Communicating customer access

I’m at Channel Shift Camp in Birmingham today, organised by my good friend Nick Hill.

It’s an opportunity for people involved in customer services in the public sector to talk about ways of delivering services using new channels, such as online.

The point for organisations is that online channels tend to be a lot cheaper than phone or face to face; for the customer, hopefully the experience is quicker and more convenient.

The first session I attended was a very interesting one about how to communicate the benefits of using new channels for contacting councils and so on to users of services.

The problem was soon identified of the quality of the new service being sold. Often the user experience of online public services is pretty bad – to the point where most people would rather phone up or turn up to an office than try and figure out how to use them.

After all, think about the big, successful online services, like Google’s search engine, or Facebook, or Amazon. When have you seen an advert, or a poster, trying to convince you to use them? Probably never, and yet we do in our millions, because it’s better.

It was mentioned that it might be possible to ‘nudge’ people into using online channels by doing things like hiding the organisation’s phone number and address on the website, so people have to use the web service.

That is not nudging! It’s bullying.

Users ought to be able to access a service in whatever way they prefer to. The job of the organisation delivering that service is to design it so that their preferred channel is also the one their customers would choose.

So to start with there is a need, I think, for communications folk to challenge those asking them to promote a service to ensure that it is actually an improvement on the traditional alternatives. If it isn’t, then trying to persuade people to downgrade their user experience is not really a goer.

In other words, the service ought to sell itself. To do that, it needs to be designed with the user at the centre, meeting their needs and solving their problems first, and not those of the organisation.

Use what you already have

When planning a new project or activity, it’s easy to decide to get something new.

For instance, you might see it as the perfect opportunity to buy a cool web service to help you deliver this piece of work.

Or maybe you know that you could do a great job customising WordPress to do exactly what you want.

Hold on for a minute, though. What have you already got available to you that you could use to make this happen?

It might not be the perfect fit you would like in a perfect world, but it might be good enough. It might also come with a few advantages:

  • you can start work right away
  • no problems with access or other IT issues
  • your users will be more likely to be familiar with the way it works
  • there will be internal knowledge of the system to help you get stuff done

I’ve an example to share in a future post, where I resisted the temptation to do something new, and instead used what was already there and already familiar, in my work at the Department of Health.

Just what is digital, exactly?

I’ve seen a few comments bouncing about Twitter and other places debating the meaning of the word digital, and why it hasn’t caught on in some places at all.

I’ve also seen some people saying that ‘digital’ is an unhelpful term, given the broad range of things it seems to describe.

I’d agree that it isn’t perfect, however, it’s what we’ve got. May as well make the most of it.

My definition of digital is:

The delivery of information, interactions and services over the internet.

However, that’s not all. It is also:

The approaches, skills and behaviour that have been popularised by digital projects.

Hence agility, responsiveness, user focus, and so on are all ‘digital’ even though they don’t specifically require the internet.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but this definition works for me, and hopefully for those I work with.