Service design and delivery

The Covid19 crisis meant that we had to stand up new services from scratch, adapt services to recognise a constraint on physical access and turn others on their head to respond to urgent requirements emanating from central government.

In addition, the lockdown demonstrated very clearly that services could be delivered remotely and that people did not need to be together in council offices to communicate effectively. Digital by default took on a more literal meaning pretty well overnight. Staff were also redeployed at pace to take on new roles – admirably pitching in to work on the front line.

The question now is whether this has opened up the opportunity to take another radical look at how services are designed and delivered.

What are the ingredients for a new approach to service design and delivery?

1. Community

The community really stepped up in the challenge of delivering food, prescriptions and other basics for more vulnerable members of the community. What are the realistic limits on what the community could take on and could the whole process of identifying need, allocating resources and delivering be substantially devolved? Clearly there would need to be some enabling, some coordination and a step-up process for more specialist support, but the principle of devolving further to the community presents a huge opportunity.

2. Digital

With the closure of contact centres and libraries people either chose not to contact the council at all or to use another channel. Digital access rose significantly but was hampered in places by processes that are only partially digital. There is a strong argument to rapidly move beyond “skin-deep” automation and to fully digitally enable entire end to end processes. In this way digital self-serve will become a reality. Customers will be able to transact an entire process without contact and councils will be able to reduce cost. The challenge is to do this quickly and with the customer journey at the forefront of the design. Councils need to go beyond automation of existing processes and create genuinely digital processes, with all the broader organisational change that this unlocks.

3. First contact resolution

There was considerable reallocation of resources to call centres dealing with both inbound calls and outbound calls to contact the vulnerable to assess what they might need in lockdown. Staff were empowered to make decisions and adapted very quickly to the breadth of issues faced. History of high functioning call centres and experience of the past weeks suggest that there is huge scope to push more work forward into contact centres from siloed services. Staff enabled with the right technology, training and empowerment can handle a wide range of service requests and can handle considerable levels of complexity. Experts can be on hand to deal with the really complex issues, but in general the customer will get a far superior service and avoid unnecessary handoffs.

4. Integrated specialisms

It has always been the case that one individual might present to a council with housing, benefits and social care issues and be passed around three service functions – even before taking into account related interactions with the justice and health systems. Given the economic challenges ahead we should expect an increase in the volume and complexity of demand with a need to rapidly assess and deal with a series of interconnected issues. Maybe now is the time to take a much bigger step towards services that are integrated and organised around customers – or at least creating case workers that look at a customer holistically and can pull on all the levers to resolve a problem rather than battling with internal service divisions to get something that works.

5. Face to face alternatives

The rapid adoption of Zoom and Teams has demonstrated that it is possible to have a meaningful conversation without the need to be physically in the same room. While the technology is not perfect and not everybody is digitally savvy it is possible to pick up the social nuances, see what is going on in the background and to record conversations and interactions. This could make a significant difference to the way councils interact with people and to help with case work. Finding a way of integrating this will save significant amounts of time in travel and potentially reveal far more that a conventional face to face. It also has the potential to reduce the administrative time needed to document assessments.

6. Internet of things and AI

While sometimes overhyped and misdescribed, both of these technology options offer something in the design of services. With the internet of things providing the raw data and AI providing the intelligence to make informed assessments there is scope to provide more proactive service interventions and to focus time and effort where it is really needed. There is always the risk that technology is seen as taking the place of human interaction. The counter argument is that technology frees the time for people to spend time on being human and offering the social interaction that people really need. An intelligent and human use of the technology could really make a difference.

7. Go Agile

The recent crisis has brought agile service design in by the back door. Services have been designed or adapted on a “good enough” basis which is at the heart of agile development at pace. Now is the opportunity to put some discipline around an agile process so that it can be applied to all the other services that remained untouched. In time, agile service development becomes the norm and is embedded into the organisation as the standard way of operating.

The challenge

Councils have demonstrated that they can redesign services at pace.  There are two challenges. Firstly, to secure and refine changes that have been made in haste but need to be maintained. Secondly, to apply a new found agile discipline to other services that need to be upgraded and in a way that creates a genuinely Digital way of working – maintaining a human touch where needed.