Don’t fix the problem, eliminate the cause of the problem.

puppy-stuck-in-the-fence-bigSince the launch of the Government Digital Service in 2012, the digital transformation engine for the UK government, there has been a significant step change in online services.  Try applying for a driving licence online, if you haven’t done it recently, you’ll be shocked at how easy it is now.  In total there’s been over 2 billion visits to the sites GDS has helped to build since its inception.

Recently the GDS held its annual round up of progress and achievement: Sprint 16.  I’ve been part of GDS’ Digital Advisory Board and therefore had the opportunity to learn about the current set of projects.  More than anything else this event reflected the need for different teams, different internal cultures and different skill sets to work together.  The new executive director, Stephen Foreshew-Cain, prioritises the necessity for everyone, across government, to work together, to fulfil users’ needs (and not the need of government).

There are analogies with the world of marketing.  For a start we are all working to abolish siloes between teams and ensure that we get specialist functions to work together without diminishing their expertise. In marketing there’s an overriding need to focus on the customer needs, often a struggle to deliver the seamless experience that the customer wants and expects in businesses that were set up with very different business models from today.

Most customers expect for example to be able to buy what they want, at the best price, when they want it and in every way they want to.  This can be a challenge for a bricks and mortar business where online shopping ends up costing the business money.

Customers also expect that cheap prices do not diminish their capacity to get brilliant customer service when they want that too.

There are two ways of solving this problem.  You can staff up, and train, call centres to be better.

Or you can try and eliminate the need for anyone to call you at all.

Speaking recently on this topic Neil Clitheroe, CEO retail and generation at Scottish Power, said “If customers feel the need to call us, there’s a customer service failure…. We constantly ask ourselves, why could the customer not complete what they were doing online?”

It is an interesting way of looking at the situation. It places the emphasis on eliminating the need for customer service rather than ensuring that developing customer service is a priority.

At Sprint 16 GDS representatives spoke about using the same approach to transforming some government services online. There’s an ongoing problem with people calling 999 unnecessarily, sometimes with the best intentions.  Do you have more call handlers?  Do you have another advertising campaign to try and explain when to call 999 and when not to?  GDS are instead working to fix call log jams for the police services by introducing online reporting of minor crimes (rather than by increasing the capacity of call centres, or re-educating the public).  They’re developing the capacity to plea guilty for minor crimes online too, so that you can pay your fine without taking up time in court, leaving the courts to deal with real issues of justice.

Don’t fix the problem, fix the cause. It sometimes feels contra-intuitive, and it might seem harder, but it’s the only way really to move forward.






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