Moving services online? You may need a (better) process

Moving services online? You may need a (better) process

Thinking about moving services online? Perhaps to save cost? Or time? Or – perish the thought – staffing costs…?

Surely that should be easy enough?

Well yes – and no. Because a lot depends on the nature of the process you’re trying to deal with. As many local councils have discovered.

Let’s be fair. In recent years local councils have faced enormous challenges. They have had to cut their costs. And – rightly – they have been looking at ways to do that without cutting their key services. Surely (so the logic goes) they could set up automated processes to answer common questions. And even, perhaps, to deal with the most common transactions.

Simply – as they thought – by replicating what their teams were already doing.

Ambitious plans to move services online

They started confidently enough. In 2015 GOSS, a tech company specialising in work for government sent out a survey to local councils. 66% of respondents said they’d be moving 50-100% of their services online by 2018.

That didn’t happen.

By 2019 only 11% had 50% or more of their services online, while just 46% expected to reach that less ambitious goal by 2022. (Down from 55% in the previous year.)

So what went wrong?

Keep it simple, stupid…

Many councils ran into three problems almost straight away.

  • Their processes – often developed over many years – were too complex to be easily automated.
  • Their systems (according to 54% of respondents) lacked the necessary capabilities
  • 44% were held up by lack of resources – and 39% by lack of in-house skill

With mistrust from the beginning – understandably, perhaps, where job losses were likely – many projects got off to a rocky start. And even when they’d been implemented, the reaction from the public was often less than encouraging.

Because – all too often – an overcomplicated internal process had been made into an overcomplicated sequence of interactions. And nobody loved it. Especially when they had to enter personal information repeatedly to gain access to different council services.

A huge proportion of users failed to complete the processes online. Instead, they rang the council for help. With (perhaps) fewer staff to man the phones, they often had a long wait for an answer. if they got through at all…

So the public hated it. The staff hated it. And the councils began to worry that they had spent a sizeable amount of money on a white elephant.

Time for a change?

So what’s the answer?

For the councils – and for any organisation that wants to go digital – it all boils down to the customer experience. If your online systems are easy and intuitive to use, people will be much more willing to use them.

And you’ll get far fewer angry phone calls.

But to achieve that goal, you may very well need to review the entire process you’re trying to digitise. Because while it may function perfectly well when trained, experienced, and knowledgeable staff are running it, you can’t expect your customers to deal with it in the same way.

And if you need a little help with that, please call me for a chat on 01359 240717.

Delegation: if I’d known you were coming I’d have baked a cake

Delegation: if I’d known you were coming I’d have baked a cake

Picture by kind permission of Jess Fotheringham of Pickacake – Jess makes all her own cakes and decorates them, too! See more at www.pickacake.co.uk and www.facebook.com/jesspickacake/

It’s great talking about delegation in theory, but how does it work in practice? Let’s look at an example…

Say you’re a wedding cake specialist whose business is just taking off. Which means you’re now so busy that you’re working past 11 pm most nights.

So – what could you delegate?

After a little thought, you start making a list, which includes:

  • handling telephone enquiries
  • handling online enquiries (via email, Facebook, your website etc.)
  • taking orders
  • collecting (and chasing) payment
  • posting on social media
  • delivering the finished cake

Those are all fairly obvious. None of this work requires your key skills, and all of it can easily be done by someone else. But you might also consider a more radical solution. Suppose – for example – that you decide your key skill is cake decoration. In that case you might consider outsourcing the actual cake making to someone you can really rely on.

How, exactly, could you go about doing that?

Start with three questions

What are you delegating? Why are you delegating it? And to whom will you delegate?

What you are delegating sounds simple – but is it? Will you delegate just the basic cake making, or the cake making and basic icing?

Why you are delegating also sounds simple – after all, you’re already working too hard. But what is your plan? Do you want to stop work earlier but still produce the same number of cakes? Or do you want to increase productivity – to make more cakes during the time you are working?

And the questions don’t stop there.

You have a good reputation, which you want to keep. So are you going to specify a particular recipe? Will you insist on free range eggs? Will you specify the source for those eggs? What size – or sizes – of cake do you want made? Are you supplying tins, or are they? How will you keep in contact with your supplier? (Phone? Email? SMS? Messenger?) And will you want them to acknowledge all your orders – in detail?

