At GDS we have weekly show and tell sessions where new prototypes and iterations of work are shown. These always focus on user need. A few weeks ago, Tom Loosemore showed us a prototype of a tweaked online tax disc application process and spoke about the brilliant work done by Carolyn Williams, Head of Electronic Customer Services, Electronic Vehicle Licensing at the DVLA. Here Carolyn explains why her MBE, while special, is not the thing she is most proud of and how there’s never a dull moment running DVLA’s digital services - amongst them the government’s flagship digital service.
I started work on digital services in 2003/04 when things were very different in the digital space. Electronic Vehicle Licensing (EVL) was an unfortunate set of initials and people didn’t hesitate to tag me as EVL Carolyn when I first took the service out of project state and into live release. It quickly wore off though as months and then years were spent working on the application process, getting users to test the service, nagging users for feedback and using all that information to make the user experience better. Even the promotional tour for the service was a little bit different - we got Jodie Kidd on board and did road shows all over the country explaining what the service was, how it worked and why people should use it.
Chickens and eggs
Even then promotion was tricky however. We couldn’t invite people to use the service if their vehicle required an MOT. It was only when the 19,000 MOT stations were computerised in 2006 that they could use the service. Once we had users on board, there was no resting on laurels. More user testing and more feedback requests. I receive a weekly cancellation report telling me where potential issues are and I’m not above sending letters to people using the Post Office to renew their tax disc asking them why they are not using the digital service. It all matters.
Testing tells us stories
We’ve used the same approach ever since. Meet the user’s needs and the user will use the service. It’s invaluable to have a group of users physically in one of your buildings while getting observers to note where people are cancelling out of a process and why. We’ve confirmed a few things we suspected, but we’ve also encountered some surprises along the way.
For example, we noticed a high cancellation rate at the end of the new driving licence application process, specifically at the point where we offered to import the users photograph from their passport via a link with IPS (The Passport Agency). The obvious assumption was concern over privacy. Simply asking the test group why they were cancelling revealed that instead, 17 year olds making their first application were not too keen on the idea of the passport image from their first passport, often issued when they were 13 or 14 years old being used on their driving licence - something they intended to use for ID purposes in pubs and clubs. Entirely understandable and something we can do nothing about right now.
Focusing on user needs works
But there are things we can solve. Reducing transaction time means stripping out unnecessary questions, something we discovered in our tax disc application process. We’d been handed a digital Q&A from the project in line with the agencies strategy on call avoidance. It wasn’t until we started asking why, where the information was going and whether it was definitely necessary that we discovered the answer was no and could start eliminating some of it. So we did. Inbound calls to the contact centre regarding issues with our online processes now run at 4% and only 0.25% of that 4% are technical issues.
Focusing on user needs works. It gets people online. 55% of those who can apply for tax discs online do so. It is considered the Government’s flagship service and I am very proud of that. But as our team has grown from 2 or 3 in the beginning to the team it is now I am most proud of the dedication and commitment of those people to build better services that better serve the users. I have also been blessed with tremendous support from my Managers
Needless to say, EVL is no longer referred to as evil.