Channel shift or Channel shove?

For one reason or another  I wasn’t blogging much at the time I attended the inaugural channel shift camp in November 2013, organised by the amazing Nick Hill and others at Public Sector Customer Service Forum  so this is a very delayed post on that event and my thoughts generally about channel shift.

I get that there isn’t much money about in Local Government. I get that there isn’t the same level of staff resources. I get the reason for channel shifting. I’ve even seen the average cost per transaction for the various channels. And I don’t want to sound like a luddite about channel shift but what I’m not sure I really get is the aggressive, almost guerrilla style tactics deployed by some councils to shift their customers to another cheaper channel.

There seems very little evidence that councils have actually asked their public how they prefer to contact their council for the vast number of reasons they might want to contact them, and each reason might mean a different channel.

There seems to be very little communication with customers about why they’re implementing this culture change, about why they’re discouraging contact by phone, or a withdrawal of face to face services.

There seems very little thought for customer satisfaction. There seems very little practical support for their public to use other channels.

It seems they’re slowly minimising the way in which customers can contact them. They want them to act the way they want them to act. They’re manipulating them. They’re forcing people to do something they didn’t set out to do.

I’m not sure we’re looking at channel shift anymore, it feels more like channel shove.

At channel shift camp I heard of a council who removed their phone number from the website, a tactic which surprised me and one which I’m pleased my local council hasn’t done. But are customers suddenly getting in the way of delivering services because resources are tight? Are all customers now lumped under one heading? Have councils forgotten the different needs of customers, don’t they care about being customer centred, are they no longer focused on customer service? Shouldn’t they be putting in a range of ways to help their segmented customers get closer to resolving their problem, completing their transaction, getting information?

How can we stop channel shove being a hindrance for customers and a positive win win? How can councils save money (service win) and yet still deliver a quality service which is appropriate for needs (customer win)?

I experienced a channel shove recently when I tried to telephone Ofsted. They gave me five options, was I:-

  1. A child and wanted to tell them something
  2. Wanting to make a payment
  3. A provider
  4. An applicant
  5. A member of the public.

I was calling in a work capacity. I wasn’t any of those listed above. I selected option 5, Member of the public, only to go through another list of selection options, to eventually be signposted to the website and then cut off. I was being shoved towards a channel I’ve already tried. I’d tried online and failed to find the information I needed and so now wanted to talk to someone. Why was it proving difficult?

I phoned back and began randomly pressing numbers in the hope that someone would answer the phone. Again I was signposted to the website and then cut off. I finally realised a way in would be through the complaints option. There’s bound to be someone on the end of that line, surely. I was on hold for what seems like ages, listening to some annoying music, which really wasn’t helping my mood. I was told 5 times that all advisors were busy. I was wasting time, but I felt like I’d come too far to hang up now. And if I hung up I still wouldn’t have the information I needed.

I finally got through to a human, we had a conversation. It was nice. He was nice. Although I wasn’t filled with confidence that he could help. He put me back on hold as he ‘went to check’. He checked and gave me the information I needed. He also gave me a secret telephone number which would bypass the selection process. I would never have to go through this again. But a member of the public would. A provider would. I hoped a child never would.

This channel shove strategy had failed. It has wasted time, resources and although I got the information in the end, my customer satisfaction was firmly on the frustrated level.

Shove off

  • We should ask and then listen to our customers about how they prefer to contact the services they need.
  • We should be clear that one channel doesn’t fit all customers. There should be an element of choice.
  • We should be clear that we don’t just have one customer. Segmentation gives us insight.
  • We should communicate with customers if services are no longer available through a particular channel.
  • We should be honest and open and explain why services may no longer be available through a certain channel.
  • Whatever the channel, we still need to deliver a quality customer service.
  • We should offer practical support to encourage customers to shift channels.
  • If we’re trying to shift customers to websites they need to contain the information customers want.
  • If customers are required to select options, they need to be able to see themselves in the options.
  • We should invest in our staff to ensure they have the training and support they need to be able to respond to customers.


Kate Bentham

Friday 4th April 2014

11 thoughts on “Channel shift or Channel shove?

