Category: Services and Customers

It couldn’t happen to me

Did you know that people are more likely to be a victim of fraud or cybercrime than any other type of crime? Can you spot all the different scams? Here we take you through several of the more common scams doing the rounds and provide useful contacts to report them, as necessary.  

  1. Copycat websites – make sure if you are using a search engine that you check that the site you select from the search results is a genuine valid site. Some sites even offer you options to do business with government agencies for a fee when a fee is not actually required. Note: some search results will be shown as Ads (Adverts) – if responding to any of these please check they are genuine. 
  1. Phishing emails/texts/letters, so called as they fish for personal, often banking data. If you receive emails (particularly unsolicited ones) asking you to click a link to update your account/banking/card details, always be VERY suspicious.  Similarly, if someone asks you for your bank/other account details through a chat/community platform, do not supply.  Banks rarely ask for your details in this way. If you receive such requests – do not respond to the details provided in the email/text/letter – but contact your supplier direct by phone or email using the contact details on your usual statements to check the validity of the email/text/letter. These frauds may also encourage you to enter your username/password from other services eg your internet/mobile phone/utilities account. Be very suspicious, and check validity with your providers.   
  1. Online sales sites – eg Facebook Marketplace/ eBay etc – if an offer is too good to be true then it probably is! Carry out some investigation into the seller, do they have positive feedback – do they look to be a genuine person? Do they suddenly ask you to make a payment outside the selling services normal routes – note “friends & family” payment options are not covered by standard payment protection options, designed to protect your purchase? Do they ask you to make a special insurance payment so they can arrange collection by courier?  In these cases you will be encouraged to make a token payment up front which will (in theory) be refunded when they pay – do not be fooled and do not send money after all they are the purchaser not you.  
  1. Problem with your computer/router/broadband etc. If you receive a cold call informing you that there is a problem with your equipment or the broadband etc and you are at risk of a virus or someone hacking into your accounts, simply put the phone down. Microsoft or major phone/internet providers do not ring up their customers to tell them about issues, and anyway they have no way of knowing about the issue remotely. If you are concerned, then contact your phone/internet provider direct using the details they provide in your statement. 
  1. Catfishing – this is where someone creates a fake/fictional identity to compromise another person in some way, this often involves developing an online friendship/relationship (to gain your trust and learn as much about you as possible) with a view to fraudulently obtaining money or simply to create upset. You should be cautious about people reaching out for new friendships, especially if they start to ask for money. 
  1. Scams on Facebook – if you are dealing with a company on Facebook check they are genuine and verified – this is shown by a blue tick after the company name. So, if you find a site offering free £100 shopping vouchers for the first 50 customers – double check that the site/page is a genuine business page by the blue tick. As an extra check there is a Page Transparency section – which will provide more information on who is responsible and the length of time the page has been operational. 
  1. Text messages – asking for payment for parcels to be delivered. These are unlikely to be genuine – again the best advice is to telephone or visit your delivery centre on their published direct number obtained from the company website. Do not contact them using the details provided on the card, as this will simply put you in direct contact with the scammers. 
  1. Fake COVID passes – you will never be required to purchase a COVID pass or booster, so ignore any requests to purchase. 
  1. Fake gift cards – remember if an offer sounds too good to be true then it probably isn’t. If you receive a request to click a link to activate your free gift card – visit the company’s genuine site/telephone to check. 
  1. Insecure sites – one indicator that a site is not genuine is the lack of relevant cyber security – indicated by a padlock icon in the website browser.  If you don’t see this symbol or your browser warns you the site doesn’t have an up-to-date security certificate, that should be a warning to you to exit the site. Never provide any personal details unless the site is secure as a minimum.  But it is still important to check it is a genuine site and not a scam site. 

More information advice and examples are given in the links below: 

What is user research and how can you do it well?

User research allows us to move beyond assumptions to identify how we can best support our users. Great user research needs to be inclusive, non-biased and focused.

Why do we need user research?

The users of any given product or services could be internal or external. In most cases, it’s both.

When you understand your users, you are more likely to design products and services that work well for them. 

Knowing your users better means you can:

  • allocate your resources more appropriately
  • provide digital tools that make background processes more efficient
  • improve accessibility
  • free human resources to focus on the most vulnerable citizens.

So how do we learn more about our users?

What do we mean by “user research”?

User research looks to unearth the buried treasure in a way that captures an individual’s experiences, motivations and struggles.

User researchers help their organisation empathise with the people they design for and build up a genuine understanding of their daily lives, routines and the tasks they wish to perform.

