Why, When & How Should We Involve Customers? A #blabchat Round Up

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses....
— Henry Ford

Recently our CEO, Philippa Jones, wrote a blog for Inside Housing about the importance of balancing customer involvement - and used this 'quote' to open her piece. 

  • How do we make sure that we are listening to needs rather than wants?
  • How do we avoid providing our customers with  'faster horses' - delivering real step change instead?
  • How can we go beyond traditional approaches such as panels, focus groups and surveys?

We thought this was the basis for a great discussion, so when thinking about the subject for our next #blabchat it was a no brainer. 

As before, we asked the Twittersphere a series of questions and we got some great responses....

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Across the board, we all agreed that customers had a pivotal role to play in projects that looked at changes to services and how they were delivered.  Ultimately, in order for us to make improvements, we need to know what the problems are before we even start the design process and we can't do that without good quality insights.  As Arren eloquently put it, customer involvement takes us 'from a position of thinking to a position of knowing'.  Worried about the faster horses thing?  The discussion centred around customer involvement evolving from asking them what they want or dislike to a more holistic approach characterised by honest conversation and transparency.  As Annette said, customers are realists and understand that not all their ideas or suggestions will ever be adopted, the important thing is to make their engagement a positive, worthwhile experience.

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Turns out not really.  Participants were all in agreement that customers need to be involved in service design at some point, but there were some interesting differences in how involved they should be.  The key takeaway seemed to be an acknowledgement that it isn't always beneficial for high levels of involvement at the outset or even throughout but it is incredibly important to take customers on the journey with you and making this as positive an experience as possible.  This is something we try very hard at in Bromford Lab by getting customer involvement in tests and pilots for new concepts and ideas before they are even considered to be scaled up into business as usual.  This gives customers tangible experiences to draw upon and means we are making decisions based on evidence!

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Not surprisingly, this question was quite popular and it turns out that the biggest barrier is actually us as providers and our often outdated methods.  There are so many free tools out there and the evolution of technology now means we can engage customers in a more varied and exciting way than ever before.  If you want to continue relying solely on customer surveys and panels to get quality insights, be prepared for more of the same.  

That being said, we're not suggesting you bin these off - in fact, far from it!  They have their place and are functional in the right context, all we would suggest is to think outside the box....

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There were so many good ones that it proves our point that customer involvement is key:

  • Knightstone's Systems Thinking interventions, where customers are able to input on their service designs
  • Alliance Homes customer journey mapping for their Plan A transformation strategy, 
  • Bromford Tenant Cashback Scheme
  • Redesigning school allocation letters in conjunction with parents to make them simpler (thanks to Lucy Hallewell for this one)
  • Working group with relatives & carers to create safer transfer for patients to hospital (thanks Naomi Davies)

In all examples, Kenny's quote above summarises the approach perfectly - asking the right question, at the right time via the right method can only bring benefits to organisations.


So that's the round up from our latest session - we hope everyone enjoyed being a part of it and we look forward to seeing as many of you as possible for our next chat, happening on Thursday 5th April 2018 from 8pm!

Until then, you stay classy Twittersphere....