Design Principle #1 for the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) states; ‘Start with needs – user needs not government needs’. Putting ‘users first’ is a refreshingly simple and common-sense approach to defining, delivering, supporting, and continually enhancing services. And it should produce the best results for the audience. Initial examples like digital self-assessment, or online voter registration would certainly point to this being the case. They’ve provided a step-change in digital engagement, and they’ve been built on the basis on the aforementioned design principle (obviously amongst some others too). To quote GDS directly “”Users first” isn’t just a throwaway catchphrase: it’s the core around which all this change has begun. Users are why we’re here.”
But before I elaborate on the key point of this post it’s worth defining who the audience, these ‘users’, actually are. For me, when it comes to the public sector, there are two types of ‘users’ being referred to. The first type is the initiator/recipient of a public service. Basically everyone in the UK, in some form or other, at some time or other. The second type encompasses the personnel of the civil service and wider public sector who enable the delivery of public services. For an end to end public service to work, the needs of both sets of users are of symbiotic importance.
For both types of users the focal point when things aren’t working as they should, or additional information or services are required, is the Service Desk (more commonly known as Contact Centre when it comes to public services, but we’ll stick with the term Service Desk for simplicity).
The Service Desk sits in an invaluable position when it comes to interaction with users. The proverbial ‘window to the world’ of your organisation and customers. Setup correctly, the Service Desk can act as a barometer for tangible and intangible perception of the services being delivered. Sometimes it’s clear that things aren’t working as they should, and the Service Desk can bring the necessary assistance to bear to ensure that a service is restored quickly. At other times it’s not quite so clear. A service may appear to be available and operational, but the users of that service report sluggishness or a degradation in functionality. Too often in the past this type of feedback has been overlooked by system/service owners. If the lights on their monitoring boards are green and there are no apparent configuration issues, then it’s easy to label the problem as user-side. But ‘perception is everything’ when it comes to services, and an inability to effectively manage user perception can lead to loss of user confidence, and a diminishment of service uptake. Clearly this defeats the objective. User feedback, especially when identified through the Service Desk, should always be well heeded.
Furthermore, the Service Desk, when properly enabled, is well placed to directly address the concerns or requests of users. A significant shift has occurred in recent years, away from the old ‘log and flog’ model of the Service Desk. Nowadays the Service Desk is (or should be!) an intelligent interface, suitably knowledgeable in the needs of users, and equipped with the ability to restore service or action a request, right there, at the first point of contact. And when I talk about needs, I’m not talking about the ‘IT needs’ of the users. The Service Desk should be interested in the underlying operational needs of the users – IT is just a vehicle for achieving this. And again, the Service Desk should have the right operational understanding to allow them to confidently and empathetically address user needs.
From a design perspective the Service Desk itself should be implemented based on the “users first” principle. There are a variety of design considerations here but I believe the most important is the ability for a user to engage with the Service Desk. Methods of contact should be immediate (where required), intuitive, and ‘situation appropriate’. A variety of contact methods should be made available to users so that they can engage with the Service Desk at a time, and in a manner, that is most suitable for them. Sometimes this will involve the immediate need to speak to someone on the phone. At other times alternative forms of contact are more appropriate, like instant chat, where real-time interaction is required, but at a pace and frequency dictated by the user. And there should be self-service too, of course (there is a slight paradox to this approach however, but that’s a topic for a future post).
So, in a nutshell, when effectively delivered, the Service Desk should genuinely sit at the heart of any ‘users first’ approach to both the design and on-going delivery of services. When it does, it will provide you, as a service owner, with unparalleled visibility of the services you are providing. And it will provide your users with a simple and effective method of engagement that is well positioned to facilitate their needs when a service isn’t doing exactly what they need it to be doing.
In future posts we’ll expand our thoughts on how the most effective Service Desk should be setup, and how that works to further support the ‘users first’ approach.