Sounds finicky? Not really. Just consider a realistic example…

You place an order for ‘an 8-inch cake, wanted Monday’. At this point you know exactly what you mean by that – but your supplier doesn’t. For instance, are they delivering the cake, or are you picking it up? Do you need it cooled before collection or delivery, or could it still be warm from the oven? Do you want it in a tin, or wrapped in greaseproof paper? And when, exactly, do you want it? By 10 am on Monday? By close of play on Monday?

There’s a lot to think about – and we haven’t even considered what’s probably the most important question – to whom?

Can you trust your new supplier?

You’re delegating a job that is vital to your business. If your new supplier gets it wrong, you will lose customers – and, more importantly, you could lose a reputation that’s taken a long time to build.

So you’ll want to spend some time checking them out. You might even consider placing a trial order to see how they perform – ordering a cake you don’t intend to sell, just to see for yourself that it’s a good cake. And once you’ve made your choice, you need to listen to your customer feedback, and check that the change works for them, too.

In short, delegation involves a lot of questions – including quite a few you may not have thought of. Because it’s all about process. And that’s my speciality.

So if you’d like a little help, why not book a chat with me today? No pressure, no fee, no obligation.

New Year, new systems?

New Year, new systems?

Systems are wonderful. You can sit down after the Christmas and New Year break, confident that you’ll be able to pick up exactly where you left off. With no problems.

Or can you?

Perhaps that’s not your experience. Perhaps – when you get back to your desk – there’s a moment of dread. A moment where you’re thinking ‘Oh no – not again…!’

Don’t worry. You’re not alone. The world is full of systems that were started for a perfectly good reason. And which have long since outlived their usefulness.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about ‘old-fashioned’ systems. It’s very tempting to change a system simply because it seems a bit passé, but that, on its own, isn’t enough of a reason. Consider, for example, the fuss that was made about fax machines being used by the NHS. If you want a good example of 1980s tech, look no further. Fax machines were wonderful when they first appeared, but that was long before we had something called email. So surely it makes sense to use email instead?

Or does it?

When older is better…

In conversation with a friend who’s worked in the NHS I asked exactly that question. She grinned. ‘Of course email’s better. But not for everything.’

Surprised, I asked what she had in mind.

‘Simple,’ she said. ‘A nurse is writing a note – by hand – because it’s the quickest way to communicate an urgent request. She sticks it in a fax machine, presses a preset number to send it to a colleague, and the job’s done. It would take her twice or three times as long to send an email. And she doesn’t have the time. Even if she were allowed to use a smartphone in the operating theatre…’

So it may be old. But if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. If it is broke, on the other hand…

Why systems go worng…

There seems to be a rule that the bigger the project, the more likely it is to go wrong. Without casting stones at any particular administration, that seems to go double for major government IT projects.

So why do they fail so often?

I like to think it’s a collision of good intentions. A consultant friend recently told me about his experience with HMRC’s very first self-assessment form, long before the days when there was handy software around to help him fill it out. It took him two weeks, during which he, as a full-time freelancer, earned nothing at all. ‘They should have been paying me to do my tax!’ he laughed. So what did he think was the problem with it?

‘When I looked at it, I could see that someone – perhaps a consultant like me – had tried very hard to make it clear, straightforward, and easy to complete. All the signs were there. My guess? I think that after that it went through about half a dozen different civil service desks. And every single one of them added their own feedback. They’d have pointed out all the little exceptions. All the tricky details. In fact, all those things that make our tax system totally unsuitable for self-assessment – unless you’re a tax accountant. And that form was the result.

‘So yes – that particular road to hell was paved with good intentions. And millions of people had to travel it. All I can say is “thank God for software.”‘

So…

…what can you do if you’re faced with a similar chimera?

A good place to start is with comments and feedback from people who have to use your systems, but had no part in creating them. People coming to it with a fresh pair of eyes. If they’re told what it’s meant to do, they may very well come up with fresh ideas and fresh approaches for delivering the results you really want.

As opposed to delivering frustration, annoyance, and bad feeling.

And if you could use a little help – and another fresh pair of eyes – why not book a free initial consultation?

Time to delegate…

Time to delegate…

If you keep just one New Year resolution this year, here’s the one to stick to: ‘You will delegate the work you don’t need to do yourself.’

In an earlier post you’ll find ideas to avoid being a ‘busy fool’ – by deciding what to do, what to delegate, and what to dump. But when you’ve made that important decision, the next step is even more important. Because you need to delegate the right work, to the right people, for the right reasons – and get it done in the right way…

The right work

Good – you’re clear about what task you want to delegate. But now you need to take a long, hard look at what, precisely you are doing, and how you are doing it. How would you describe it to someone else? What, exactly, would you ask them to do?

