How to introduce digital services discussed at channel shift conference

The ‘Channel Shift in the Public Sector’ conference was held last week at London’s Millennium Gloucester Hotel with the aim of bringing together those who are implementing or want to implement digital services in their organisations, such as HMRC, local government councils and housing associations.

Jayne Hilditch, corporate server director at Thames Valley Housing spoke about ‘Building a channel shift strategy to improve efficiency’. She said that there are no experts when it comes to channel shift in the housing sector, as everyone is trying it for the first time, using the lessons and experiences of local government and the Government Digital Service.

As part of the work they do at Thames, she gave the example of lessons learnt from a private sector project called Fizzy Living which takes service request on Twitter but saw that people prefer to send in text messages instead. She also said that although they want to make the most of Twitter, it begs many questions, such as the manner in which to handle requests, how to ensure that people who use it don’t manage to jump the priority queue as well as how to log requests into the CRM system.

Adding to the government’s Digital by Default mantra of ‘make it so good, people choose to use it’, she said she has added the words ‘don’t take other stuff away’, at least for now.

Speaking out websites for government services, she said they are often like corporate brochures, you can check your rent account or the status of your repairs but there is not much utility beyond that.

On how to get customers involved she pointed to a website called Patient Opinion which is a website for health services feedback, describing it as a “reasonable piece for discussion” with a broad mix of reviews ranging from positive ones to angry ones. She said that she would like to see something like this for housing.

According to her, customers do want to give feedback especially in order to help reduce costs and get value for money, but it was usually always the same 200 people who did so, out of a potential 15,000, and the challenge is how to get everyone involved.

Another challenge for channel shift in the housing sector, according to Hilditch, is that the ICT strategy typically talks about tools for housing officials, not for customers.

She also praised the G-Cloud, saying that its procurement framework has helped Thames get in touch with SME web developers who are good with coding and have user experience expertise while being competitively priced.  They even asked to meet customers for whom they were being asked to build websites, and came along to job clubs to see how the internet was used there.

In her concluding remarks, Hilditch said that mobile is going to be massive: there was a 60% increase in mobile use to access Thames Valley Housing services in the last one year.

Moreover, Android take up has been nearly six times higher than the iPhone, meaning that developers need to ensure that websites work for Android devices.

Keeping this in mind, she said that services need to be so good that people can use them on the device of their choice.

Another session was by Rohan Gye of the DVLA who spoke about lessons learnt from customers that can help with channel shift: they like simple, convenient digital services; once they use one digital service they will try others; once they use a digital service successfully they will use it again; and some choose not to use them, others can’t access them.

Next up was Dave Witts of Goss Interactive who gave an interesting talk on a six-step strategy for channel shift success.

The steps included:

  1. Gaining customer insight via workshops, surveys
  2. Working on a customer strategy based on the insight gained
  3. Figuring out which channels will be most effective aka ‘channel insight’ via metrics gathering exercises
  4. Write a channel strategy based on this insight
  5. Implement this strategy
  6. Review and improve the strategy

He also spoke about how to truly understand customers and their needs: discover them via workshops; focus groups and interviews; understand them via content review and developing a wireframe; implement it via graphical design and user testing; and lastly, review it via usage analysis and satisfaction surveys.

Other speakers included Rachel Neaman, Digital Leader and Deputy Director for Digital, Channel Strategy and Publishing at the Department of Health and Brigid McBridge, Interim Digital Director at HMRC who spoke about cross-government approaches to transforming government digital services as well as representatives from South Cambridgeshire District Council and Harrow Council.

Related reading