Accelerating online user journeys: weeknotes 16/04/20

There are more than 900 pages on the Hackney website, covering probably thousands of user journeys, small and large. With the closure of Hackney Service Centre to visitors and more traffic shifting to the internet, we need to make sure key tasks and information are as easy to access online as possible. 

So what are those key user journeys? Step up to the plate, Google Analytics. We don’t just want to know which are the most visited pages as that may well be consistent before and after lockdown. We want to understand, particularly, which pages are experiencing more traffic than usual because of the knock-on effects of Coronavirus. 

We found that, compared to the same period the previous month, pages around benefit claims, discretionary payments and council tax discounts were well up in the stats. We already collect feedback on the website and this quantitative data was backed up by comments that pretty much boiled down to: “I have less income and need help.” 

The existence of ‘Benefits Specialists’ in the Contact Centre attests to the somewhat complex nature of the benefits system. Our user journey and content lead on this, Eleanor Snow, was able to utilise these agents’ expertise to help us understand the process, and also residents’ queries, more fully. We learnt that there are three main groups of users, with different reductions and schemes available to each:

  1. Those who are already claiming benefits of some sort
  2. Those who aren’t
  3. Those with no recourse to public funds (eg certain immigrants or asylum seekers)

The second cohort is expected to grow during coronavirus, and comprises residents possibly entirely unfamiliar with the benefits system. This underscores the necessity of making the content and user journeys as simple as possible, which we attempted to achieve by looking at:

  • how best to lead users through their individual user journeys 
  • how to reorganise the menu to signpost users to content
  • which pages need editing or removing
  • ensuring plain English as much as possible

We worked closely with the Benefits and Customer Services teams and the result was a new page entitled Coronavirus financial support. We included the word ‘Coronavirus’ as it will help the page gain greater traction in Google search results. The design of the page funnels users down either of the three user journeys and presents the options available to each. 

What we do not want to do, however, is repeat information available on central government websites, such as Therefore, we signpost users to those resources where appropriate and concentrate instead on highlighting the additional support that Hackney Council is able to offer. We may not always be able to “solve the whole problem”, as per the GDS service standard, but we can at least give a steer. 

‘Financial help’ also encroaches on departments beyond Benefits, notably Council Tax and Housing, and we liaised with key staff in those areas to provide a joined up approach. We regrouped existing pages in the benefits and council tax menu to reflect better the process and challenges that residents go through when making a claim. There is some crossover with benefits and council tax content and this collaborative approach ensures that relevant content is flagged at a relevant time, regardless of department.

Of course, we want to measure the success – or otherwise, we’re not infallible! – of our changes. We can already see that the new Coronavirus financial support page has the lowest bounce rate of pages with more than 20 page views. For those not familiar with Google Analytics parlance, this indicates that users are sticking around to read the content. We can confirm this by looking at a Hotjar heatmap, which shows how users are interacting with a page by tracking cursor clicks. 16% of clicks were on ‘I am not currently claiming any financial support to pay rent and council tax’ and 15% on ‘I am currently claiming financial support to pay rent and council tax’. 

The new page also has the lowest exit rate of pages with more than 20 page views (22% compared to the site average of 52%). Meaning that 78% of users are continuing with their website journey and not leaving the Hackney site. We cannot yet confirm where they are going – and we would hope it is to our signposted pages – but, once we set up Google Tag Manager, this will become clearer. 

We’ll continue to monitor progress but, for now, we say adieu to Benefits. And it’s back to analytics, call logs, site feedback and good old-fashioned anecdotal evidence to identify the next user journey ripe for optimisation.

Finding support services: retrospective 08/04/20

We made a bold switch from a traditional ‘directory of services’ with its labour-intensive, top-down model to a delegated approach where organisations are responsible for their own listings. We want to know if our Find Support Services model has got legs, and COVID-19 has provided an unexpected opportunity to validate the proposition.

Yesterday afternoon, we ran a ‘retro’ to explore the good, the bad and the ugly of our model. We used a collaborative tool called IdeaFlip to run the workshop, which meant we could all participate online – and move Postits around without them hurling themselves off the wall, for a change.


Here are the results!

Principle 1

We will signpost health professionals and residents to relevant organisations and the onus is on them to keep their digital channels up to date with details of the services that they provide.

Has this been proved a good principle?

Yes. They pretty much all have a website or Twitter and keep it up to date, especially the latter. 

Principle 2

It’s not the concept of a directory that’s outmoded it’s the fact they are not kept up to date that renders them redundant.

Has this been proved true?

Yes, we know from both residents and professionals that they are finding this information useful because it is up to date. And we don’t really need to remind organisations to keep it up to date, they do it anyway. 

Principle 3

Organisations will sign up of their own volition.

Has this been proved true?

Yes, if we build it, they will come. But we have also learnt that the verification process we co-designed with our key stakeholders (including health and care professionals) is robust.

What else have we learnt?

The same front-end can function for both residents and professionals, however, there is a difference in the language they use. We should definitely progress our synonyms piece whereby we cross-reference search terms against a thesaurus.

As we suspected, some users need a search facility; and others also want a list of results and not solely a map.

What do we need to explore further?

  • There is often a disconnect between the person who submits the listing and the person who updates the social media. Is this a problem?
  • We’d like to know if or how organisations have adapted to make sure their digital presence is particularly up to date during Covid. Is this a reactive response or would they be doing this anyway?
  • A character limit on the About Us profile and some explanatory text for organisations on categories wouldn’t go amiss. 

We’re feeding our findings back into each iteration of the map and our Agile backlog but, all in all, our model is proving well able to stand on its own feet.

