Tim Chalklen, MD of Unified Solutions discusses how housing associations can successfully engage customers through digital innovation

Posted by Tim Chalklen on 26 April 2017

"Housing Associations need to use digital technology as a tool to drive innovation in their understanding of their customers and assets, how the two interact with each other, and how customer engagement and experience can be enhanced"

Source: PWC – The housing association of 2020: Distinctive by design

While reading the PWC housing association of 2020 report recently I came across the above statement which struck a chord with me. Having been MD at Unified Solutions for over 20 years now, we too have had to move with the times, adapting to the ever evolving digital needs of our clients while trying to find new ways to keep them engaged with all that we have to offer. In that sense we've moved from being just a 'website design and development agency' to more of a 'customer experience agency' recognising that the digital experience customers receive greatly affects whether they become not just a customer, but a customer for life and one who positively shouts about your brand.

So taking the above statement, I thought I'd break it down into two sections; the first of which being 'how can we use digital technology as a tool to drive innovation in understanding customers and assets and how they interact?'

The great thing about digital is its ability to monitor, track and measure just about everything the customer does online. But to get a complete picture of what the customer is doing and why they're doing it, requires the joining up of interactions across all digital channels, devices and platforms. Unfortunately, we still see many organisations in this sector struggling with siloed, out of date technologies that prevent them from doing just that. But system integration needn't be as daunting as one might imagine – thankfully we have some of the best tech heads working for us who thrive on and rise to every integration challenge thrown at them. Once all your systems are connected you'll be able to follow the flow of each customer's online journey, listening to feedback and watching behaviour, all the time being provided with intelligent insight upon which future business decisions can be made.

That brings me on to the second point - 'how can customer engagement and experience be enhanced?'. The starting point for delivering a great UX is to actually understand who that user is in the first place. It may sound obvious but you'd be amazed how many clients we come across who think they know their audience, only to discover post research that their preconceptions aren't as accurate as they thought. Understanding, segmenting and grouping customers into appropriate personas helps to shape the online journey mapping process as they switch from channel to channel along with creating key messages and content that resonate with the customer at just the right moment.

Marketing automation and personalisation are effective means of keeping the customer engaged in a more personal way; though I'm talking about more than just sending an automated email with the customer's name on it. Whether you're employing marketing automation already built into a content management system or as a software add-on, the benefits include the ability to send triggered emails on form completion, website visit, social shares or when someone carries out some online transaction such as rent payment. This regular contact helps build one to one, long term relationships with customer data being updated as and when their behaviour or demographic changes.

Overall, embracing technology, and becoming more agile and responsive to the changing needs of customers is fundamental to delivering a truly engaging experience that will keep them returning for more.