Finding customer insights when you can't reach customers

A query from the NSW gov research community:

What is the best approach to get customer insights when the customer’s experience has been largely negative or you can’t reach out to the customer directly?

KA McKercher | Innovation Portfolio Lead, NSW Health Pathology:

Always start by synthesising what is already known about your context or challenge , including projects led by other organisations (such as peak bodies, community groups, universities and groups such as the Productivity Commission), as well as existing policy and strategy. This should provide a clear sense of where the gaps are so that you can find new or novel information, instead of re-inventing the wheel. Often times, you may find the actions required are clear, but what isn’t clear is whether people within your system understand the need for the action, or have the readiness to implement the changes.

Complaints (and the action that was or wasn’t taken) are a treasure trove of information. Some organisations will have complaints in a central system, while other organisations may hold this locally. Be clear about your intention to learn from the patterns arising from the complaints, not punish or shame individual staff members.

If you can’t reach out to customers or citizens directly, or shouldn’t (for example, due to the high likelihood of re-traumatisation) consider who works directly with the people you’re aiming to learn about? Be cautious not to ask staff to speak on behalf of people’s experiences, rather speak about their own experiences, hopes, frustrations and the workarounds they use to try to improve customer or citizen outcomes.

Tristan Deratz | Lead CX/UX Designer, Courts, Tribunals & Service Delivery, Department of Communities and Justice:

I would map the process the customers have gone through - for example, from fineable behaviour to receiving the fine, then to their appeal behaviours and any ombudsman type org that plays a part in the service environment.

Next, I would scrutinise the touch points and try to understand what experience they’re getting at each point. This could be the wording of the fine or speaking with the frontline staff who have given them direction. It’s amazing what frontline staff can tell you!

Kimberly Richards Evershed | Senior Service Designer, Ways of Working (Design), Service NSW:

I used to be told by a mentor speaking to one customer service agent is like to speaking to 50 customers a day - but also to look and observe at how they work with and around existing processes to deliver a positive customer outcome - when you have only minutes to deliver a great customer experience you get really great at finding the best outcomes quickly.

Also looking at similar or equivalent transactions within your department or across other agencies or heavily regulated industries like banking, insurance and healthcare can be a great way to see insights. in this example fines and demerits may have a lot of overlap with insurance and no-claims bonuses.

William Dieu | Manager Customer Experience, Strategy and Business Development, Revenue NSW:

If you can’t reach out to the customer directly, then tap into the your front line staff/teams who deal with these sorts of customers. You can either interview the staff members, or buddy them while on live calls, or listen to recorded calls - or all of the above! You will tend to find that staff have a wealth of knowledge as they deal with customers (both positive and negative) on a daily basis. In addition to this, combine staff insights with any customer complaints data you may have, to build an understanding of what the customer pain points are and the potential opportunities for improvement.