Implementing webchat in one week

The exact wording of Matthew Cain’s brief was likely more eloquent but I remember it as ‘Webchat. Website. ASAP’. Mission, accepted. Message, self-destruct.

Here follows the diary of how we did it. 

20/03/20: Asking for advice on LocalGovDigital Slack re webchat. Incoming: lead from Neil Lawrence of Oxford City Council re

21/03/20: Adding script to test version of Hackney website for trialing. Having conversations with myself as agent and caller. The first sign of madness…

22/03/20: Writing quick guide for agents and their managers so they can hit the ground running, Tom Cruise-style, on Monday. 

23/02/20: Matthew intro-ing Contact Centre managers to the prospect of webchat. Encouraging response: “It looks brilliant”.

24/02/20: Walking Joseph Asiamah of the main Hackney contact centre through He shares with colleagues Tim Jones and Jacqueline Baker. Joseph is rapidly building up knowledge of the tool and becoming something of a subject matter expert.

25/03/20: Kelly Page joins Customer Services as Ops Manager. Joseph configuring in collaboration with Tim and Jackie.

26/03/20: Joseph, Tim and Jackie training two field agents, Jan and Colin. 

27/03/20: Webchat launches at 10:00 for two hours of nail-biting chat, followed by a debrief from field agents.

Mission, accomplished. 

Within the following week, we take more than 1,000 webchats, with 10 agents and managers now trained on the tool. We continue to learn about and iterate how we use it. For example, we are being more selective in our automated links; and we now ask customers to describe their query so it can be picked up by specialist agents, as appropriate. 

This mission could not have been accomplished without the enthusiasm of a small team. Not only have Joseph, Jackie, Tim and their team embraced webchat virtually overnight, they have adopted Agile principles of standups, user stories, backlogs, sprints, MOSCOW prioritisation, weeknotes AND got to grips with Slack and Trello in just two weeks. 

Kelly puts it best herself: “I am super excited and just a little impressed by the speed and willingness of this team.”

Next stop: Repairs Contact Centre.

Note: No, I don’t know why webchat is called ‘chat’ either. It’s not chatting, it’s typing. I guess ‘webtype’ doesn’t sound so good.

Finding support services near you: weeknote 03/04/20

Still here! Still ringing organisations every few days to check they are too! And encouraging them to update their websites and Twitter channels. Emma and Winston’s Mastermind specialist subject: Voluntary Organisations of Hackney 2020

As the current state of affairs becomes the new normal, we want to give map users helpful info upfront. We’ve reacted to feedback by adding details of specific activities provided under COVID. Organisations have generally already settled into a new rhythm – much like the rest of us – so we’re not creating an updating headache. 

In anticipation that, presumably, at some point this will all end, we spent a productive couple of hours yesterday hammering the service categories into some sort of order. The original data came from the Well St pilot and now we’re calling on YOU to indulge in a spot of audience participation. Please take 5mins to give your view on how you would group and name these activities. It’s the sort of mindless task that goes well with a bottle of ginger beer and a bourbon. Ahem. 

We now have 75 organisations on the map. We know from other Council projects that food is an area that concerns many residents and have made a push to make sure that deliveries and food banks are well-represented across the borough.

We’ve added an organisation search and also designed a style for those HQ’d outside Hackney but have a strong presence in the borough. Plus users can now download the data to a spreadsheet, while reminding would-be print-ers that the information changes regularly and they only have a snapshot in time. 

The map is on many radars including Coventry, Lambeth, Leicester and Trafford Councils, UK Authority, KPMG and Liverpool John Moores University. Remember, it’s all on GitHub for reuse by development teams. 

COVID has given us an unexpected opportunity to test our concept in the field. We’ll be running a retrospective next week on ‘lessons learnt during COVID’ and are determined to come out of this faster, stronger and leaner.

Stay safe. Wash your hands. Share the map.

Finding support services near you: weeknote 27/03/20

This week’s weeknote is brought to you by team member Meg Dibb-Fuller .

Hope you’re keeping healthy and safe during these uncertain times.

Before I go into an update, here’s a sneak peek into the fabulous human engine (and home offices) behind the project this week… 

Proving our hypothesis

Since we redefined our problem statement, our plan was to design the product to put the onus on organisations keeping their information up to date – on their own websites and social media – and for us to signpost our visitors to these channels. This was the only way we could see our ‘directory’ being a success. Otherwise we would be adding to the problem (another ‘directory’) rather than taking away (a single ‘directory’).

We’ve had the opportunity to test this with the arrival of COVID-19. And the good news is (yes, there is some): this model is working.

We continue to check in with listed organisations to make sure they are still open but we barely need to enquire if they’re keeping their websites and social media up to date. They know that, if they don’t, nobody knows what they are up to. This is putting us in good stead for the next phase of our journey.


Living in the now with one foot in the future

We are delighted that the map is meeting the needs of those who need it right now, but we need to be thinking about how it can flex, adapt and scale to meet the demands of the end-users once we get back to ‘normality’. More info on the longer term project in previous weeknotes.

We have started tapping into the heads behind tech companies and local authorities to see how we can partner up on our approach over the coming weeks. Watch this space as these convos progress.

How can you help?

  1. Keep sharing the map across your own marketing channels (newsletters, intranet, websites, social media etc)
  2. Tweet! Here is some content that may help you get going
  3. If you know of an organisation that should be featured on the map but isn’t, please ask them to fill in this form
  4. Give us some feedback. Are we missing anything on the map – orgs or categories? Have any suggestions? Get in touch today

That’s all folks. Look after yourselves (but please don’t stockpile loo roll!)