As researchers, we try to find the truth in amongst often conflicting stories from different people. We realise that people can be unreliable witnesses: they might not know why they are doing the things they are doing, especially in times of distress.  There are also those who don’t want to tell you about their experience, or don’t tell you the whole truth.

Conducting user research helps us fill those gaps about our users and create services that meet their needs.

We use a range of techniques and approaches when we research.

Observational (ethnographic) research

Typically occurring early in the research process, this technique is all about observing how users behave. It helps us understand what they are trying to do and the context within which they experience our services.

User stories

User stories help to create a simplified description of a service by describing the type of user, what they want and why. User stories can help us understand some of the needs and aspirations we may have missed.

Here’s an example of a user story:

As a new dog owner

I want to find local parks

So that I can safely exercise my dog

User interviews

Having a guided, individual discussion with users helps us better understand their lived experience and the circumstances that led them to access our services.

Focus groups

During a focus group session, we ask a group of people about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes towards a service or concept.

Usability research

After we have developed an early prototype, usability testing helps us understand how users interact with the prototype, which allows us to refine it quickly and often.

How can we make user research inclusive?

To build a good service, we need to consider the experience of a wide range of users.

This includes people who:

  • are living with disabilities
  • are culturally and linguistically diverse
  • need support to use the service.

Being inclusive isn’t just about the service, but also about the way we conduct our research. This means that we need to think inclusively when recruiting participants, selecting locations and conducting our sessions. 

What makes a good user researcher?

Good researchers need to be empathetic, curious, good listeners and able to put themselves in the shoes of the user. They should be able to probe sensitively, as sometimes users can be too polite or overwhelmed to tell us their stories. 

Questions need to be open and curious so that we capture a range of different experiences and opinions. We need to ignore our own bias and ensure that we don’t design research that presents loaded questions to our users.

Service Design – User feedback

Helping design services to make them user centred and easy to use is what we do in the Service Design team.  

Recently, some of our colleagues who run public facing services procured a new back-end system. It gifted us a great opportunity to build a low fidelity prototype to show them what a fully digital end to end customer experience could look like for them. 

We built a small team to work on this, with skillsets of Service Design, Content Design and User Experience Design. 

We are testing this prototype to get feedback from a small group of users, which – together with input from the service – will allow us to move to a high-fidelity alpha prototype that we can test and iterate with more users.  

We have used a few different systems to allow us to work in an innovative and collaborative way. We started by creating a Miro board to allow us to group together all the information we had about the service and to gather research about what other local authorities were doing in this space. We also use the Miro board to run our sprint retrospective and planning sessions. The beauty of Miro is that collaboration is so easy, the team was able to work well together from the get-go.  

We also used Figma to build the prototype. It allows multiple team members to work on a single project. It also lets you to build up libraries of reusable components, which the whole team has access to. Finally, you can use it to do all kinds of work, such as website prototypes, interface design or graphic design and everything in between. 

Once we started to think about testing, we used Maze to create a self-guided test script. Maze lets you import a prototype directly from Figma, then ask users to complete specific tasks by interacting with the prototype. It’s a really simple way to get some high-level feedback remotely, as users can do it in their own time, on their devices. As well as testing end-to-end journeys, you can ask multiple choice questions to help guide the design of individual elements. This is a great complement to more intensive and traditional one-to-one testing, which typically takes more time. 

As we develop the service, we will share updates with you about our progress.

New online Registrar Services

Sue Hayter – Assistant Director of Customers, Libraries, Registrations and Culture tells us about the new online Registrar Services.

Previously, residents would have to call in to use the Registrar Service. We are excited to have launched a new service that enables residents to book appointments online for births, deaths, marriages, and civil partnerships.

Once booked residents are sent confirmation of their appointment via text and/or email with a reminder of any documentation they need to bring for the appointment.

As well as booking appointments, people will also be able to make payments in advance for the services and any additional certificates they may need.

Residents will also be able to cancel and rebook appointments without the need to call using the link provided in the email and text.

How the new service is getting on?

So far, the uptake has been great. In just the first ten days, we’ve already seen:

· 84% of births registered online

· 60% of deaths registered online

· 92% of marriage notices made online

For the moment we will be offering a phone service to support our customers who have difficulty accessing the online service. This will be reviewed regularly with a view of making this a fully digital service.

This new service means that residents have access to the service 24/7 via a simple form, with choice of dates and times of appointments, email confirmations and reminders for customers. This in return removes the need to use the time consuming telephone booking system.

