How can Voice Interfaces Improve Social Housing?

UI/UX Design

A graphic image showing a multicoloured soundwave
A graphic image showing a multicoloured soundwave
A graphic image showing a multicoloured soundwave

At Komodo, we’ve completed a number of projects within the social housing sector with the goal of improving the experience of their tenants. In recent years social housing providers have started to embrace technology and test new types of service interfaces with tenants, notably digital ones. 3CConsultants expect social housing providers to be fully digital in the near future (2025) with over 80% of all customer interactions being completed digitally. This prediction may seem ambitious, but with the introduction of new technology into the sector it should be achievable.

The emergence of voice interfaces

One example of a new technology is the recent rise in the use of voice user interfaces (VUI’s). Products such as the Google home and Amazon Alexa have drastically changed the digital landscape and have become commonplace in many households. These interfaces are projected to continue to grow with Gartner predicting that 30% of all browsing will be ‘screenless’ by 2020. This raises attention to the effect this will have on those who currently struggle with activities, both digital and physical due to disabilities, voice interfaces will provide an easier and more natural way for users to request and receive information.

General tasks and questions

Voice assistants can be used to enhance small tasks requested by the user. In the context of housing, if a tenant struggled with mobility, simple tasks such as opening the blinds in the morning could be easily achievable with the use of integrated smart home devices. Routines can also be set with digital assistants, for example when you say “Alexa, good morning,” Alexa could turn the lights, give you a rundown of the latest community news and remind you to put the recycling bin out. The real value of voice interfaces however, becomes more apparent when you look at the more complex solutions that can be achieved through AI and integration with social housing provider systems.

Troubleshooting and maintenance requests

Issues with household items are a common occurrence. Voice interfaces could allow the user to ask simple troubleshooting questions if the answers were available. Asking your smart device why there is no hot water could return a set of instructions or tips to follow to aid with solving the issue prior to calling in a professional. Or the voice assistant could send information in a readable format to the users device, “I’m sending some troubleshooting tips to your phone” would provide the tenant with greater technical know-how immediately.

However, for the times when professional help is needed, voice interfaces have the potential to greatly simplify the way tenants interact with their housing provider by allowing time consuming tasks to be completed with a short conversation. In one of our recent articles, we discussed the repairs process within social housing. An interface such as Alexa could be used to simplify this process:

Tenant: “Alexa, my washing machine is leaking”

Alexa: “Would you like to request a repair”

Tenant: “Yes”

Alexa: “What date would you prefer?”

Tenant: “Tuesday, the 11th December”

Alexa: ”Ok, what time? 10:30am and 4:00pm are available”

Tenant: “10:30am”

Alexa: ”Repair confirmed for Tuesday the 11th December at 10:30am”

The above example captures all of the necessary information needed to book a repair. Alexa will already be aware of the tenants information, such as their name and address, so all that is necessary is to understand the issue at hand and negotiate a date and time for the repair to be carried out. This conversation could be completed in around a minute with Alexa, this greatly improves the speed of booking a repair compared to the current online flow. Whilst tenants can also book repairs over the phone, the convenience of being able to book in a repair immediately via Alexa will be valuable both to the tenant and housing provider, meaning less effort is required from the tenant and less call handling and manual data entry for the housing provider staff.

Advanced uses and 3rd party integration

The use of voice interfaces opens up a number of possibilities. For example, something as trivial as paying a bill can be further enhanced through the use of some additional AI within the voice assistant system. Let’s say the user wants to pay their rent. They can trigger this action by saying “Alexa, pay this week’s rent”. This can be further built on in if the AI was capable of detecting that the user does not have enough in their account to pay the bill, it could pay part of the bill and schedule a manageable payment plan based on the tennants individual expenditure over the next weeks/months to get them back on track with payments. This information could then easily be relayed to the user through with the option for them to accept the payment plan. This would significantly reduce the stress of tenants and also provide manageable plans for them without the need to go through numerous phone calls and meetings with housing officers to come to an agreement for rent arrears.

In a world in which data is becoming more valuable, VUI’s will capture huge amounts of data regarding the day-to-day habits of tenants and their daily schedules. This data could then be used to further tailor experiences on a tenant basis by recommending or automatically completing regular actions on behalf of the tenant.

If you’d like to explore voice interfaces and how they might improve the experience of your tenants, contact us. Check back for future updates as we continue with our research into VUI’s and their use cases.

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