Citizens Advice help millions of people every year. They provide free confidential advice to give people the knowledge and the confidence they need to find their way forward, whoever they are and whatever their problem.
Historically, most of the interactions between Citizens Advice and their users have been in person. But because of the pandemic, the telephone has now, for the first time, become their most-used channel. This sudden and unexpected change has surfaced the need to reassess their phone experience, as the team had uncovered plenty of room for improvement.
Citizens Advice decided to redefine how they engage with people over the phone using a human-centred approach. They wanted to understand the journeys, perceptions and needs of their users and to use this information for decision-making. First to envision a better service experience for the millions of people that contact them. Then to create an internal case to start the changes required to implement and support this new experience. They had a clear goal in mind and were open to exploring the best ways to frame this information to make it actionable and relevant for the organisation.
The Full Story
How do you engage with diverse research participants?
Citizens Advice support a broad range of people across the UK. From the very start of the project we discussed the need to include a diverse group of individuals in our research to reflect the reality of their users. We collaborated with the team to define the research goals and key recruitment criteria. Then we worked with a recruitment agency to identify and invite relevant people to take part in our study.
We were able to learn about the experiences of people from different ethnic backgrounds, age groups and abilities. One of our aims was to give people control over the channels and tools we’d use to make sure that they were as comfortable as possible, taking into account their different levels of familiarity with technology. We conducted one-to-one sessions and let participants decide how they wanted to be interviewed. For instance, some of them asked us to call them on their landline and others opted for video conferencing software.
Having conversations about diversity early on and being open to adapt to people’s needs were key to the success of recruitment. That’s unlikely to be the case when diversity is just an afterthought.
How do you prioritise research outcomes over outputs?
Citizens Advice had a vision of what they wanted to achieve with this project. They knew they wanted to use the research findings to inspire a new phone experience for their users and start the complex internal changes required to support it. They didn’t have a predetermined idea of deliverable formats and they were open to discussing suggestions depending on progress and findings.
This flexibility and receptiveness allowed us to spend time exploring the best ways to align everyone around the research findings, framing insights and turning them into an actionable tool for decision-making. We laid out the research findings on an experience map that illustrated the contexts, activities, pain points and highlights of the journeys of those who seek advice over the phone. Also, we incorporated relevant findings from previous qualitative and quantitative research conducted by other teams in the organisation to complement our insights.
Aligning the team and building shared knowledge was key to helping them prepare for the huge task ahead, leading change in such a complex organisation. We used the experience map to collaboratively identify opportunities for a better service experience and talked about their implications for Citizens Advice. We discussed the ways in which the organisation could use this information to inform design decisions in the future and maximise its impact across channels. We considered a number of potential approaches such as prioritising opportunities, brainstorming concepts or writing design principles.
We decided that the best option was creating design principles. A great thing about design principles is that they’re specific enough to represent the experience we want people to have but at the same time they’re flexible enough to support decision-making. By assessing ideas and solutions against them they can guide both client-facing and internally-facing service decisions at any level. One of the main challenges in creating design principles is that they’re very hard to get right.
How do you create relevant design principles?
We knew we wanted our design principles to be a tool to help the team make decisions and to aid the selection of a new platform. So we created a set that would define the key characteristics of the future client experience.
We started by theming the opportunity areas that we identified as part of the experience mapping process. This helped to identify critical points of the journey and how we wanted the experience to feel. The themes included:
- Ensuring advice continuity.
- Creating seamless handoffs.
- Managing the wait.
We also mapped the related insights to ensure we had all the stimulus we needed to create a first iteration of design principles. From these first iterations, our principles went on a journey with multiple iterations over the course of a two-week period with small team discussions.
As a team we considered every single word carefully and we played with different ways of articulating the message. We ended up with six principles, each consisting of one core message, a description, a set of Do’s and Dont’s, and the user insights that inspired its creation.
At the end of the process, we were all happy with the design principles but like any design tool, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Although all key stakeholders were involved in their creation in order to ensure they were embedded we nominated an owner responsible for making key decisions, communicating their value and keeping them as a living reference for the team.
For Citizens Advice, this is just the start of a journey to embrace new ways of helping and engaging with people. They also plan to evolve the principles to form a holistic set, which will characterise an omnichannel service experience across all their delivery channels.