Hyperlocal encouragement

September 4, 2012

The bizarrely named Streetfight website has a great post on the 29 August 2012 by Stephanie Miles which I can see having relevance further than the hyperlocal web sites it is focused on. Entitled “6 Ways to Encourage User Contributions on Hyperlocal Sites” the advice echoed for me across many recent Internet experiences.

Tip one is give a dedicated phone number. In my personal case a recent need to make a doctor’s appointment had me Googling for the sake of ease their reception number and guess what? In all those lovely personal friendly personal words littering page after page I couldn’t see a telephone number. Luckily Google presented it elsewhere…

Tip two is to respond personally to inquiries. In my years of local government I had to repeat this time after time to service providers to respond usefully and quickly to inquiries – so this is not just hyperlocal!

The third tip is to take the conversation onto Facebook, which may be correct in some circumstances in the broader context but highly likely in hyperlocal.

As a fourth tip there is the need to draw in content, not just wait for it and for the fifth let your readers know that you are wanting material and finally show appreciation when you get it. This last one is for me an important one. As with consultation the recipient must publish what has been received with any necessary response within a reasonable time in order to create a full loop and the potential for a broader conversation. If you have no intention of holding that conversation stop before you create the site – it’s only window dressing  or brochureware of the sort favoured by traditional politicians.

Six useful tips for any website, but especially the hyperlocal.


September 2, 2012

Policing is a public service that doesn’t often get viewed as a system or as a system of parts in the same way that health or government are. That was until Simon Guilfoyle, John Seddon and others looked at it. Simon is a serving officer with an interest in systems thinking and I had the pleasure of seeing a presentation by him earlier this year at a NET2 meeting. Following the meeting he kindly forwarded me a recent paper he’d had published entitled “On target? – Public Sector Performance Management: Recurrent Themes, Consequences and Questions“, Policing (2012).

As the paper’s title infers it puts policing performance management into the same context as the rest of the public sector with all the bad practices that are frequently pointed out there. In line with the theme of this blog there is the notion that public satisfaction rates are a potential indicator, although some refining may be required to gain understanding in context i.e. cold feedback won’t do on its own. The paper also warns of the likely effect of  gaming when employing emotive targets, something that Simon went into some detail in during his presentation.

In this context John Seddon is just starting his “The Evidence Tour” and launching the second volume of “Delivering Public Services That Work”. The presentations are free and I recommend those involved in public services give him a listen and ask questions. With the introduction of elected police commissioners later this year the whole matter of police performance targets is likely to take on added weight as pre and post election gaming occurs.

Listen to customers not big data

August 28, 2012

A report from The Register  on 22 August 2012 covers one of the Directors of the dominant telco in Australia stating that “Insights won’t come from data, they’ll come from observation”, in other words which business processes the customers complain about offer more direction than sifting about in the data. Michael Ossipoff, the Director of Capability and Innovation [sic] at Telstra, does however not rule out big data, wanting to have his cake and eat it, but does also report that over 70% of their support calls are the result of customer expectations being incorrectly set.

Having read me quoting the mantra to listen to customers for many years, this approach will come as nothing new to readers of this blog but what it does provide is further evidence that the private sector has been doing it, so government needs to stopping flushing money down the drain on big data projects and instead ensure the mechanisms are in place to capture citizen feedback at the point of service delivery.

Customer avoidance

August 11, 2012

I had reason to pay a visit to a large branch of the HSBC bank recently. I’m not a customer of theirs but needed to pay a cheque in for someone else to a bank that they supply a service for. The sliding doors revealed a dimly lit interior full of machines that one is expected to carry out ones transactions through – if you can see which one is the appropriate one in the plush surroundings more reminiscent of a 70’s night club. After wandering about looking for the correct paying-in slip or a service counter I found a lift that indicated there was a service desk on the ground floor but the only one I found was for business customers. I stopped a young assistant, obviously the modern day equivalent of the department store floor walker who directed me to the first floor – I informed her that the lift claimed one was on the ground floor but only received a look that indicated that I was wrong.

