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

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Welcome to the digital world

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. One might have wished for a different reason instead of the Corona pandemic as the trigger for companies to turn more strongly in the direction of digital processes and solutions, but in the end, what counts are results and facts.

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 coming years. 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. In doing so, housing companies don’t have to start from scratch: It helps to look at other industries that sometimes have a slight head start when it comes to digital processes.

Innovative standstill out of responsibility
The energy industry, for example, is quite similar to the housing industry in its core structure: The great responsibility of securing the energy supply used to nip innovative approaches such as digital packages of measures in the bud. People preferred to play it safe rather than try experiments that might have failed. The result was predictable, but not very innovative. As a result, customer needs and requirements for more modern handling, better accessibility or greater flexibility and agility could not be met.

This leads to increasing dissatisfaction, since the customer – quite rightly – does not see himself at the center of activities. Replace the word customer with tenant or resident and the result is strikingly similar in the housing industry. So why not look beyond the end of one’s nose to the energy industry to see which digitization options can be implemented in one’s own industry and make sense?

What works in the energy sector also works in the housing sector.
Because at the core, it’s about similar needs: The topics of customer/tenant communication or the management of services related to customers/tenants and the respective property unite the industries. In the energy industry, we at epilot from Cologne took on the challenge in 2017 of accompanying the industry on its way to a digital future with our cloud software. In the meantime, more than 80 energy suppliers and network operators trust us. The completely online-based platform allows all processes to be mapped digitally – from order entry (here comparable: apartment application or rental start), to technical processing (here comparable: janitor service or damage report), to billing.

The customer/tenant is always at the center of all 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 housing company employee user-friendly, efficient processing of all concerns.

Contact forms: ordinary in the front, smart at the back
What does this look like in concrete terms? Moving tenant communication to the online world is a good approach to relieve employees on the phone and in tenant offices on site. But this communication should 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 point of contact. Tenants can use the homepage to submit their inquiries or report damage. With one decisive advantage: What looks like a normal contact form to the tenant ends up as an individual contact directly in the housing company’s employee portal as a task to be completed with a traceable status and concrete internal assignment. In this way, no request is ever lost.

The principle can also be extended to household-related services such as meals on wheels or other housing-related products such as Internet, electricity or smart home services. In this way, housing companies can tap into new business areas by offering value-added services. These can easily be added as further products around the tenant and his needs. In the background, the threads run on the epilot platform.
These can be easily added as further products around the tenant and his 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 tradesmen 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 report and also orders the janitor or repair company digitally. The advantage of this is that the company 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 verification and approval by the employee, the billing process can be initiated as the final step.

The entire process is stored digitally in the portal. The partners involved – housing companies, tenants, and janitors or tradesmen – can view the area of the employee, tenant, and partner portal that has been activated for them 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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