  1. Reblogged this on Simple Stuff Blog and commented:
    Channel shift or Channel shove – I met Kate Bentham & the Shropshire team in September 2012 at a conference Shropshire was hosting. I was highly impressed with what their #localgov team was doing & had achieved. I came back to work with lots of ideas for how channel shift could help the NHS. Local government were ( and probably still are ) way ahead of NHS when it comes to patient engagement.
    Kate’s blog reminds us to think about explaining the reason why channel shift is needed & urges organisations to consider how channel shift affects the different segments of society.
    Sometimes we all need to speak with a person.

  2. I have been thinking recently that the actual phrase “channel shift” itself might be a problem, and what you have said resonates with me. It implies that we are going to herd our customers in a certain direction, or “shove” them as you say.

    I’m starting to try and think more in terms of the actual user journey and users’ circumstances. There will be customers and scenarios when digital channels are not apropriate. But if we design our digital channels with the customers in mind, there will be people who user our digital services because they want to, not because they have been made to.

    • Thanks for the comment, I’m pleased it resonates with your thinking. As a customer it certainly feels we’re being done to not with. You’re absolutely right about designing with customers in mind, and not only in mind, but involved.

  3. Kate,

    Excellent post as always.

    “Channel Shift” is the buzz phrase but what organisations HOPEFULLY mean is the appropriate channel for the appropriate audience at the appropriate time. In the case of Local Gov and wider public sector who are operating in what is often referred to as “The Perfect Storm”, Channel Shift means trying to get services onto the web,whether they translate well onto the web or not, because research identifies it as the cheapest channel.

    I think that there are lots of examples of “Channel Shove”, where little or no customer insight has been carried out, little or no customer engagement and often little or no take-up activity. This equates to what my 9 and 10 years old would call “EPIC FAIL”.

    However, there are many organisations looking at Customer Journey Mapping, Customer Sergmentation, Customer Personas and Customer Insight and these organisations are getting it right.

    I had a similar situation to the one that you had with Ofsted the other day with a council that will remain nameless but I wanted to speak to someone in senior management in the customer service team, I phoned the general switichboard and tried a varierty of permeatations of different service areas on the automated system but to no avail. I was put inside the Channel Vacuum.

    The long and sort of it is that like most if not all Public Sector Service Delivery, there are some organisations doing “channel shift” really well and some doing it really badly and there is no consistency.

    • Thanks for the comments Nick, and again for organising Channel Shift camp, it was a great event which made me consider lots of possibilities for service delivery. It also made me realise that it’s vital to have a whole organisation approach/strategy to the corporate stuff, but that there is also support for individual service managers to identify their own customers need, with back up support on options for delivery. I’m pleased you have examples of those who are getting it right, it’s too important not too.

  4. I like this (thanks for reminding me of it).
    I think my main beef is that we need to listen to people – not necessarily customers, all people – to understand their real needs and what we should really do to help.
    When we talk about “channels” we mean turning people into numbers and categorising them according to some kind of factory model.
    I think it might even turn out to be be cheaper in the long run if we listened to people properly and had a conversation with them about what they really needed, then helped them get that.

  5. We’ve been talking for many years about Local Government being / becoming ‘customer-centric’ but have failed on many counts to understand that service delivery has to be designed from the customer point of view in order to achieve our aims. The move (be it shift or shove) to digital will ultimately work if the customer chooses to ‘shift’ – it will be their preference which will determine whether our savings targets are achieved or not. So it’s fine to have the systems but does the resultant service delivery match up to it and provide a better service which encourages the customer to shift?

  6. Very interesting stuff, and very true. I remember the biggest challenge in customer transformation projects being to challenge assumptions made around what the solution is, regardless of its true impact over the long term. And the calculation that if a customer has one single bad experience with a channel or a process, it’ll take 14 attempts at the new improved channel/process to convince them that it’s fine and works. The damage done is much bigger than councils/organisations usually plan for in risk and impact assessments.

  7. Pingback: 3 Mystery Shopper Tasks for; Executives, Non Executives, Directors and Chiefs | What's the PONT

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