With robots and AI on the rise, Optivo’s head of Income, Mark Walker, shares how automation is already helping their teams deliver better services for residents
Optivo’s digital ambition is clear: to automate tasks that tie up the talents of valuable people, achieve high employee satisfaction, maximise social impact, and ensure an exceptional experience for residents.
To deliver on this ambition, we accelerated our focus on transforming business processes by placing Robotic Process Automation (RPA) at the forefront of technology investment.
RPA is a versatile software platform that can be set up to perform tasks across many applications, replicating what humans do.
Business-wide automation unlocks significant value for the organisation by leveraging technology capability, increasing engagement, and even identifying and delivering value-added tasks not done today.
This year has been particularly difficult because of the pandemic, and we’ve had thousands of residents impacted by job or income loss.
As well as that, we’ve seen a big rise in the number of residents moving over to Universal Credit, with over 9,000 new applicants since 2016.
“Our residents are confident in calling us – they know they’ll get their call answered really quickly but will also find a staff member who is polite, helpful, and supportive”
That essentially means collecting over £250m of annual rent and service charges across 44,000 homes.
However, we’ve put a lot of emphasis on continuously improving the way we work, and we have a real focus on using technology to improve our services – ensuring we can continue to meet our commitments to residents, even with the pandemic raging on.
We want to ensure we support residents in paying their rent and driving down arrears. This is coupled with providing outstanding levels of customer service. We know if we’re supportive, our residents will be confident in us when they are contacting us.
Our team in numbers:
- We make 120,000 income calls each year
- Our income officers make around 20,000 visits every year
- We send 11,000 texts every month
These messages could be payment reminders or reminding residents to update their Universal Credit journal or pay their rent. 50% of our texts are automated and sent without the need for colleague intervention.
Other texts are sent by the Income Team to our residents and can be personalised to include hyperlinks so residents can pay online. We use email and web chat, too.
We want to provide our residents with the best possible service, and so our teams aim to answer a call within 30 seconds.
We work closely with other teams within the business such as Housing Management, Lettings, and Financial Inclusion, as we know how important it is to be on the same page in finding solutions. We meet every three weeks with our Housing Management team to go through sensitive cases, share best practice, and provide service updates.
“The letters are automatically indexed, updating the housing management system automatically without staff intervention”
Before we adopted automation, our Admin teams would receive around 1,000 Housing Benefit letters each month, and in April alone we received 10,000 one-off letters when rents change.
It would usually take at least one minute per letter to be scanned and indexed in the system. Our Income Teams would then spend time adding details of those Housing Benefit letters onto our housing management system, which is important for keeping our resident’s details accurate.
It means we spend less time on repetitive tasks, use the time we get back to focus on our most vulnerable residents, and make more proactive calls to residents who need our help. Our outbound calls are up over 35%, and we have reduced arrears compared to last year.
A Q&A with Mark Walker
What challenges were you aiming to solve with automation?
We want our officers to spend less time on repetitive, administrative work. Our housekeeping and accuracy of data is important, so if a robot can do the bulk of this work it’s a massive win for us.
Where did you start your solution search?
We’re a very forward-thinking organisation. We’re always thinking of how we can continue to improve on the excellent service we deliver. We think about what’s happening in the next five to 10 years, rather than just around the corner. We’re looking to apply solutions that are more robotic and use an AI-driven Digital Assistant soon, too. This will deal with lower-level transactions with residents.
What did you like about working with the RPA technology?
There’s been strong collaborative working between Optivo and our partners at Enterprise RPA, who are a Housing Digital Stakeholder. Both teams work well together and are positive and solution focused. Enterprise RPA’s approach aligns with Optivo’s culture, and we’ve been impressed by the whole project team.
What have you been able to achieve since applying automation?
We’re saving on average 1,000 minutes per month, which is just over 16 hours. In addition, we saved 10,000 minutes at the start of April (our peak period when residents’ rents are updated).
Our administrative housekeeping has improved, too. This enhanced data means our arrears intelligence software is improved, and as a result we’re gaining even more value from an existing system.
We can focus our time on being proactive with our residents. Our outbound calls are up 35%, and arrears are down £250k on last year. We’ve got over 500 more residents out of arrears compared with this time last year.
Has any area exceeded your expectations?
Our partner has been excellent in their service and adaptability, as has our own Technology team. Overall, I think we’ve all been amazed by the capability of the ‘bots’.
What about our automation surprised you the most?
It’s really opened our eyes for potential other uses that will free up colleague time. We’re all thinking about what the bot can do next for us, and our teams are really embracing it.
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