This is the first phase of Hounslow’s Registration Services going digital so keep an eye out for a future post of what’s coming up.

Service Design – what does this really mean for you?

LBH is taking Service design seriously – setting up a dedicated team to help deliver services.

So, what is Service design, well it is what is “says on the tin” the design of services, and what is a service I hear you ask? Well, that is simply something that helps a user to do something, eg report a missed bin, become a childminder, buy a theatre ticket.

Conventionally council teams work independently and yet often the services they provide are really made up of separate items, and tasks many of which are reusable. Service designers look at how the pieces of the puzzle fit together checking how well they work for the users of the services (customer/businesses/residents/visitors/staff etc.) and suggest way to rebuild so that the user experience is simple and effective.

A bad service is expensive, if the user is unable to easily achieve what they set out to do, then it will be costly to LBH in terms of phone calls, repeated communications and often duplication of data entry. It is also costly to the user, they must spend more time trying to do something, chasing the council for updates, and writing more complaints when dissatisfied. Staff are also frustrated and demoralised as they seem to always be firefighting and workload pressures are high and no one’s needs are satisfied.

Process map

In creating a service that your customers can use easily, that does what they want, they will return and reuse, and even tell their friends. We will have more happy customers satisfied at first point of contact, therefore fewer repeat conversions about a single translation and fewer complaints. This also reduces workload for internal teams, win win.

Service design is about understanding your users:

  • What do they want to do?
  • How can we make it easy for them to do?

Check out the video for an example of service design which I am sure many of us relate to. Think about why Uber, Amazon, and Expedia are successful.

London College of Communication explain Service Design

Projects we are currently helping with:

  • Housing – understanding the user journeys, mapping processes in use currently
  • Children’s safeguarding – mapping complex processes in use and identifying touch points with other agencies.
  • Digital & IT – looking at internal processes for managing assets eg laptops and software to improve efficiency of process (reduce double entry).
  • Web design and accessibility – providing advice on best practice for website design to improve customer journey and ensure accessible to all.
  • Pest control – understanding the customer’s needs and defining a prototype to allow users to book online rather than call the Contact Centre; developing an end-to-end process.

What does this mean for our residents and businesses?

  • Available services – we understand that you want to be able to access the services 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.
  • Reliable Services – the service should work and be easy to use.
  • Joined up services – to minimise the number of times we ask you for the same piece of information. 
  • Keep you informed – providing you with simple updates so you know your request is being handled.
  • Improved efficiency – by reviewing our processes and removing duplication, and reusing the elements that work well, we will improve efficiency and “make every penny count.”

Check back to find out ways you can help us to help you, we will shortly be looking to recruit residents and businesses, to better understand how you want to access the services we provide.

An SMS fraud adventure

A few of us began receiving SMS based fraud messages over the last few months. Covid-19 related fraud, HSBC overdraft fraud, Royal Mail related fraud amongst others. One in particular was very persistent and it seemed that everyone I spoke with was on the recipient list. Obviously the next step here is to forward the SMS to 7726 (which presented a few challenges, see *footnote below). However, I began wondering if I could to get the fraudulent website taken down myself… well… Challenge accepted!


Private Eye

After a little investigation it actually turned out to be incredibly easy.

Step 1. Identify the DNS provider for the domain.
I used https://mxtoolbox.com/Whois.aspx and I simply searched for the website mentioned in the fraud SMS.

That gave me the name of the DNS provider used by the fraudsters. The DNS provider manages domain names such as website addresses for innocent customers and inadvertently, criminal customers.

In the information returned, you’ll need to look for the “abuse” email address to contact if domains they host are being abused – e.g. used for crime.

Step 2. Email the DNS provider, advising them of the website and the issue and ask them to investigate and take the site down.

Example mail:

Hi,

This website DNS is hosted by you :
<insert website URL>
Your customer is sending fraudulent SMS messages to UK residents directing them to this website. The site is being used illegally by your customer to take money and information fraudulently from UK residents.
Please investigate and take the website down.

Thanks!

So.. I sent the mail off the their abuse team and waited..

POW!

By the end of the day the fraud site was inaccessible! (Very satisfying).

Next day I had another SMS with a new fraud URL (linking back to that same website), so took a minute out of my day to check the DNS provider and email them again.

BAM!
Site down again within a few hours!! (ok this is fun)

Later on they seemed annoyed and sent four more SMS one after another, with two new URLs, but same website again…

ZAP!

