Imagine you’re a skilled car designer and have been asked to design a new car for an already-crowded market.  Would you jump straight into drawing possible designs?  Probably not.  

After checking the budget and timescale available to you, you’d probably ask who your target customers are, and you’d get out and speak to people who fell into that group.  You’d try to understand what they want from a car, what they think of the competition, and what would persuade them to part with their hard earned cash.

You might go back to those potential customers several more times - to get their feedback on your early drawings, to consult them on possible materials for the car’s interior, to ask them to test drive early prototypes and to help you to shape appealing advertising campaigns.

There’s a big difference, of course, between being a car designer whose customers can choose from between any number of alternative suppliers, and being a council that is providing public services.  Many of our services are “no choice” services - every resident of Adur & Worthing has to pay us council tax, for example.  Many others are services that people would not wish to engage with - such as reporting a noise problem or a missed bin.

But whether our customers have to engage with us, choose to engage with us, or need to engage with us, the principles are the same.  We should design our services with the customer firmly in mind, and we should make our processes as user-friendly and efficient for those customers as we can.  

That will involve asking our customers where the pinch points are currently, what their suggestions for improvements are, what they think about our own suggestions, and how we can best communicate any improvements that we make.

We can also all “walk in the customer’s shoes” by phoning our own service, or accessing our own service webpages, to test how easy or difficult it is to find information that we know our customers want.  How many clicks does it take to find it?  Could you do it if you didn’t know the terminology that the council uses?

Adur & Worthing Councils are a long way from being able to claim that we are truly customer-centric, or that our “customer pathways” work as smoothly as we’d like them to.  But we have started to tackle that, and to think creatively about how we can do better, even with shrinking resources.  

We call projects that adopt this approach “SameRoom projects”.  Why?  Because it references the need to ensure the right perspectives are represented in the room whenever new or improved services are discussed.  We include not just senior decision makers, but also staff who will be involved in delivering any change. Crucially, we ensure the “customer voice” is represented too.  Until all those perspectives are in the room, we don’t go near the “drawing board”.  

You can read about specific SameRoom projects as part of this blog series, and I’ll use a future blog to explain what the team I’m part of is doing to start to walk in our customers’ shoes.