Making my way up the stairs (I didn’t trust the lift!) I found a service desk hidden in a far corner with two staff behind glass and a short queue. This journey was quite a long one from the front door, so entirely designed to discourage face-to-face custom. Patiently waiting my turn I was eventually seen to be told that I couldn’t pay the cheque in without a pre-printed paying-in slip – something I had actually managed to do at a smaller rural branch in the past, but times had obviously changed and HSBC were intent on making life hard for customers unwilling to adapt to their systems.

Having got rid of a load of staff in April and now finding itself caught-out laundering money for gangsters and drug cartels, HSBC is obviously reinventing itself for a new market, but it’s not after ordinary customers who just want reasonable service. This was so unlike the Cooperative Bank branch I had just been into, where a cheery “Good Afternoon” had greeted me before I’d even put pen to paying-in slip.

I pray that in its attempts to be efficient government, including local government, avoid the HSBC model and focus on delivering service through systems that work.

Social media and customers

August 1, 2012

First of all I picked up from a Tweet by Jerry van Leeuwen that there was a new item on the Harvard Business Review blog network by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss. Nothing particularly new there, for as they say “social media improves service by making the market for peer-to-peer opinion more efficient”. They break this up into three components – ‘service recovery’, service improvement’ and ‘customer training’.  Then a post on the Econsultancy blog on 24 July 2012 by Patricio Robles entitled “Is Twitter creating a VIP customer service channel?” repeats a similar argument with examples concluding that “social media is a supplement to existing customer service programs, not a replacement”.

This was then reinforced by the weekly news email from Gerry McGovern who stated that “many customers go to social media sites to complain”. Gerry states that “Organizations have abused words such as community and loyalty for a long time. There s a need to get real.” This is combined with an attack on the ‘sticky’ websites of old. He states that there research indicates the need to help customers:

  • trust the information they receive
  • receive clear messages at each decision stage
  • weigh the options confidently

This is equally appropriate to government and the failure to do so is why citizens continue to use multiple channels. The advise from Frei & Morriss, along with Patricio Robles, might help regain that trust. Whilst I remain less skeptical on social media for government I do think any approach needs to be done on a strategic basis and follow some of the best practice already identified.

Less skeptical on social media

July 26, 2012

John Kamensky at GoverningPeople has pointed me to a recent report from the Feis Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania entitled “The Rise of Social Government“. At 110 pages the 3Mb PDF download is not a light read but is a thorough study and endorsement of the use of social media across US government large and small. As an example of the numbers involved in using social media in the USA NASA has more followers than the population of Denver, Colorado, whilst The US State Department has more followers than that of Salt Lake City.

The uses highlighted include information distribution but also drawing feedback about graffiti and repairs needed, along with encouraging participation in producing policy. The report considers different ways of managing social media, either central or distributed, along with a variety of ways of getting content approved before publication. There are obviously going to be uses for social media in government, including local government, but before driving potential followers away by tedious or untargetted messages it is probably best to examine a serious report about how it has been successfully used and then considering whether that would work in your own locality.


July 11, 2012

I Tweeted a post from simply-communicate.com on their review of Terry Leahy’s ‘Management in 10 words’ but thought repeating a few words of the post here. Leahy (former CEO at Tesco) emphasises the value of face-to-face in a time when email and social media permit managers to easily avoid it. Importantly, the review reports Leahy stating:

“Each day in stores, depots and offices, managers would brief their team leaders who, in turn, briefed their teams. We called them Team Five meetings – because they only took five minutes and so they could be done standing up. Those five minutes made a big difference, as everyone then knew what was going on and that they had a part to play. Even in the age of instant communication, it takes a manager longer than five minutes to compose a bad email.”

The review also states that when Leahy took over at Tesco “he commissioned the most exhaustive customer research in the history of Tesco – and I suspect of any FTSE 100 company. And then he acted on what customers told him they did not like about shopping at Tesco and set about fixing things detail by detail.”

Both emphasise the need for regular and open communications with whoever you are dealing with, be they customers, citizens or colleagues, along with having a loop in place to act upon critical feedback. This is not a case of establishing focus groups or small cliques, but of actively listening to what is going on in the big world.