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Blog post - Customer Portals: Walk before you can run!

Customer Portals: Walk before you can run!

Simon Wilkes explains the common mistakes that organisations in the social housing sector make of running before walking when making customer portals.

24th November 2021

Simon Wilkes

Read time
2 minutes 

As a father of two young children, I often find myself saying (or shouting), walk before you can run - often to prevent accidents!

This saying is relatable to software development / IT projects, and I truly believe that organisations in the social housing sector make the mistake of trying to run before they can walk when it comes to customer portals or similar self-service software.



I often read tender documents with pages and pages of portal requirements that tend to be every idea mentioned in a room rather than validated requirements through engagement with key stakeholders. Another common scenario is an organisation having a fully functioning portal but delaying any launch, even a beta, or marketing because they need more features.


So what's causing this run mentality? I'm sure there are lots of reasons and these are just my opinions, but I think as a sector we compare ourselves against the Amazons and online banks of the world and see ourselves far behind. We feel that we need to 'run' to catch up with these other sectors.


I believe the first mistake we are making as a sector is comparing our online offerings to those of large corporations that invest millions, if not in some cases billions, in theirs. It's good to look at these providers for ideas and inspiration, but with the money they invest, it's always going to be hard to keep pace. 


The second mistake is that I actually think the sector is hard on itself. Every week I must hear at least one landlord say they want their customer portal to be like an online bank. There is a perception that banks have got it spot on, and they are the standard for self-service. However, according to a recent study, 28% of complaints to digital-only banks were related to their app or website, and 53% of digital bank customers felt negatively about their provider during lockdown'? Based on these stats, it's fair to say even the online banking world has its fair share of issues and needs to improve continually.


So, what is the answer? It's likely to be different for each organisation, but I'm a strong believer in taking an agile approach to a customer portal project, whether a completely new project or when replacing an existing portal. This gets the portal in the hands of real users as soon as possible, enabling you to continually improve it over time. Remember, improvements are not just about features but also user experience enhancements.


Where to start? For a customer portal, it's hard to argue that the two big-ticket items, and those most requested by customers (should this be tenants?), are managing their financials (i.e. statement, pay rent, etc.) and reporting & managing repairs. These two self-service areas in housing generally account for as much as 80% of inbound calls. Making them easy to access, easy to use, and accessible will encourage a much higher adoption rate than providing ten services, where repairs and financials are compromised in any way. 







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