Digital Automation & The Golden Rule

The idea of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is known as The Golden Rule. It appears in two gospels in the Bible, and is the cornerstone of pretty much all religions, but you don’t have to be in any way religious to agree that it’s a reasonable standard by which to live your life.

Of course, and I’m certainly not the first to point this out, there is a slight flaw in the rule. Others don’t necessarily want to be treated in the way you want to be treated. They want to be treated in the way they do. So, the slightly more appropriate version might be, do unto others as they would have done to them.

In the digital age, this can apply to the way we prefer to communicate. Have you ever found yourself mildly irked when you call someone, possibly even leave them a voicemail, and they reply by text? Not one of those texts to say they’re busy that the phone creates, that’s understandable. No, they just swap medium mid communication, from phone call to text. They swap channels on me. They do unto me not what I wanted them to do.

Have you ever searched through months of emails to find some data that, just this one time, was shared on WhatsApp? Who did that to me? Who went off-piste with that one communication that I was so obviously going to spend hours searching for in the future? Who WhatsApped, when my accepted method was email?

My son walks to school with his friend who has now moved some miles away. They coordinate meeting up through text messages. Except they don’t. At least my son doesn’t. He fires off a text message in the evening, and if he doesn’t get a reply, even by the following morning, he’ll happily continue to wait for one, or he’ll leave for school without the reply, and without the details of the plan to meet.

When I suggest calling his friend, he looks at me gone out, as if it’s the craziest suggestion ever. Yes, I’m suggesting you use your phone as a phone. With any number of other channels of communication open to them, they stick solely to the one that works for them. Even if, from where I’m standing, it doesn’t work for them.

The Golden Rule, particularly in this digital era, applies very much to communication, and not just for marketing departments and online retailers. Trying to reach your audience on a digital channel they don’t use is the modern equivalent of advertising in magazines they don’t read. And I do include phone calls and letters in those channels.

It probably comes as no surprise that age plays an important part in preferred communication style. Many of us still see our mobile phone as a phone, even if we rarely use it as a phone. Many of us see it as just the place our apps are stored. Not a portable browser. Not a portable computer. Not even a device to access the Internet. Just our way of accessing our world.

Covid-19 sent the world online. Business and personal meetings went over to the likes of Zoom and Teams. But here’s a generational difference. Generation X yearns to get back to the pre-pandemic world of meeting in person. Their generation’s view of ‘in-person’ interaction. Generation Z, the first true natives of the digital era, already considered the likes of Zoom and Teams to be ‘in-person’ interaction. There is no need to go back.

So, when looking to improve any metric that relies on effective customer interaction, remember the Golden Rule, and consider first how your target recipient would have done unto them.

Mobysoft’s technology benefits the social housing sector. RentSense ultimately keeps social housing tenants in their homes and out of debt. In simple terms, it achieves this by freeing up time for income officers or housing officers, which allows them to focus their attention on the tenants that most need their assistance. RentSense’s accuracy in prioritising cases is the key factor in making this happen.

Understanding Tenants

The outbound communication channel for how that assistance is given is generally decided by the income officer, so it is worth applying the Golden Rule here, bearing in mind some statistics around the social housing sector, and that the ‘heavy lifting’ has already been done in accurately prioritising the caseload.

97% of social housing tenants have a smart phone. That may mean that 97% of tenants can be reached by phone. On the other hand, it may mean that 97% of tenants carry a mobile web browser. It really depends on how they choose to send and receive communication. What it does very much say is that 97% of tenants are digitally enabled, and open to digital communication of one form or other.

woman on phone on settee flipped image
Understanding how your tenants want to communicate

87% of tenants use the Internet on the go. Again, this doesn’t suggest that 87% of tenants would therefore be online to accept an inbound phone call, but it does suggest they may be open to, or at least have access to, email or social media as a communication channel.

78% of 18–35-year-olds would rather transact digitally. Consider the importance of this statistic when 79% of social housing evictions for arrears are in that age group. From an outbound communications perspective, is the Golden Rule the way to improving that latter statistic?

29% of tenants see office hours as restrictive. When was the last time you bought something online? Or interacted with a customer service representative? There’s a good chance it wasn’t between 9am and 5pm. Peak purchase time for online shopping is Monday to Thursday between 8pm and 9pm. Digital transactions that are not work-related are predominantly out of office hours. How available is your client in the hours you are at work, and how available are you at the times they are free to communicate?

17% of social housing tenants would not open a letter if they felt it was about a debt. A letter in the post is still an effective form of communication, but 17% of arrears notices would be filed in the recycling bin without being opened.

So why does all this matter?

Well, what would it mean if ensuring that each individual case was contacted via the most appropriate channel meant a saving of officer hours, an increase in first contact resolution (cases that are resolved on the first contact and never come back), an increased reduction in rent arrears, a higher average reduction per case, and an overall increase in case completion?

It’s possible to reduce an income officer’s caseload by automating the decision making around which is the best channel of communication for the prioritised cases, and further still with automated outbound communication for the cases where their intervention is not only not required, but also not optimal.

Replicating hundreds of decisions made by an income officer, the Automation solution that works alongside RentSense determines which cases are better dealt with through a number of automated channels, and which need the expert intervention of an income officer. With the Golden Rule automated in determining what others would have done unto them, the income officers can truly help those who really need their assistance.

It’s a common misconception that automation solutions are there to replace humans. What usually happens is tasks that are better done by machines are given to machines, so that humans have the time to do work better done by humans. In the case of social housing, ultimately that means ensuring more humans are free from debt, and safe in their own homes.