Could chatbots be a quick win for the social housing sector?


chatbots, Social Housing

The social housing landscape has, and continues to be, shaped dramatically by a number of shifting elements, including central government policy, wider economic trends and of course the unknown impact of Brexit. To add to this, the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that the 1% rent reduction policy will reduce social landlords’ rental income by £2.5 billion by 2020. But it’s not just political and economical challenges facing the sector. 66% of social housing providers say they are working with an increasingly aging population, while another 44% say their tenants are becoming more culturally and linguistically diverse. And if that’s not enough, tenants are increasingly expecting to self-serve and digitally engage around the clock with their housing providers. With so many challenges facing the sector, you might think radical transformation is needed, but could the answer to a number of these problems lie in a single solution?

In the journey towards the fully digitised future, housing associations should stay smart and determine project priorities based on the best return on investment. To do this, some housing associations are turning to chatbots. Chatbots can be considered a quick win as they are an incredibly cost-effective way of fulfilling tenant expectations while helping to improve efficiencies and reduce costs but the benefits don’t end there.

Chatbots give your tenants the convenience of executing transactions instantly

Chatbots have been around for years and have sometimes received a bad rep for only being able to answer a very limited number of questions phrased in a certain way, but it’s only now that we’re starting to see AI-powered chatbots that have the ability to engage in human-like conversations. AI chatbots can be trained to understand specific user intents and actions, initiate proactive notifications, execute transactions and offer a genuinely personalised service.

One of the problems that social landlords face is the amount  of incoming enquiries that need to be solved across multiple channels. A housing association recently revealed their most frequent tenant requests. Topping the list was repair related enquiries, followed by complaints about anti-social behaviour and enquiries about renting and swapping properties.  Typically, these requests would have to be dealt with manually in a contact centre, either by phone, email, social media or web chat. Tenants could be expected to wait days or even weeks for a response, but chatbots could automate these requests, respond and action and process requests instantaneously. 

Common actions a chatbot could take include: requesting repairs and booking appointments, reporting anti-social behaviour, searching for properties to rent, requesting account balances and setting up payments.

Chatbots break down language barriers

Around 17% of the UK housing sector provides home to foreign citizens who may not speak English as a first language. Currently housing associations tend to turn to 3rd party translation companies if they need to converse with a tenant who either can’t understand English at all or has a generally poor understanding of the language. This can be extremely costly and time consuming for the housing association and for the tenant.

Chatbots can help to break down these language barriers using highly accurate multi-language APIs so you can instantly and easily converse with your tenants in their native language without the need for a 3rd party service.

Chatbots can significantly reduce transaction costs

One of the biggest opportunities for housing associations is to reduce the cost of customer interactions while increasing the speed in which they are able to respond. According to PWC, it costs housing associations on average £10.53 for a single face-to-face transaction, £3.39 for a telephone transaction and £12.10 for a postal transaction. This is compared to just £0.08 for an online transaction.

Today, the majority of social housing tenants have access to a smart phone or computer and many housing associations are now in the midst of delivering digital inclusion schemes as more elderly residents are given support and access to the internet. As part of these digital inclusion schemes, housing associations should be trailing chatbot technology to reduce the number of face-to-face, postal and telephone transactions. If tenants are able to report maintenance issues, pay bills and get responses to commonly asked questions, many housing associations could at least half the number of daily calls – freeing up staff to deal with more complex issues.

The potential for chatbot technology in housing is so compelling that at ANS, we’ve built a free, foundational open source chatbot to help the housing sector to increase time to value.

The chatbot, known as BaseBot, comes with download instructions and is ready and waiting to integrate with your business applications. You can customise it by adding your desired functionality tone and branding. So why not add translation functionality so you can converse with tenants in their native language or sync it with your booking system to allow tenants to book appointments or link it to your housing database so they can search for properties to rent? The possibilities are endless.

To find out how Basebot could help you to improve tenant satisfaction and reduce costs, click here.

Posted by Helen Thomas