As we’re about to head back into another month-long (at the least) lockdown period, now is a good time to think about how you as an organisation are going to be communicating with your residents during this period. Lots of housing providers will have adapted to dealing with the first lockdown by ‘just getting it done’. This often means bending rules, expending serious resources and diverting a significant amount of attention away from other projects. This was what was necessary during the first lockdown, but the evidence is quickly mounting that lockdowns are going to become more and more common. This means you need to get to grips with a way to communicate effectively without causing damage to your long-term strategic goals as an organisation. So let’s look at the tactics you can deploy to converse with your residents over the next few months.
First things first - contact details
This should go without saying, but nearly every housing providers does not have complete or up-to-date contact details for their residents. It’s one of those universal issues for housing providers - but the problem is understandable. Residents move, they change phone numbers and email addresses and family occupancy can change. Unfortunately, without a communication channel routed in the home, all housing providers are going to need to focus on updating resident contact information. Taking a note from the private sector, one of the most effective ways to get accurate contact information is to offer something in return. Prize giveaways and competitions can do wonders for response rates to requests for emails and phone numbers. Unbounce did a study on this and found that landing pages with a contest gathered 700% more email subscribers than those without a contest option. It’s not hard to figure out why - you are asking for your residents to spend their time giving you information. We all know that it helps residents when housing providers have their details, but that doesn’t seem to be the understanding from the residents. By utilising a contest, you’re changing the way the question is viewed. Instead of it being a request, it’s now a chance for them to benefit. At the very least, use the next month to ensure that you are capable of regularly contacting at least 90% of your residents. Once you’ve got the contact information, though, you need to make sure you’re using it correctly.
Make sure you are sending relevant information
Now you’ve got their contact information, the last thing you want to do is have them ignore you. It’s unfortunately really easy to do - they get one too many messages they don’t care about and suddenly they’ve written off the entire comms channel. This happens with letters all the time. In theory, post is the most effective way to reach a resident as it always arrives at the right property and (in theory) addressed to the correct person. Unfortunately, there are always residents who simply ignore the letter. They throw it away without opening it, or they put it in a pile that gets opened too late. This means that you cannot rely on the post to deliver timely information. The same thing can happen to phone-based communication (text messages and phone calls) as well - residents will start to ignore messages they find annoying. The single best way to counteract this is to provide timely, relevant information and attempt to reduce the overall number of messages you are sending. Probably the easiest way to do this is to split the information you need to deliver into groups and assign them to particular channels. For example, messages about upcoming appointments might only go through phone calls or text messages, with information relating to their tenancy going through the post. This ensures that the same message isn’t received twice - and reduces the overall number of messages you are sending. Unfortunately, none of this gets around the final problem housing providers face when dealing with communication. Traceability.
Using digital communication channels to the best effect
Traceability is one of the things that most traditional communication channels don’t offer. Take the example above - if you assign important information about a properties tenure, for example, to only come from letters - you will not know how many residents actually received the message. This leads most housing providers to disregard the separation of channels altogether and instead just attempt to blast important information through all channels. Traceability removes this obstacle. Digital messaging platforms are the only current option that allows organisations to do this at scale. Switchee, as an example, is capable of sending property-specific messages across an entire portfolio and then tracking whether they were opened and when. When you know whether somebody has opened the message, you can reduce the second-send numbers significantly. Suddenly instead of sending 10,000 letters, followed by 10,000 phone calls, you’ve sent 10,000 digital messages, with 100 phone calls for those that didn’t read the first one. This reduces resident fatigue, cuts the cost of communicating with your residents and makes other more niche types of messaging (like hyper-local announcements) a lot more viable.
This month-long lockdown shouldn’t be as trying on organisations as the previous one. After all, we all now have tried and tested methods for doing our day-to-day tasks in a post-COVID world. We shouldn’t, however, look to replicate inefficient methods that were devised out of panic. Instead, housing providers need to work on the assumption that these lockdowns will continue to happen more and more frequently - whether that be for Coronavirus or the next pandemic. So get contact details, communicate less frequently and implement digital communication channels if you can.