Got those taken down too!!! (‘k, this is worth a blog post)


Its four days down the line now and no more SMS messages have turned up but if I get any more I’ll still report them, but then try to get the site out of action as fast as possible by contacting their provider directly.


So the point of telling you this is really to show that we are not powerless. We don’t have to just accept fraud, phishing etc. through SMS and Email. Although we’ve received it, we need to push back and report it when we can, so that others don’t get affected.

So I make a request now to you all.

Check out the excellent NCSC guidance here and then help others understand how to spot the tell-tale signs and what to do next.

If you do get a fraud SMS, don’t just delete it, follow the official guidance above and report it, but once that’s done you can also have a go for yourself, and may get the same sense of satisfaction of seeing the site taken down a lot more quickly...

And if you don’t have the time, by all means name the site in the comments and we’ll give it a go for you.

*footnote.

After receiving the SMS I duly reported by forwarding to 7726, only to receive a response saying that the message was undeliverable! A quick search revealed it’s a common experience (and something to look into later).

Not one to be put off, I figured I’d assemble the details into an email, remembering to include the URL of the fraudulent website and sent that off to report@phishing.gov.uk

Ironically Google mail rejected my email, presumably because it contained the very phishing URL I was trying to report!! (hopefully Google completes this circle for us by reporting these blocked malicious URLs to NCSC – would be nice to see some public reassurance about that though). However the dodgy website was still up and I was continuing to receive the same SMS messages.

Eventually I sent a screen shot of the SMS to report@phishing.gov.uk and that successfully went through without setting off any Google alarms and had a nice confirmation email from NCSC.

Customer satisfaction

As part of our dedication to customer excellence, we recently ran our second Socitm user satisfaction survey. Here is an animated version of the results from the survey:

We first ran this survey in December 2019 when the workload and the needs of our colleagues and residents were very different. However, the council now has a new set of values, which we are keen to embrace.

Whilst this year we have had slightly fewer responses, overall, 30% of of our colleagues responded, which gives us some great feedback, and insight into the services we provide.

We believe it is essential to continue to drive the service forwards and regularly listening to our customers is an important part of this. Generally scores across the board have improved, which is great to hear, but there is always room for more improvement.

Customer satisfaction

We have improved the overall user satisfaction in LBH and are now performing in the top number of comparable local authorities. The figures show an improvement in performance of over 10% from a high score in 2019, despite the challenging times faced providing a continued service to all customers and supporting the council’s Covid response.

There are many comments suggesting changes to improve services:

  • As part of the response, we have set up a new portal to get IT problems seen and dealt with more efficiently. This portal will continue to be updated and improved, based on the changing needs of the customer.
  • All our team members (from front-line to back-line) are completing compulsory customer service training to ensure we can focus on the needs of our customers as a single unit, and to ensure a consistent service, across the board.

Staff able to work flexibly

When staff were forced to work from home in March 2020, the council had just moved into a new building, so all staff were used to working away from the office.

Nevertheless, this number went up overnight from 500 regularly doing this, to over 1600.

As the survey shows, Hounslow now ranks as the number one local authority for this area.

Comments were made around the use of remote working. In response, further improvements are planned to increase capacity.

We are also rolling out better devices (via our Device Refresh programme) to ensure all council devices are under 4 years old.

Cyber security

With so many changes / improvements to our IT systems, we still need to make sure that they are as secure as can be. We must also keep in mind that the external threat is constantly evolving and needs continuous improvement.

The council ranks very highly for taking security seriously, with 75% of staff scoring this highly.

In response to the comments, we have rolled out a new GDPR and Cyber Security training course for all staff, to ensure staff continue to be Cyber-Safety aware and figures for completion are nearing 100%.

Switching on Synergy for our children’s centres

On 5 November, Hounslow Children’s Centres bade farewell to EStart – a database that we had been using for over 10 years – and switched on Synergy.  Given that this was such a significant change, it is not surprising that the seeds were first sown about two years ago, when we began looking for an alternative to eStart.  This eventually grew into a much larger project, with several other services such as the Family Services Directory and Primary Admissions also joining.

The timetable for the implementation of Synergy took account of each service’s key dates and as a result, Children’s Centres were the first to go live.  This was the culmination of many hours of work with Synergy and the ICT team, which  took us through a number of different processes.  These covered service design; customising the system to meet the needs of our business; the migration of over 10 years of data from eStart and training. 

