How TfL and the UK government are using service design to stay future fit

Trying to keep up with digital and technological advances and changing customer expectations is a mammoth undertaking for large organisations like Transport for London (TfL) and the UK government, which with millions of customers and billions of journeys and enquiries are now turning to service design to ensure they stay future fit in a changing society.

TfL

For those unfamiliar with the term service design, it essentially helps organisations deal with internal challenges and improve service strategies and user experiences. Here’s how TfL and the UK government are embracing the practice.

TfL

With 29,000 employees and millions of tube and bus journeys per week, TfL recognised that it needed to apply new thinking to how it attracts and retains talent in the age of a changing work force that expects more from organisations and is now coping with growing numbers of customers.

Speaking at the Service Design Conference in London earlier today (30 June) Conor Maguire, IM mobile programme lead TfL, said the organisation recognised that mobile could help deal with this challenge, as well as other forces at play such as aging technology and the pressure to improve customer services.

“It was identified by TfL’s leadership some time ago that mobile technology could help in achieving some of these objectives and deliver a secure customer experience,” he said. “You might be familiar with the closing of the ticket offices on the Underground, well that’s largely supported and enabled by staff being able to use mobile technology and get out for the station more and have more of an interaction with the public.”

While Maguire admitted the endeavour was “a big challenge” it also presented an opportunity: the licence for TfL to look at different ways of working related to design thinking and service design.

An example of this is a fault reporting app TfL created in conjunction with Deloitte Digital that allows station staff to capture an image of a broken light bulb or tile, geo-locate it, and upload it to the app, automatically triggering a work rider that gets sent out to maintenance. Maguire estimated that in a year the app saved 20,000 people hours.

UK government

For the government, service design is helping to transform the relationship between citizen and state and better improve its digital capabilities, which have grown exponentially in the last few years. Service design is a relatively new field for the government, having only begun employing designers to work in the field in last two years. The vast majority of the work is in digital, but while new technologies might provide a quick resolution to the pre-internet ways of delivering services, the government needs to “fundamentally rebuild” its services according to Louise Downe, head of design at the Government Design Service (GDS).

She said: “Our services were not designed for the internet, they were designed for an age when you went to the Post Office and you told them what you were trying to do and they helped you to complete your task… [Now] services need to be able to be used unaided.

“In the future services will shape the government not the other way around… New technology won’t fix it either, all of the amazing platforms might make our services slightly faster and slightly cheaper but not fix [the problem]…We need to fundamentally rebuild services from the ground up so that they fit together and meet the user needs.”

As part of that task GDS is working across a number of pillars including to collaborate in the open, and is writing live policy that its designers can contribute to. It is also building teams of designers who can “make things” and code websites, and shuns the idea of employing user experience designers because the user experience is “everyone’s responsibility”.

However, the government still has a long way to go with Downe admitting that the eighth most popular page on the Gov.uk site is still a phone number.

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