It may sound like a silly question: after all, you probably think that the answer is obvious.

But is it?

If it’s obvious, you should be able to write down what’s needed in a sentence or two. If you can’t, it may not be as obvious as you thought…!

Puzzled? Don’t be. In all likelihood you’ve been doing that job for months or even years. You know precisely what to do and how to do it. But all that information only exists in your head. And until it exists somewhere else, in an accessible form, you can’t really expect anyone else to do it for you.

So – write it down. And, perhaps, discuss it with the person you’d like to do the job. They may well have questions. They may also have suggestions: other ways of doing the work that are simpler, or more cost-effective. That’s the benefit of bringing in someone to help you, after all!

But only, of course, if they’re the right someone.

The right people

If you value your business, you don’t want just anyone to work in it. You’ll want people with genuine, proven ability who can make a real contribution. In fairness, that could include members of your family, but they may well have other things to do which they would regard as more important. (Like doing their own job. Or feeding the cat. After all, they may not want to work for you…)

If they’re an employee, be sure they are a good ‘fit’ for the job you’re asking them to do – and that they feel willing and able to do it. If they’re the right person in principle, but lack the necessary experience, you’ll need to invest in training them. That may well be a good investment, but you need to be confident that it’s worth making.

If you’re looking outside the business, at someone you don’t know well – such as a Virtual Assistant – you’ll need to check out their credentials. (And, ideally, what other clients think of them – perhaps via social media). Anyone can talk the talk, but you need the substance. And you need to get on with them on a personal level, as well – after all, they’re effectively going to be a part of your team.

The right way

Of course, trust is an issue, too. Depending on the nature of your business you may need your outsourcing supplier to sign a confidentiality agreement – especially given the more stringent rules around data protection from May 2018. And consider any terms and conditions you may need to apply – including, for example, permission for them to outsource work which, for any reason, they cannot do themselves.

Think of ‘trust’, and inevitably the next word you are likely to think of is ‘risk’. So what are the risks of outsourcing the work you have in mind? If something went wrong, what effect might that have on your business? Your answer is likely to shape your initial agreement with your new partner.

If the risk is relatively low, the best approach is probably to arrange an agreed trial period so you can see how the arrangement will work. If the risk is greater you will certainly want to set specific terms and conditions around the trial, and arrange for regular performance reviews. You will also want to have a Plan B available in case it doesn’t work out!

Inevitably things you haven’t thought of will come up (they always do) but a good, responsive outsourcing supplier will be aware of that and respond to feedback. If they don’t – or if their response is less than helpful – then it’s time to move on and find someone else! Every good business welcomes feedback. (You do – don’t you?)

Need a little help? Then please get in touch for a free fact-finding consultation.

The Christmas Process…

The Christmas Process…

Let’s face it, if you’re looking for the ultimate process then look no further than the North Pole. (Or Greenland. Or Lapland. Mr Claus seems a little cagey about revealing the location of his head office…)

Think about it. Billions of presents, all with a need to be supplied – and delivered – just in time. (Urgent: Little Johnny (Ref UK263-MR-CO2348978230) no longer wants the Iron Man Mk III rocket suit – he’s just seen Thor: Ragnarok and now he wants a scale model of Asgard and a throwable Hammer. NB that Little Johnny’s Mummy would like this item mislaid in transit…) A worldwide communication network that needs to be up and running every second of every day in the run up to the Main Event. And a distribution nightmare. (The right present, to exactly the right address, within a 24-hour window sliced into immutable 6-hour segments…) Well, it would certainly keep me awake at night just thinking about it.

So how could he possibly do it?

Theories abound, of course. Including several that involve messing with the fabric of reality and some ridiculously esoteric physics. But I’d go for something more earthbound.

He has help. Lots of it. Obviously.

Turning a challenge into a process

Want to do something that seems impossible? Then you divide it up into smaller tasks. And then divide those again. And keep going until the whole thing is a connected series of small, bite-sized pieces. (But note that key word ‘connected’…)

That, after all, is how humans reached the Moon. And how they’re already planning to build a colony on Mars. (Maybe they should have a word with Santa about sleigh-tech…)

And the lesson from all this?

If you want to grow your business in the coming year, and that seems impossible, think again. Work out what needs doing. Divide it up into bite-sized pieces. And then consider who – other than you – could do that job excellently as part of a planned and connected system.

And should you need a little help to design that system – well, you know who to call…

So here’s wishing you a very happy Christmas – and an exceedingly prosperous and successful New Year.