It’s good to talk, but sometimes it’s better to text

For many social landlords it’s getting harder to collect the rent, so now it’s more important than ever for housing officers to be able to prioritise their time and the tenants they need to speak to. With more people on UC that means more tenants paying their rent direct so more people to speak to when they miss a payment.

Traditional communication methods can be notoriously unreliable especially when chasing debt, according to not only do 41% of people in debt not want to talk about it, but also almost 1 in 4 letters about debt remain unopened.

Picking up the phone and speaking to a tenant is often seen as the best way of collecting arrears. The holy grail is having the time to speak to tenants in arrears. But realistically how often do you get straight through? One Scottish Housing Association recently found that 53% of calls go unanswered.

On the flip side to that is calling overkill for some residents, like with everything we can overserve customers, sometimes a text is more than adequate prompt. Also, a well worded text can arguably deliver a call to action that is responded to more effectively than a call.

“Someone’s preferred method of contact may be via text and if we know a resident doesn’t answer calls but responds to a text, we’ll take that form of action,” cites Mark Walker, Head of Income at Optivo, a social landlord based in London and the South East with around 44,000 properties.

With UC it is not just about chasing arrears, it’s also about reminding tenants of their new responsibilities and when to pay. Expecting officers to call to remind tenants to pay their rent or that their UC payment is due is arguably not the most efficient or best use of time. Automating texts to UC claimants not only frees up time, but ensures landlords actually get the message delivered.

“We automate texts at different times to UC claimants. Tenants get messages about their claim and verification, their first payment and a reminder to pay their rent. These work really well, and leave officers with more time to get on with pressing tasks.” Comments Dan Thwaites, Income Manager at London based Octavia Housing.

Laurie Franks, an experienced income manager, who has worked at landlords such as Home Group, Thirteen and South Tyneside Homes, has recently joined Mobysoft as Income Maximisation Director, commented:

“From my experience managing Income Teams, sending texts at the right time to the right people with the right message is key to increasing positive communication between landlord and tenant in turn, increasing rent collection and it is much cheaper and quicker than sending a letter or making a phone call.”

What actually does text messaging deliver for landlords? Well according to Wendy Walker, Head of Income Lincolnshire Housing Partnership, it can be substantial.

“We automatically send texts to all unactioned cases at the end of the week. This makes sure all tenants who we need to contact about arrears have heard from us. It also prompts payments and actions too.”

From an income officer’s perspective, automated texts helps reduce their workload but also enable them to collect more arrears.

“The automated texts also alleviate the workload and they are effective as well, as you get tenants calling in. I have also had customers clear their accounts because of them, all without me getting involved,” comments Income Officer, Steve Burgess at Octavia Housing.

It’s not just about the pounds and pence though, as texting encourages tenants to interact with you, and as Mark Walker comments

“Invariably a resident will ring back in within 60 seconds of receiving a text. We send texts to all new residents, failed rejected Direct Debits, certain arrears actions are followed up with a text. We also send a suite of texts relating to Universal Credit.”

The automation and efficiency are a key reason for utilising text messaging, but also so is the fact that there is tacit appreciation that the messages get read and prompt action from the recipients.

Octavia, Optivo and LHP all use Mobysoft’s RentText solution, which is designed specifically for income teams and allows users to automate texts as well as officers to send ad-hoc personalised messages to customers.

“The good thing about RentText is that it is so diverse allowing you to send bulk automated messages, and your officers can also easily send a personalised a message direct to a customer,” comments Laurie, citing her own experience of using RentText.

If you are wanting to embed efficiencies in your income or housing team and texting may help you collect more whilst giving your officers more time, remembering that it’s good to talk but it can be better to text.