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How chatbots can transform customer service for housing associations

Delivering the right experience to tenants is at the heart of every successful housing association. And, as customer needs change, offering more digital channels and services is crucial to both effectiveness and efficiency of their operations, as we covered in this previous blog.

The benefits of AI-powered chatbots for housing associations

As part of this digital shift, more and more housing associations are providing customers with the chance to interact through AI-powered chatbots. This saves time and better meets their changing needs. In this blog we’ll look at the six key benefits that chatbots bring to housing associations – and best practice for managing them:

1. Extend support to make it multi-language and 24×7

Customers want to make contact when it is convenient to them, not necessarily when your contact centre is open. By deploying chatbots on a website or within apps, housing associations can extend support, allowing customers to interact with them 24×7. It is also possible to add multilanguage options. This enables customers to instantly switch to their preferred language for the conversation – all without needing to employ agents with specialist language skills. This improves the customer experience while increasing efficiency.

2. Free up agent time

Housing associations have to deal with a growing volume of incoming queries, often without any increase in resources. Chatbots are proven to deflect queries from other channels, such as the telephone or email. This frees up agent time to deal with more complex queries that require human intervention. Customers are happy as they receive instant answers to their queries, while agents can use their skills, rather than just responding to routine questions.

3. Learn from your customers

Analysing customer conversations with chatbots provides a rich source of information for housing associations. You can use it to identify common issues and frustrations, monitor performance, collect Voice of the Customer feedback, and spot areas for improvement. Additionally, combining data from chatbot conversations with wider contact centre data delivers a holistic view of customer service.

4. Chatbots are extendable to different audiences

Chatbots aren’t just there to help tenants, they can also assist the agent in finding out information. Sharing the same knowledge base across chatbots and other channels (such as web self-service and with agents) ensures consistency, as everyone is getting the same answers. It also increases ROI as the costs of building and maintaining the knowledge base are spread across multiple channels and departments.

5. Provides an early warning system

Real-time AI analysis of chatbot conversations gives insight into what customers are asking, delivering a vital early warning of any issues as they develop. For example, if multiple customers are requesting boiler repairs, it may be part of a bigger issue with a particular model that needs to be addressed. Equally, analysis can be used to identify vulnerable tenants that require immediate, personal assistance from a human agent.

6. Enable a wider range of self-service options

Early chatbots were focused on providing generic information to respond to customer questions, either by delivering a complete answer or signposting to where to go to access relevant information.

However, as chatbots have grown more sophisticated they can do so much more. For example, they can allow tenants to securely identify themselves and so that they can carry out tasks that require personal information. This could be booking a maintenance appointment, paying rent, reporting anti-social behaviour, or submitting a tenancy agreement. And by linking to other internal systems, such as CRM or repairs, you can automate the whole process, making it faster and more efficient.

Best practices for adopting AI-powered chatbots for Housing Associations

To achieve the benefits of chatbots, housing associations should focus on these five best practices when choosing, implementing, and improving a solution:

1. Invest in knowledge and processes

Without a comprehensive knowledge base, the effectiveness of chatbots will be limited. Ensure you start with the right answers to routine questions by adding information from your website and then refining responses. Analyse the questions that your chatbot is asked, and continually add more information to your knowledge base to keep improving its abilities.

2. Integrate with CRM and other business systems

Customers hate having to repeat themselves. Integrate your chatbot with CRM to automatically pull in information about the customer and their property so you can proactively provide personalised answers. For example, if a customer asks the chatbot about how to relight their boiler, you can automatically check the CRM to see the boiler make and model, and provide tailored instructions, without needing to ask further questions.

3. Hand off to human

Given the range of queries that customers have, no chatbot will be able to answer them all. Equally customers may want to talk to a human agent about sensitive topics (such as rent arrears). Therefore, make it simple and straightforward to escalate from the chatbot to a human agent, such as through click to call, keeping the conversation seamless across channels.

4. Continually improve

Knowledge and customer needs don’t stand still. So, keep analysing chatbot conversations to see where you can improve your overall service, and fill in gaps in your knowledge base. Listen to feedback from customers too and use this to improve the services your chatbot offers, and the areas it covers.

5. Future proof through video

Most customers are likely to be accessing your chatbot through their smartphone. Therefore, look to use phone features such as geolocation, biometrics, and camera to improve the service you offer. For example, your chatbot could ask customers to take a video of objects requiring maintenance and then automatically forward this onto the repairs team. This will help with earlier diagnosis of issues and mean the team arrives with the right parts and equipment to fix things first time.

In an increasingly digital world, adopting chatbots helps housing associations better engage with customers, deliver a digital experience, and improve efficiency. However, housing associations need to invest time and resources, and follow best practices to realise these benefits on an ongoing basis.