Shifty shellshock

When I started out working on council web content eight years ago I didn’t realise that making our content and processes as easy-to-use as possible to tempt people onto the web would be called channel shift.

Five years ago I attended the National Digital Inclusion Conference and alarm bells started ringing. It was the first time anyone had pointed out to me that 1/3 three people in the UK didn’t have a computer (at that time). It was also the first time I heard about the broadband lottery. Maybe I was naïve but I’d just assumed everyone was like me and my family and friends.

Roll forward a year and channel shift had been given a name with programmes being rolled out the length and breadth of the country in a drive to get people transacting online with local and central government because that is the cheapest channel. Everyone was and still is quoting Socitm’s channel costs:

  • face-to-face £8.23
  • telephone £3.21
  • website £0.39

These are the figures that are driving channel shift in the name of efficiencies. We can all save a fortune by getting people online. What these figures fail to take into account is back office integration. Until processes are either completely redesigned or aging and multiple back office systems are integrated with our websites online will be more expensive than the phone because of all the data double handling – online form produces an email then an officer has to re-key the information into a separate system.

Deep sigh.

Where am I going with this?

Last week I was lucky enough to be asked to do the social reporting at the Public Sector Forums Channel Shift event in Glasgow. This was delivered by Sarah Fogden (@sarahfogden) and Gerald Power (@geraldpower), both channel shift and change management consultants from Trapeze Transformation.

Both worked for the Cabinet Office when Digital by Default was being written and both reckon DxD has been misinterpreted. We’ve all taken it to mean that all services should be designed to go online when in fact each one needs to be evaluated on individual merits as not all services/processes sit well online.

I can’t reproduce everything that Sarah and Gerald said but I’ll give you the top things I learned that day.

Matching the task to the channel

Each channel has its own strengths and each customer demographic has different preferences – not all tasks suit online.

  • What outcome are you looking for?
  • Will the channel you’re thinking about achieve the outcomes?
  • Is it economically sensible?
  • Will your target customers use it?

Is the task ready for the shift

To answer this you need to do a lot of research.

  • What volumetrics do you have?
  • What customer profiling do you have?
  • What analytics do you have?
  • What are they telling you about the task, channel and customer?

Why do you want to shift channels

Are you doing this for the customer or for efficiencies?

If you’re doing it for the customer you need to make it easier to use or access. You need to make it faster. You need to add value.

If you’re doing it for cashable savings you need to keep looking backwards for a headcount reduction. You need to rationalise offices/buildings. You need to lower the cost of contracted services. If you don’t produce any of these there are no efficiencies.

Hotspot analysis

  • You should pay attention to where significant resources are being spent.
  • If you don’t spend much money in a task, you won’t save much by shifting channel.

However, use this with caution. Benefits cost a lot to provide but the people claiming benefits often have complex needs, across many services. Processes such as these are best done face-to-face with human intervention.

Simple suitability

You can assess the suitability of a process for self-service by asking:

  • Is it complex or simple
  • Is it rules-based or judgement-based
  • Are the transactions high or low volume

Humans are good at managing judgement-based processes and ambiguous tasks whereas machines are better at simple rules-based processes. They are also good at complex processes but these often need significant investment to implement.

The customer

This may seem obvious but it would surprise you how often it is forgotten. The customer should be considered at the start of the channel shift process, not stuck in at the end with some user testing before go-live.

  • Every bit of data you have tells you about your service users – use it wisely.
  • Learn how to do customer journey mapping which is not the same thing as process mapping.

The channel shift team

This should be cross cutting.

It shouldn’t be led by the call centre as they’re probably the ones involved in the headcount reduction. This is like asking the turkey to organise Christmas dinner.

It shouldn’t be led by IT. IT is the enabler to much of channel shift but that’s just the gubbins in the box. No one, least of all the customer cares what’s in the box, they just want it to work without them noticing how it works. Don’t get hung up on the IT detail.

Don’t ignore comms/research unit. These guys are probably the ones with access to customer profiling and channel preferences. You’ll also need them to market your new channels. People don’t just shift channels by magic – they need to be persuaded to try new channels.

Overall channel shift needs to be led from the top across the whole organisation and needs to be driven by a clear vision and business case with support from stakeholders.

Sarah and Gerald were great speakers and with their background it was obvious they know their stuff. It was a fascinating day which reinforced many of the thoughts I’ve been having about channel shift for a while but I’ll leave you with this nugget:

It doesn’t matter how good you think the path is – customers choose the path they like best.


  1. Simon · June 29, 2012

    Brilliant. This is really helpful and exactly what I need to persuade the management at my council that things aren’t as simple as channel shift alone. Thanks so much.

    • carolynemitchell · June 29, 2012

      Only too glad to help and I’m pleased you found it all useful. I meant to put it in the post but you can follow my tweets from the day using #pschannelshift

  2. Pingback: Shifty Shellshock | weeklyblogclub
  3. Ross · July 1, 2012

    Something we’re currently grappling with. Completely agree on your points about savings. No magic wands around this but there are some wild expectations.

  4. Pingback: Reflecting, connecting, educating and floating | weeklyblogclub

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