Futr’s head of Housing, Kitty Hadaway, catches up with Warren Brierley, head of Customer Experience for Bolton at Home, who shares how their digital transformation accelerated through the pandemic and why they came to deploy Futr’s conversational chatbot
It’s been a tough 18 months. Did digital transformation go on the backburner for you as a result of the pandemic?
Totally the opposite. We’ve actually increased our ambitions and accelerated our digital change agenda, which, of course, included implementing our first ever chatbot with Futr.
I was as absolutely determined not to let the pandemic derail our ambitious plans because we all agreed that our customers and staff could benefit hugely from the planned changes.
Like many housing associations, Bolton at Home’s digital infrastructure is a combination of legacy systems, and our plans included a new housing management system, website and customer portal.
That’s a lot of change to manage in one go. How come you ended up wanting to deploy a chatbot amid all that change?
It’s a lot of change and a big challenge, but it’s also a massive opportunity to improve how we deliver services to our customers. Particularly via a new dedicated customer portal, which will enable residents to self-serve on a range of issues – from reporting repairs to paying rent.
This process of launching our portal is still ongoing, but in the meantime, I was keen to push on in other vital areas, and that included introducing Futr’s chatbot, giving customers a new channel to access information as-and-when they need it.
I was already aware of the potential value of chatbots when I started this role over a year ago and felt their value to Bolton at Home – and our customers – would evolve in parallel with our wider digital transformation. I didn’t want to lose 12-months.
I was very keen to look at new ways to reduce calls into our contact centre and generally provide a better all-round customer experience.
“The insight we’re gaining from customers now via the chatbot will prove valuable moving forward”
External benchmarking revealed chatbots were delivering customers new levels of accessibility for other landlords, such as believe housing, Ongo Homes and First Choice Homes Oldham. For example, enabling tenants to ask questions out-of-hours and in their chosen language.
And even though we’re at the beginning of implementing a new housing management system, the quick-win nature of Futr’s chatbot for our customers made it worth launching immediately.
So, we had a conversation internally. I proposed that waiting for all the significant aspects of our digital transformation to be finished before we innovated in other areas would be a mistake.
I was delighted when the business decided to move forward and incorporate Futr’s chatbot into our current website.
How have things gone so far?
Great! The set-up was straightforward, and uptake of the chatbot has increased steadily, which will only grow over time. The chatbot has answered questions automatically in over eight languages, enabling us to be more digitally inclusive.
It’s also answering questions round the clock – over a third of our enquiries via the chatbot have been outside our contact hours. Without Futr, customers wouldn’t get the support they needed at the time they needed it.
What advice do you have for other UK Housing customer experience leaders?
From my experience, this is a good time for social landlords to look at new digital channels, as the pandemic has increased the ability and willingness of harder-to-reach audiences to do new things online.
I also think it’s essential to make the point that even though we’re still progressing significant digital infrastructure changes, the chatbot is working hard 24/7, signposting customers to relevant information. Once the new website and customer portal are in place, the chatbot will adapt accordingly.
I’m glad that we didn’t wait a year to move ahead because the insight we’re gaining from customers now via the chatbot will prove valuable moving forward.
We’re on a journey, and we’ll continue to monitor how customers are using the service over time, and we’ll also measure the impact on contact centre traffic and overall customer satisfaction.
Housing Digital Stakeholder Futr is a digital innovator deploying automated customer contact solutions to the frontline of UK customer services.
Content collated and written by Kitty Hadaway
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