In our day-to-day lives, we often encounter challenges in getting to our desired and often essential goal, especially when dealing with service providers. You may have a choice but in the end, you have to do it somehow, e.g. choosing a pension provider or paying your council tax. In both cases, you go on a ‘customer journey’.
The feeling you are left with can range from real satisfaction (“well that was cheaper and easier than I thought it would be!”) to outright frustration (“but I updated my address with you, and you’ve billed us – why don’t you have a record?”).
Just as we’ve talked about in another post recently it is still essential to provide several methods of going on this customer journey: face-to-face, over the phone and online. Doing it online can be the quickest and most empowering experience.
Seamless journeys save time, cost and effort but only if the process works.
Whose account is it anyway?
I recently tried to change the address on my pension account …first stop the website. I found the pension section straight away – great! I needed to log in to access my account. Having not previously done this, I needed a verification code. To get hold of this, I picked up the phone. This is understandable as it is a basic two-factor security measure and I certainly don’t want just anyone to access my information so I was prepared to cooperate.
Agent: “Hi, please can I have the name of the caller?”
Caller: “Yes, it’s Andrew Woodhead”
Agent: “Are you the policyholder?”
Caller: “Yes, speaking”
Agent: “Can I have your plan number and address please?”
Caller: “< provides details >”
Agent: “…and your Date of Birth”
Caller: “< I tell him >”
Agent: “Please can you repeat?”
Caller: “< I use a different format >”
Agent: “I’m sorry we have a different Date of Birth on record for you and I will be unable to do anything for you today!”
Caller: “So what do you advise I do?”
Agent: “I’m not sure”
Caller: “I could send you an email with a photo of my driving license”
Agent: “I can give you a generic email address to send that to, and you’ll be dealt with in a 2-day turnaround. Actually, it’ll be more like 5-10 working days, which is our standard response time guarantee.”
Clearly, a simple error had occurred in the set up of my account. Normally, this would be inconsequential, but when verification of identity is concerned, and only basic details are currently on file, the system had no built-in failover to deal with the error. If I had not called and asked to be set up online, who knows how long that error would have existed on the account, and what other issues may have arisen as a result. If I had moved jobs, and the new employer had given the correct details, would my contributions have gone to the right place? Would I have ended up with two pension schemes running on the same basis, but without the ability to access one, and no one realising it had happened? How would it have affected my retirement?
Similar human errors can occur all over these types of systems: people keying one number wrong in a reference code, adding an extra zero or mistyping a date of birth can lead to automatic letters of warning and suspensions of accounts, where a simple mistake has been made and there is no human intervention.
Eventually, I got my log-in code and my date of birth was rectified. Where choice is concerned, and money is being handed over, companies tend to try to resolve the issue in the customer’s favour and fast. They know that there are other providers, and that poor service will swiftly reduce the confidence of the individual in the ability of this company to perform the more complex elements of their role. My pension provider needs to demonstrate trustworthiness, accountability and efficiency if they are to stay in the game.
Public service design
No one wants to feel like they are just a username:
No such demands exist in the public sector. In the 20 or so years that the internet has been available in people’s homes in the UK, there has been no effort to standardise the systems which local bodies use to provide services across the UK. Each organisation is at liberty to choose any set of web service providers, including CMSs, search providers and payment systems. It was only in 2012 that an effort to provide public accountability for these services was brought into law. Previously, many public bodies had begun programmes to change their services and simply abandoned them when the money ran out or services proved too complicated for the vendor chosen. Integrations with legacy systems, lack of digital systems to consolidate information or simply poor levels of IT ability in-house led to tens of billions of pounds being wasted on systems that in some cases never even went live.
Back office systems suffer too
It’s not just online systems that can baffle or frustrate us. Poor design can plague the systems we never even see in the public sector. For example, paying council tax can be a seemingly never-ending hassle. Paying your council tax is a legal duty, and you have no choice about to whom you pay it. There is no standardised system used by local councils to manage payments, as noted above, each council can choose any vendor to provide the services, and unless they choose to ‘share services’ in local hubs, each council has to pay for the design, development and maintenance of these systems individually.
For citizens, monthly payments are easier to afford but can lead to automatically-generated letters informing occupants that they risk a court summons if they do not pay when there is simply a disconnect between the date upon which the householder pays and the date that the council’s internal system checks for payments. If the payment consistently misses the threshold, a letter will be sent despite the account is up to date. Amongst law-abiding citizens, this can cause much unnecessary distress. Similar issues of tracing payments that have gone awry can arise if you use a slightly different format of address, an incorrect reference number or an unusually spelt name.
A duty to perform well
In an era of encouraging more services to be completed online, errors and mishandlings reduce people’s likelihood of using a system again or recommending it to others. These systems are often very expensive to design and develop, with a high cost of failure. They are set up to reduce the manpower needed to administrate local services, but if they are not adequately designed they will fail, leading to increased cost and low customer satisfaction levels.
When people do not have a choice but to use a system, the most basic requirement must be to design a journey that has built-in solutions to problems that could be anticipated by careful analysis of the process and eases the journey of the user. The balance between security and ease of use should be paramount, with service-end checks and balances careful assessed and designed into the process to avoid the need for the user to manage their account in place of the organisation. Putting services online should be a catalyst to get to the end goal and to make a user feel satisfied.