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Digital inclusion, a social myth?

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In the world of social housing, how many times have you heard; "well, the majority of our tenants don't have access to the internet and therefore it's not worth looking for an online solution? Vicky Green, Insight Manager at Bromford, gives her thoughts on #Digital Inclusion.

In the world of social housing, how many times have you heard; "well, the majority of our tenants don't have access to the internet and therefore it's not worth looking for an online solution"? In my experience it's said a lot and it's potentially one of the biggest myths around... apart from you can lick your own elbow... you're all trying now aren't you?

So why do I say it's a potential myth?

At Bromford we've been clear for some time on why we want to engage with our customers online. Firstly it's about doing better business. We can respond faster and more efficiently online, guaranteeing the customer greater VfM. Secondly customers who are online support each other, they seek their own solutions. Finally online we can help more customers than ever to break the benefits-cycle and get back to work. It's a no-brainer, but first we had to look at how realistic this would be and this is where our stats may shock you.

Our latest research suggests over 81% of Bromford customers have access to the internet. Now that may not be in their home, but customers are demonstrating they know where to get online, from libraries to community centres, from friends to their 'husbands mobile'.

But just because they have access doesn't mean they are confident in using the web. That's why we're significantly investing in digital inclusion by turning some of our office locations into UK Online Centres, offering skills advice through a range of partnerships.

Broadband can be unaffordable to some people and so we are working with businesses like BT to get access to better deals ,avoiding credit checks for customers and obtaining recycled laptop sand computers to put back into action.

Finally our plans for increasing volunteering in communities will see digital champions working across neighbourhoods over the next few years to help guide people through the online journey

Our customers appetite for being online is nowhere more apparent than on our social media channels:

Within just a few weeks we had over 600 customers monitoring our performance feedback centre - Bromford's Your Voice, with a further 720 followers on Twitter. On Facebook we've seen an overwhelming desire from customers to engage with us. Yes, sometimes it's a bitter pill to swallow when a customer is publicly lambasting us for not doing something. But it also gives us an opportunity to openly seek and deliver a solution that nine times out of 10 receives praise from that customer and others.

It's not just general needs customers. Our Support customers, who you would suspect to be even more digital excluded have also jumped at the chance to get involved. Within days of launching Facebook groups for a number of support schemes and projects, Support customers were flocking to join the groups to discuss their experiences and issues with us and other users. This enables Bromford to join conversations on their virtual turf, rather than leading them, enhancing our ability to have conversations that matter with customers.

Of course we recognise we do have a commitment to the 18.52% of customer s that are yet to make it online and that's why it's vital to have a robust digital inclusion plan running alongside your online business aspirations. But instead of simply saying "our customers can't get online", make it happen. Shape resources and invest where you need to. Whether you believe it's a myth or not, one thing's for sure, our lives and our customers are going online and we need to be there to meet them.