The most frequent customers were council housing tenants, or hopeful tenants-to-be. The customer experience was painful. They had to:
- Know that they had to go to the council offices for a particular service and not one of nineteen other offices scattered around the town;
- Know which floor to go to;
- Know that when they got out of the lift at that floor they had to turn right and go through the big, wooden, unmarked door;
- Know that once inside the reception room (not a lot bigger than a telephone booth) they had to ring the appropriate door bell for assistance;
- Know which of the six doorbells on the wall to use, which wasn't obvious as they were hand-labelled with the names (or even initials) of the housing teams, not their function.
If you picked the wrong doorbell you were tutted at and left to your own devices to have another guess.
I'd hoped those days were long gone but looking round at public service web sites I begin to wonder. The vogue now is for pages to be stripped down bare save for a small number of icons taking you to the services you are most likely to want.
I have a few issues with the more extreme instances of this:
- Where's the information telling the user who you are and what you do? Not a mission statement (God help us!) but a simple narrative explanation of your function. Don't assume that because you know then so does everyone else.
- Where's the support? What if these icons and labels mean nothing to me? What do I do? Who do I ask for help?
- Who says these are the services I am most likely to want? You don't know me, you don't know what I want.
- Who says these are the services that the average user is most likely to want? Customer insight might be able to tell you which of the existing options the customer is most likely to find and use but that isn't necessarily the same as "want." Is a page popular because it is useful or because it's easily accessible (or least-inaccessible)?
- Beyond the metrics, who determines which services are promoted? Is it the comms team? Is it the web team? Is it the service? Is somebody waiting for the research to demonstrate a demand for resources that have effectively been hidden?
But most of all, whenever I see one of these web sites I have to ask myself: have we really gone back to the customer having to guess which doorbell to ring for attention?