How automation has improved South Tyneside Homes’ tenant services

Voicescape explores how its software has transformed how social landlord STH supports its tenants and improved staff wellbeing.
A South Tyneside Homes tenant sat at a table using a tablet.

In August 2020, South Tyneside Homes (STH) and SaaS (software as a service) technology provider Voicescape began a development partnership for two new services – Compliance and Wellbeing.

Voicescape Compliance is designed to help social landlords adhere to statutory property maintenance requirements and increase efficiency by automating the calls that inform residents of their upcoming gas and electricity safety appointments. It gives tenants options to confirm or amend appointments in order to reduce the volume of costly no access visits and subsequent non-compliance.

Voicescape Wellbeing is designed to automate the daily check-in call procedure for sheltered accommodation residents. By streamlining welfare calls in this way, housing officers benefit from having more time to focus on providing care to those with more complex needs. The service has been designed to deliver a resident-centric approach to wellbeing, giving residents greater control over how and when they’re contacted, affording more independence to those that want it and enhanced support to those who need it.

The collective challenges

Prior to using Voicescape Compliance, STH struggled to contact tenants to book annual gas and electrical safety checks. Its team spent a lot of time  manually calling residents and leaving voicemail messages in an attempt to get responses. Manual calls also often resulted in mistakes which mean that STH was missing out on gathering key data. When appointments were booked, contractors were regularly denied access. Understandably, many people were worried about COVID-19, but no-access visits such as these cost STH around £75 each and risk non-compliant results.

Another service that proved highly resource intensive and reliant on manual calling processes was STH’s sheltered accommodation schemes, with 668 tenancies requiring a daily check-in call. Tenants in sheltered schemes often have a complex range of needs and the traditional method of manually calling each one creates an over-reliance on staffing resources. STH were looking at ways to allocate resources more effectively, not only to free-up time to focus on other critical activities, but to build resilience for every eventuality.

Introducing effective automation

For gas, electricity and building safety checks, Voicescape Compliance engages tenants who are due a visit by contacting them via an automated phone call. This informs them of the date and time of their appointment before giving them two options: confirm or reschedule. If they want to arrange for the visit to happen at another time, they can talk through their options with an advisor. Voicescape Compliance gives tenants a greater degree of flexibility. Those who are available for the proposed appointment can simply confirm, and those who would like to give their preferences are able to do so. By offering times that are best suited to the individual’s needs, STH was able to reduce both the likelihood of missed appointments and the cost-to-serve for compliance.

Voicescape Wellbeing allowed STH to create a personalised service for each of its Housing Plus scheme residents based on their requirements. Each day the Wellbeing technology makes calls to each resident (configured to the scheme or the specific needs of the resident) on their preferred method of contact. The resident hears a recorded message which asks them to either confirm that they are safe or to request assistance. If they request assistance or fail to respond, the system automatically raises an alarm to the relevant ILC/officer by SMS or email and registers the alarm on the Wellbeing online portal. By quickly identifying those residents most in need of assistance, the ILCs/officers can prioritise their work or seek further assistance, rather than having to finish calling the entire scheme switchboard manually. Furthermore, the technology eliminates the possibility of residents who need urgent assistance and may have been unable to raise their alarms having to wait several hours for a call.

Through implementing Voicescape’s Wellbeing service, the organisation also discovered that a significant percentage of tenants did not want to wait at home for a manual wellbeing call and valued their independence and the flexibility that the Voicescape service offered, by allowing each resident to set their own call preferences. The solution was also introduced to schemes as part of a phased approach so STH would be able to closely monitor its impact.

Measuring impact

Within the first week of using Voicescape Compliance, STH saw many positive changes. Where contractors previously experienced around 30 to 40 no-answers per day, these calls are now sent through Voicescape’s software, saving operators huge amounts of time. They’re also able to book 150 gas and electrical appointments in a single day – where it would previously have taken up to four days.

By no longer having to manually call each tenant to book and reschedule appointments, they’ve prevented non-compliance and the cost of no-access visits – freeing up resource and boosting the morale of their team. Any initial concerns around tenants adopting the new technology soon proved unnecessary, with STH consistently reporting engagement rates above 50%. Voicescape Compliance also provides an audit trail of each engagement attempt, allowing STH to quickly collate accurate information in the event that a court warrant may be required.

“It has allowed us to take a much more proactive approach to the way we do compliance,” said Mitchell Bates, service improvement and performance officer at STH. “We’re now able to quickly identify people who are vulnerable or need extra support. The impact Voicescape Compliance has had on staff morale has also been significant.”

In addition, Voicescape’s Wellbeing service has had a transformational impact for both residents and staff in its Housing Plus schemes, creating efficiencies and generating staff capacity within the organisation to offer tailored support to residents giving them greater independence. Since implementing the service, 459 out of 668 tenancies (69%) are now using the automated daily check-in. STH also reported a 26% increase in overall service participation (traditional calls and Voicescape’s service).

Staff have reported a noticeable shift in capacity and have noted they’ve had more time to engage with tenants that have more complex needs while the Wellbeing service carries out its automated calls. Voicescape Wellbeing has also allowed the housing provider to easily share information relating to more vulnerable tenants with social services or occupational health.

Kate Curry, area manager at South Tyneside Homes, added: “The impact on staff wellbeing has been hugely encouraging to see. Once the initial onboarding sessions are complete, the buy-in from my team has been almost immediate, especially when they’ve seen how much additional time it gives back to their working day to focus on the tasks that really add value to residents’ lives.

“We’ve been able to manage much more efficiently and maintain a high level of service when we’ve had staff absences, which we simply wouldn’t have been able to do prior to using the Wellbeing service.”

Now successfully implemented into 12 schemes, Voicescape Wellbeing will eventually cover all 32 schemes giving 1,200 tenancies the option of the automated service – a first-of-its-kind innovation for assisted living schemes in the social housing sector.

The Wellbeing service and Voicescape’s development partnership with South Tyneside Homes has since been recognised for its exemplary standards, receiving an iESE Certificate of Excellence at the Public Sector Transformation Awards in March 2021.

Michelle Evans, head of housing services at South Tyneside Homes, added: “Adopting Voicescape’s services across the organisation has allowed us to make transformational changes that benefit our tenants and our teams.

“Most notably, we’ve been able to reduce the need for time-intensive manual processes, giving employees valuable time back to invest in providing more direct and tailored support to our tenants in the areas they really need it.”

This article was provided by Voicescape. For more information please visit www.voicescape.co.uk.

Image credit: South Tyneside Homes.

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