Connecting people with the best advice

This blogpost is the second of two in which I describe how we’re developing our product strategy at Citizens Advice. Read the first part here.

Our goal is to provide relevant, tailored advice to help meet the growing demand for our service. We’ve got the foundations in place, and now we need to connect everything together.

What capabilities do we need?

There are 5 core capabilities we think our products need to support. This list doesn’t represent a linear journey — each element can be embedded into multiple touchpoints and channels in the advice giving process.

1. Listen

to what the client is able to tell us about their situation. This information can be heard through different media depending on what works best for the client — whether that’s voice recognition, search, or message.

2. Understand

what that means. Process the information and interpret what the client is telling us they need help with. We can do this simply by asking questions as part of a decision tree. We can also explore things like natural language processing.

3. Contextualise

the presenting information.

  • What else do we know about the client from their previous interactions with us?
  • Where are they in their journey? For example, if they’re looking to get a divorce they might need to consider child arrangements next.
  • What sorts of problems are often linked with this one? We might use algorithms to recommend a related piece of advice.
  • What has worked best for other clients who we’ve helped with this problem?

4. Recommend

options and next steps. By gathering what we know about the client and their situation in advance, we could help advisers to get a clearer understanding of the problem in advance of a 1–1 appointment. For clients who come to our public advice service directly, we can use data and insight to inform a set of tailored recommendations.

5. Connect

the client to relevant channels or services, either internally or externally. That could involve passing their information onto one of our advisers for further discussion over the phone, webchat, or face to face. Or we might refer them to a partner organisation who is better placed to help.

How will this help clients?

There are limits and downsides to services that require human interaction. We want to minimise or remove the impact of the following:

  • capacity — the number of advisers we have at any given time.
  • availability — when advisers are available. For clients who have paid or unpaid work commitments, attending a local office during opening hours can prove an insurmountable challenge.
  • location — the physical nature of face to face advice means clients need to travel to get help. This isn’t always possible for people with accessibility needs or caring responsibilities.
  • medium — talking to a person on the phone or face to face can prove tricky for people who are feeling overwhelmed. It can also be inaccessible for people with hearing and/or visual impairments.

By allowing clients to access advice independently online, our service is available to more people from any location, at any time, and at a pace that suits them.

How will this help advisers?

We want to make it easy to for advisers to give the best advice. We’re already doing great work in this area through our Adviser product team, who are improving things like findability and making sure our adviser-facing content has the right level of detail.

A day in the life of an advice session supervisor

We know that advisers and session supervisors spend lots of time researching a client’s problem. It’s our team’s responsibility to help them find the right answers quickly.

How will this help our organisation?

We don’t always have an accurate picture of who our clients are, and what they really need and want from our service. This is particularly problematic in funded areas, where the requirements of our funder take priority and we risk losing focus on the things that matter.

Every time we give advice to a client we should be measuring how effective that has been, and feeding that learning back into our advice offering to make it better. Not only will this help clients, but we’ll become a more efficient and effective organisation that continuously improves its service.

What does ‘product’ bring to the mix?

Although ‘product thinking’ is a fairly new concept to the organisation, the underlying principle of user-centricity is already core to our culture. Since joining in January I’ve been helping to build skills and expertise in product. We now have 5 excellent product people in the Customer Journey team, with another being recruited as we speak.

As product folk, we have the responsibility and privilege of helping the organisation to rally behind a common vision and mission, set goals that cut across functional teams, and be accountable for the value we deliver to clients. We do this by focusing on the impact we’re trying to make, and by testing and learning as we go. Our role means saying yes and no — about how a product is developed, the direction it goes in, and how it meets client needs.

What’s next?

We’re embedding the skills and leadership needed to tackle this challenge. The next step is to test out ways of meeting these capabilities, and to scale our technology to meet our ambition. This work is urgent and essential if we’re to meet our ambitions for the service by 2022.

I’d love to hear from you if you’re doing something similar, or if you have thoughts on these ideas. And incase you haven’t noticed, we’re hiring!

My DMs are open on Twitter, and you can also email me directly to find out more about any of these roles. Check my blogposts linked in the tweet above for dates and time I’m available to chat.

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