It has been frequently said that we live in a ‘digital age’. Our entire lives are centred around digitisation and data, from social media to online banking, we are becoming increasingly reliant on technology. And a specific benefit of technology is increased communication. In light of the on spread of Covid-19 and the restrictions that followed, housing providers have been reliant on strong lines of communication between themselves and their residents in order to monitor and maintain their properties. But with delays to the postal service and increased difficulty in gaining access to a property, providers have been eagerly searching for ways to improve upon the deliverability of their communications.
This is where technology can be of great use.
The downside to traditional methods of communication, such as letters, is that while their delivery can be ensured through signed postage, even then, providers cannot guarantee that the message is read, and there is always the possibility that important information may be misplaced or forgotten. Technology acts as a guarantee – a safety net for providers – offering receipts that show communications are being received by residents rather than being overlooked or discarded as written forms of communication might be. It eliminates the element of doubt. With written communication, a lack of traceability could lead to increased costs for providers both financially, with the costs of resending information, and in the increased risk of resident dissatisfaction. For example, if a resident is sent a letter regarding upcoming maintenance work but never actually reads it, they may be in for a nasty surprise when the maintenance teams suddenly arrive. This, in turn, may lead to a surge in no-access visits and resident complaints.
If embraced, technology can play a vital role in aiding communication. In taking advantage of available technologies, housing providers can easily increase their resident engagement levels, and strengthen existing lines of communication. For example, technology can increase the traceability of communications. Many modern devices, including Switchee’s Smart Thermostat, tracks when a message has been received and read via the screen allowing providers to see when their communications have been opened.
Technology also allows for mass communications, something that isn’t feasible with traditional methods of communication such as letters. Automated SMS messaging or emails are a great way for providers to send out important information at scale - with the overall cost of this being much more affordable and more effective when compared to letters - and allows them to ensure that the information is being read. With there being no postage costs to consider, providers can resend these communications easily without putting additional strain on their budget. It’s also easier to identify which methods are most effective when you’re working with digital communications.
Through the use of digital methods, providers can test different delivery times in order to see which provides the highest open rate - they can then use this information to schedule messages for times at which the majority of residents will be actively checking their inbox. If a chunk of communication is still going unread, some automated systems offer an unread-resend system. This is where providers can choose to resend information to residents who haven’t opened the original communication, this has been shown to increase the open rate by up to 30%. All of which helps to strengthen existing lines of communication.
Communication is essential - especially throughout a pandemic - as it ensures that residents feel involved and considered in all aspects of decision making. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, vulnerable residents have become increasingly isolated and while people might feel safe at home, they are also likely to feel quite lonely as well. This sensation of loneliness overarchingly affects the elderly and can have devastating impacts on their health and mental wellbeing. By implementing digital communication methods, alongside the traditional methods, if necessary, providers can offer emotional support for these vulnerable tenants and make sure that their needs are met. Chief executive of 55,000-home Peabody, Brendan Sarsfield, states that they are rolling out a phone-based service to offer support to more people than they would typically have access to, with the aim of guiding them through these difficult times.
The use of digitised screens and automated systems eliminates the need for expensive and unreliable forms of communication such as letters by informing residents on upcoming maintenance visits and allowing the resident to respond directly, ensuring that there is no room for miscommunication. Through the use of virtual resources and digitised data, providers are able to strengthen lines of communication between themselves and their tenants which will minimise resident dissatisfaction and lower the overall risk of litigation.