One of the main advantages of Synergy for our service, is that it will enable us to digitalise many of our processes that were paper-based.  As it is a case management system, it will also enable us to review all of our existing systems, so that they  provide a better service for our families, partner organisations and other teams within the Council.  Looking forward, the real potential of Synergy lies in the benefits that could result from the use of the system by a number of teams within the Council and its integration with other systems such as LCS and EHM.  This is a really exciting prospect and makes all of the hard work completely worthwhile.

I would like to thank Hannah, Shireen, Jo, Joy, Louise, Srwa, Hovik and Kate from Digital & ICT for everything that they have done to help us go live with Synergy.  They have devoted a huge amount of time to the project, with many of them working beyond ‘normal’ working hours to get the work done.  All of this was done with endless amounts of patience and good humour.  I have promised them that they can come and visit a children’s centre, once things return to normal.

Sandra Jones
Strategic Lead for Children’s Centres

Customer service in Digital

Listening to our customer views is so important – the teams have done a fantastic job during the crisis and informal feedback has been great, but it is so valuable to get feedback from all areas of the council so that we can showcase all the work done and continue to improve Digital in all teams. 

We used the Socitm user satisfaction survey as we did last year – this allows us the opportunity to compare where we were in 2019, and with other organisations. It is key given the Digital Strategy for Hounslow was approved in March 2020 so we can show the outcomes for the organisation from this investment. 

We have just started to work on a service improvement plan to follow up on all feedback received – some headline figures so far: 

  • Customer satisfaction has increased by 10% and we compare very well to other similar organisations. 
  • The view of whether Digital provides innovative solutions for the Council has increased by 14%. 
  • Our score on whether we allow staff to work flexibly is in the top 25% now –this is great to see, given the pandemic and there is so much more we can do. 

Next steps

There are many improvements we can make based on feedback and below is our initial list some of which build on existing programmes: 

  • Further accelerate our device refresh programme so more of our colleagues continue to have the best devices to deliver front line services in their role. 
  • Customer service training for all Digital staff to ensure we all continue to improve our skills in this area. 
  • Continued improvement in communications   – we have launched a new self-service portal which we can continue to adapt and improve in response to the organisation needs including more automation of routine work to allow teams to focus on value added work. 

We will publish more information on the work we do in response to the survey as part of our relentless focus on improving services for our residents as we deliver more excellent services as part of the Digital Strategy and our One Hounslow programme approach continues to improve services across the Council. 

Throughout the pandemic we have had help at our main building to ensure we keep our customers safe and bring something different to our customer service “Nice 2 metre, 2 metre nice”

Children’s Safeguarding project – a new way of working

The Children’s Safeguarding project is a new way of working for Hounslow, supporting our One Hounslow transformation. Martin Forshaw, the service Assistant Director, was the first ‘service owner’ to bring an outline business case to the Council’s Digital Design Authority, a new group comprising disciplines from across the council to review all key digital projects.

We have started with an 8-week discovery phase, working with FutureGov as our partners, aiming ultimately to deliver a redesigned Safeguarding service which is customer-focused, employee-friendly and digitally optimised.

A key aspect of this is the data and as a joined-up part of this project we have also brought in some specialist help to redesign and improve the management reporting for this Service.

We are working collaboratively as a blended Hounslow and FutureGov team in an agile way to understand how we can best redesign the service to improve the user experience for clients, professional partners and staff; and where we can improve efficiency and ultimately enable social workers spend more time with their client families.

Getting started

We used the first week of the project as our planning week to get the project set up for success. We had a team kickoff workshop where we were able to:

  • Establish the team and define roles and responsibilities within it.
  • Set up the project communications and rhythms, particularly how we are going to work together remotely throughout the project.
  • Plan the project work and what we would like to achieve in each sprint.
  • Started identifying user groups that we wanted to engage with going forward.

Research planning session

We kicked off the actual project work with a research planning session. Using Microsoft teams and the collaborative online tool called Miro, the team started off with an introduction to design research from FutureGov and then worked together to map out the research plan for the project.

The research plan covered the key research areas (what we want to find out), the key user groups (who do we need to speak to and how many people) as well as the methodologies we want to use (how best can we speak to these people to get the information we need).

Next steps

Having a draft research plan in place, the next phase of the project includes recruiting the users and actually conducting some of this research to learn more about the current service, uncovering the main pain points and opportunities within it.

Alongside this, we are mapping out the current end-to-end user journey within the Safeguarding service. This way will help us identify potential pain points within the service as well as opportunity areas where digital improvements can be made which will lead to more efficient ways of working.

Keep in touch If you would like to contribute or talk about any of the work, you can get in touch with Franco Degan, Barbara Munden or Priscilla Kurewa.