Your customers probably aren’t like you

I’m not posh.

I have dinner at 6pm, not supper at 8.30pm.

I have never skiied.

My second name is not my nickname.

In our house we have a loo not a lavatory.

And I don’t shop in Waitrose.

I can guarantee you that the heaviest users of council services are not posh either.

By the same token I am not poor – I have a job, I can feed my family, we have a car, own our own home and can afford to go on sunny holidays. I’d describe us as comfortable.

Other than emptying their bins, collecting their council tax and educating some of their children I don’t think the majority of the comfortably off are heavy users of council services.

So when it comes to wording leaflets, creating web content and forms or designing services with actual customers in mind, how can we be sure we’re pitching it right?

As humans we like to think that other people are like us but are they really?

In the office we use PCs mostly but a look at the web stats shows me that the majority of our citizens look at the website on a phone. We need to look at the website through their eyes.

That 45-page housing application form? Yes, we need to look at the form through an applicant’s eyes but we also need to understand what life is actually like for that citizen as they try to fill it out.

Empathy and a good dose of nosiness is what service managers and service designers need.

I’ve always been nosy – that’s why I enjoyed my 14 years as a journalist.

It’s also why I like public transport, particularly the bus. I sit at the bus station for half an hour on a Wednesday and another 30 minutes on the bus home. Now, you could look on the bus station as the armpit of hell where the human flotsam and jetsam congregates to compare court orders, the price of a bag of green, who the father of the baby is or the latest rumblings on Love Island. It is all that. On the other hand these human beings are likely to be the heaviest users of council services, whether as ‘troublesome’ council tenants, at risk of becoming homeless, known to social work for one reason or another or up on a Police warrant.

Last week, a group of four 20 somethings came in, clearly out their faces on something, loud-mouthed, sweary and slightly scary. The rest of us looked at each other, hoping they wouldn’t get on our bus. As the bus pulled in they sprang into action, falling over each other, dropping stuff, looking for bus fares, all with smart phones, when one of them shouted out, “Whar’s ma dug! Ah’ve loast ma dug! Whar’s ma dug!”, as he circled round and round checking around his ankles. I had visions of the poor dug tied up outside a pub for hours and for a couple of seconds the guy was as panicked as if he’s left his first born in a pram outside a shop.

Embed from Getty Images


The dug – a staffie-cross, naturally – came slinking out, shamefaced from under his seat. And we all heaved a sigh of relief.

And that was a perfect picture of just one of our customer groups – chaotic lifestyle, drug habit, friends just like him, public transport user. But he loves his dug.

Could he fill out our housing application without help? He’d probably struggle to find it, never mind fill it out on his phone.

However, should he ever lose his dug and it gets picked up by the dog warden I am pretty confident he’ll see the picture we’ll post on Facebook and Insta telling him where to pick it up.

So if you work in local government and you want to understand your customers, get out among them. Take the bus. Hit up Iceland instead of Waitrose (Iceland has pledged to remove palm oil by 2020, unlike Waitrose btw). Go into the chemist serving one of your housing estates for a browse and listen to the conversations around you.

This is real life.

A meeting room filled with middle managers deciding how to deliver a service isn’t.

One comment

  1. rachaelstray · July 27, 2018

    Love this! I think the same goes for inside your organisation too – you need to get away from HQ and out on the factory floor (whatever and wherever that may be).

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