What the housing industry can learn from pioneers in the energy sector

Welcome to the digital world

(BundesBauBlatt 3-2021, www.bundesbaublatt.de)
Digitization – some people don’t like to hear the word anymore. What has been preached as a megatrend in the industry for years has really taken off in 2020. While one would have liked to see a different reason instead of the Corona pandemic as a trigger for companies to pivot more toward digital processes and solutions, in the end, results and facts matter.

And they are pointing in the right direction. Several studies, such as the one conducted by the digital association Bitkom in November, conclude that digitization has experienced a real boost in the past year and that digitally operating companies will also be more successful in the long term.

But let’s be honest: digitization does not mean a home office with a laptop at the kitchen table instead of a PC in the office, nor does it mean video conferencing instead of face-to-face meetings. If you really want to be prepared for the future, you need to take the momentum from the past year with you and develop a digital strategy for the next few years. After all, tenants, residents and employees have long since become accustomed to digital benefits and expect certain online options that they are familiar with from other areas of life – especially when it comes to housing. But housing companies don’t have to start from scratch: It helps to look at other industries, which sometimes have a slight head start when it comes to digital processes…

Innovative standstill out of sheer responsibility

The energy industry, for example, is quite similar to the housing industry in its core structure: the great responsibility that What the housing industry can learn from pioneers in the energy industry. Welcome to the digital world Ensuring energy supply used to nip innovative approaches, such as digital packages of measures, in the bud. They wanted to play it safe rather than try experiments that might have failed. The result was predictable, but also not very innovative. As a result, customer needs and requirements for more modern handling, better accessibility or more flexibility and agility could not be met. This leads to increasing dissatisfaction, as the customer – quite rightly – does not see himself at the center of activities. If you replace the word customer with tenant or resident, the result is strikingly similar in the housing industry. So why not look beyond the end of your nose into the energy industry to see which digitization options can be implemented in your own industry and make sense?

What works in the energy industry also works in housing

Because at the heart of the matter are similar needs: The sectors are united by the topics of customer/tenant communication and the management of services related to customers/tenants and the respective property. In the energy industry, we at epilot from Cologne took up the challenge in 2017 to accompany the industry with our cloud software on the way to a digital Author: Michel Nicolai, Founder & CEO e.pilot GmbH Photo: e.pilot GmbH. More than 80 energy suppliers and network operators now place their trust in us. The completely online-based platform allows all processes to be mapped digitally – from the receipt of an order (here comparable: apartment application or start of rental), to technical processing (here comparable: janitor service or damage report), to billing. The customer/tenant is always the focus of all our efforts. The experience gained in the energy sector will also benefit the housing industry in the future. The declared goal: to offer both the tenant and the employee of the housing company a user-friendly, efficient processing of all concerns.

Contact forms: ordinary at the front, smart at the back

What this can look like in concrete terms? Moving tenant communications to the online world is a good approach to relieve staff on the phone and in tenant offices on site. This communication should only be structured and automated: e-mail collective addresses on the homepage that end up in a mailbox to which several employees have access and are then answered with more or less luck are not a good idea. There is a smarter way: The website remains the starting point. Tenants can submit their inquiries or make damage reports via the homepage. With a decisive advantage: What looks like a normal contact form to the tenant lands as individual contact records directly in the employee portal of the housing company as a task for completion with traceable status and concrete internal assignment. Thus, no concern is lost anymore.

The principle can also be extended to household-related services such as meals on wheels or other products related to the home such as Internet, electricity or smart home services. In this way, housing companies can tap into new areas of business by offering value-added services. These can be easily added as additional products around the tenant and their needs. In the background, the threads come together on the epilot platform, which can also be docked to the respective ERP system via interface. It is also possible to integrate tenant apps and process orders via them.

Communication via online portal

It is also possible to integrate external partners such as janitor services or craft companies completely digitally via the platform. For example, if the tenant reports that the heating or elevator has broken down or a drain is clogged, he communicates this online to the housing company. The responsible employee validates the message and also orders the janitorial or craft company digitally. The advantage is that the tenant can immediately access all relevant data, arrange an appointment with the tenant on site if necessary, process the order and report it back to the housing company digitally as completed, complete with documentation. After review and approval by the employee, the invoice process can be initiated as the final step.

The entire process is stored digitally in the portal. The partners involved – housing companies, tenants, and janitor or trade companies – can view the area activated for them in each case from the employee, tenant, and partner portal and track the order. Conclusion: What has already found its way into the energy industry can also significantly simplify the work of housing companies – all it takes is a little pioneering spirit.

Author: Michel Nicolai, Founder & CEO e.pilot GmbH

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