Insight in place

July 1, 2010

I’m not quite sure where ‘customer insight’ fits into the new governments thinking, along with many other matters, but they seem to have taken a shine to Total Place, especially for the potential to save money. So, when a new publication pops out from the CLG, the Local Government Delivery Council and the IDeA it’s worth an investigation.

The twenty page publication entitled “Customer insight: through a Total Place lens” looks at some of the Total Place pilots and examines how they have employed customer insight. Personally I think ‘customer insight’ is an overplayed concept from marketing, that along with the term ‘customer’ for our citizens should be binned, with all that other neo-liberal NPM jargon! However, I believe we do need to know what our citizens want, expect and deserve and this does not require the semi-mystical ‘customer insight’.

In contrast, Total Place, with its focus on destroying silos cannot be a bad thing! I also believe that Local Information Systems may have their place in identifying the real communities that politics can’t.

The first thing that leaped out to me from the report was the costs of service delivery (Tameside’s) being used on page 7, where we have £1.34 for telephone, which is rather different to the £3.21 figure in Socitm’s Better Connected 2010. Similar contrasts occurred over the other channels.  I’ve discussed these before and suspect that whilst we can’t agree these, we should stop using them, particularly when there will be massive variations across services. Whilst we consider the drive to the web we should also consider another Insight from Socitm, where the web take-up service indicates two out of three visits to council web sites are simply for information finding purposes – this to me indicates the importance of making sure that information is clear, accessible and available and that the web is less about service delivery.

Isn’t the lesson from Total Place is that we should work with other public services to gain insight to our citizens and communities and to stop replication of each other’s work? Let’s have one shared insight.


So, what’s the vision?

September 20, 2008

Socitm were presenting last week on Web 2.0, I’m arguing for a Citizen-oriented Service Architecture to be planned across the board (including a metric model), the Invisible Hand gang argue for access to data and central government and its contractors continue to lose public trust by losing their data!

Having completed the splendid book by Jeffrey Roy about E-Government in Canada, a great deal of which covered the above issues, particularly public trust, I’m now onto a book that Mantex promoted.(I’ve subscribed to Roy’s newsletter since it started and its always worth a read, even if only for the ‘pub quiz’ questions that flow through it! 

The book by Merholz et al, Subject to Change, encourages us to use customer experience to shape the product development process. In my simple way I thought this might project an opinion around service delivery to the citizen, and it does.

My developing model has the citizen in their community of needs at the front. They approach the resolution of those needs or services approach them, potentially, via the full range of service channels depending upon the service or the citizen’s needs. This will include appropriate security, it may also include Web 2.0.

Overlapping the service channels but feeding back to the citizen and the service is the performance layer that will capture information from those served and those serving about satisfaction and numbers.

Feeding into the range of service channels are the serices themselves, presented in a citizen-oriented service architecture that may allow ‘invisible hands’ access or third sector users, subject to secuity and legalities but taking and delivering transactions and information as required by the media of the service delivery channels.

The performance layer will tune the service layer or refine citizen expectations at the front end, according to feedback.

Where does Merholz et al fit in? Right at the beginning they state that a persons experience of a service emerges from certain qualities which are:







This all means that we need to deliver to expectations and abilities (social inclusion), engaging well with citizens to ensure that the experience is of value! If none of these are fulfilled we want to know why, so we can try and sort it out!

On Friday morning on the 26th September my supervisors Ben and Richard will be presenting the initial research into this realm at Ethicomp 2008 at the University of Mantua. My thanks to them, I hope it is found interesting and no hard questions are asked in my absence. I’m hoping to refine the measure(s) and model at the EiP Conference in November and also at the ESD-Toolkit Customer Insight Working Group in Preston in October.

So, I’m not a lone voice crying in the wilderness, I’ve found a few wildernesses to cry out in!

Customer what?

June 18, 2008

Helen Begley (Assistant Director, Service Transformation, Cabinet Office) was chairing a debate on the IDeA Communities today (18th June 2008). Having challenged her for a definition she came back with “Insight is defined as a deep ‘truth’ about the customer based on their behaviour, experiences, beliefs, needs or desires, that is relevant to the task or issue and ‘rings bells’ with target people.” This definition is taken from the Government Communication Network’s Engage Programme and is commonly accepted as a useful working definition in most major government publications on this subject. The Insight section on the Engage web site includes more detail on methodology and tools, together with some examples of where deep psychological truths derived from customer insight activity have been applied effectively in campaigns to drive behavioural change.”

Unfortunately I am not a Civil Servant nor on the Civil Service network and so do not have access to this material and so can’t reveal its hidden truths.

She also had this to say “There is much that can be done quickly and simply: the things which matter to people are often far more straightforward and basic than we think. The design of a form, the sequence of a process, a well-timed question can make the difference between success and failure. However the real challenge is cultural. Being customer-centric and using insight is not just about being able to collect data and information. It is about having the capability to turn that information into action and it requires a culture which values insight and is willing to act on it. Too often, customer research is commissioned without first understanding what it is we really need to know and how best to find that out. And too many organisations fail to ensure that the intelligence that they collect on the needs and behaviours of those they’re trying to reach is used effectively and not discarded.”

Which I think is a more verbose way of expressing my view that one collects customer dissatisfaction and acts upon it. Personally, I think customer insight includes much more than her description, it is understanding customer need, which is a step or two further on from collecting feedback and employing that to improve the customer process. I stated in the one-to-many that it was not necessarily the use of the phrase ‘customer insight’ that was confusing but that amongst all the others such as need, satisfaction, engagement etc., along with all the reports that have issued from Cabinet Office in parallel with the drafts of National Indicator 14 (NI14) or ‘avoidable cotact’ coming out from the Communities and Local Government Department, that rather runs contrary.

Since Helen has been so kind to provide a definition of ‘insight’ my next task is to collect definitions of all the others and compare them, to extract the ideal term for what we what from our customers!

Customer insight: an online conference

June 10, 2008

The Improvement & Development Agency (IDeA) are this month (June 2008) hosting an online conference on the subject of ‘customer insight’. The’ve neatly started off by inviting Mary Tetlow to provide a piece with her views and a video of herself.

I believe Mary’s piece is a  reasonable criticism of the National Indicator set and Place survey, reflecting the views of the public and in two A4 pages she explains some of the issues faced by many local authorities having to do something that is of little or no value  (which perhaps echoes back to the government’s own NI14).

Anyway, the debate has opened but registration is required to partake. Please take a look!

Having read about and discussed customer insight, need, satisfaction etc., I believe we can make this as complex or as simple as we want, but on this occasion, please, please, lets opt for the Occam’s razor of solutions and go for something that is easy for councils to operate and gives the public what they deserve!