: How many apps are you implementing? How many users do you have? Is it an upgrade, or a completely new solution? Are you moving from on-premise to the cloud? How much legacy data needs to be migrated? How much integration work is necessary to make the solution meet the users’ needs?

As with many solutions, integration can often be the biggest challenge. It’s important to check how easily your new CRM solution integrates with other systems and what the anticipated cost to do this would be. Castleton’s CRM ensures easy integration by using customisable Data-Driven Services and fully open and documented web services, whereas Dynamics 365, Salesforce and other ‘vanilla’ solutions project timeframes can be difficult to predict, and often take much longer to implement than initially forecast, with complex integration and functionality builds.

We would always recommend organisations compare what comes with an out of the box solution such as Castleton CRM and how much a more bespoke solution will cost, and whether the business case stacks up.There is a bigger challenge than costs – and that’s managing the organisation’s ‘Business Transformation’ – CRM software is simply part of this and is an enabler to driving this transformation. We have seen that technology isn’t the biggest challenge, it’s often changing the culture of the organisation!

How does Castleton help in this project evaluation?

Before embarking on an implementation of this type we would always recommend end-user involvement as being a crucial first step, even before the project even starts. Exploring what it is they want to get out of a CRM solution, how they want to use it, features they would find helpful, what the pain points are in for example the contact centre? Real-life research is also invaluable; listening to and observing how real customer interactions work, by sitting amongst call centre staff –  to check whether a new CRM solution is the answer.

We can offer upfront clarity about what our CRM solution does and are willing to go into POC solutions to build confidence with the customer to give them a view of what a minimum viable solution will look like, we don’t want people to commit to something and then the outcome isn’t what they expected or hoped for. This process also helps identify ‘quick wins’ and ‘actions’ and ensures the project teams focus on the outcomes, which should include what role Business Intelligence (BI) will play. All stakeholders should be certain of what reporting they want to achieve as this will help create the best CRM build possible, that comes into its own.

What are the risks of moving to a new CRM solution? Is the organisations resident data as secure in ‘The Cloud’? There are risks in all IT projects, however, if you think about the potential pitfalls e.g. you don’t record an interaction, the fact that you’ve visited a tenant, etc., these are also possible risks. The biggest risk, however, is the non-adoption by staff and that all they see is a new system they must use, one that’s being imposed on them, rather than a system they want to use that will deliver greater benefits to them and the residents.

So, if I want to implement a new CRM solution, where do I start?

Collaboration is key, understand your organisation’s pain points and why you want to undertake a CRM project? Decide what the ‘future’ looks like, how will CRM impact the business, be clear on your project goals. Do you want to facilitate customer self-service, improve customer service & interaction, will you want to drive targeted marketing from it, develop more robust service improvement methodology, better tenant sustainment, etc., because you understand your customer better?

It’s often a far bigger transformation project than you think as organisations have to consider what the organisation wants for itself, its staff and ultimately its customers. Think about the budget and look at other social landlords using a great CRM solution, one that’s affordable and satisfies your wish list, then talk to us and see how our solution fits the bill.

Once I’m up and running, what can I expect going forward?

As an organisation, our ambition is to develop solutions that are the best they can be and deliver real business transformation to our Social Housing customers, so post-implementation we set up regular review sessions to look at the BI and establish that we are on track to meet expectations. Working in partnership we will establish ways to measure customer satisfaction, agree on what improvement looks like and work together to ensure the new solutions deliver the best value to the business.

Article Featured in Housing Technology.
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