I’m a Lead People Partner on the Food People team and I am responsible for Food stores in the north of England. Around 3 years ago, in my last role, I started looking into how we might improve Co-op colleagues’ experiences of our performance process – this led to conversations with the Digital team about how user research can help understand what colleagues really need. It also sparked my curiosity about how Digital teams work.
brought delivery manager Stewart Livingstone in to help us bring different ways of working to parts of the People team.
reconsidered how we communicate with colleagues thanks to regular catch-ups with Hannah Horton.
Each of these people deliver digital products and services through agile ways of working and this really interested me. It felt like a way to be more inclusive, more democratic and in many ways more efficient. I wondered if the approach could work for some of the teams I am part of.
For the last year the Food People team has borrowed and experimented with some of the ways of working we’ve seen in the Digital team. Here are some of the things we’ve tried and the differences we’ve noticed.
Lean coffees encourage a flatter structure and a more democratic culture
‘Lean coffees’ are gatherings that have crowd-sourced agendas. Participants meet and nominate a topic – work-related or otherwise – that they’d like to talk about for a predetermined amount of time. Everyone then votes on what they’d like to hear about next and the facilitator starts the timer. We introduced lean coffee sessions into our team around a year ago and they’ve been a regular hour-long slot ever since. We’ve enjoyed them because they’ve helped us:
improve morale because they give everyone a voice. We’ve heard about concerns and achievements from across the team that we might not have in a more traditional ‘top-down’ meeting
become more concise when communicating – the timer pushes us to say the most important points first and stay on track with our point
create a safe environment which is the first step to better transparency
build and maintain relationships with colleagues (learning about teammate’s lockdown whippet brought much joy)
We’ve chosen to have the sessions on Fridays because the positivity and the connection with colleagues that we get from them is a nice way to finish the week.
It’s ok to be uncertain (but it does take a while to feel ok about it)
During my time with James, Hannah and Annette I learnt about the importance of how we ask someone about something. In short, asking open questions leads us to a more accurate, less biased truth.
When I started my current role I wanted to find out how me and my team could best support the Operational team. Before I’d spent time with James, I might have made assumptions about the challenges Operations faced, and I might have asked leading questions to elicit responses that would prove that my assumptions were correct. Perhaps that was down to some unspoken expectation of finding a definite answer immediately.
But an immediate answer isn’t always accurate so it’s better to sit with your uncertainty. This takes a lot of getting used to if – like for us – it’s not your usual way of working.
Instead, I made sure my questions were open and worded in a way that would give honest, accurate insights. Then, rather than coming up with a plan and a to-do list, I created problem statements. For example:
How do the Operational team get access to the right people support first time?
How are we directing our energies on the areas we can impact the most?
We’re still working on these but they have provided a real anchor for our work. We’ll continue to think about how we ask questions in the future.
Ceremonies are great for visibility
We’ve also experimented with agile ‘ceremonies’ that the Digital product and services teams use. They’ve helped keep our teams in the loop – even those who don’t usually work together.
Some teams have stand-ups 3 times a week which are great for visibility of what we’re all working on as well as being very inclusive.
We hold regular ‘all hands’ sessions for the wider team too.
Stewart introduced us to ‘retrospectives’ – dedicated time to reflect, air grievances and talk about how to improve next time. He guided us through various ways to frame the discussions (for example, things we loved, lacked and lost over a certain period of time or piece of work).
Culture isn’t built overnight
We don’t pretend to have all the answers (and we’re comfortable admitting that now) but by taking what we’ve observed from the Digital team we’ve been moving towards a more inclusive and flexible culture.
We’d love to hear about new ways of working you’ve adopted – what’s worked and what has flopped?
In May last year, the delivery managers (DM) decided to make some changes to our community of practice meet-ups. We think the changes have been really positive for morale and engagement.
Our community of practice (COP) was created in 2016, back in the early days of Co-op Digital. The community included delivery managers working across the portfolio and we would meet once a week to support each other with challenges, to learn, and to share ideas and ways of working.
Fundamentally, this hasn’t changed but we’ve recognised that it is hard to keep up momentum and – as you’d expect – engagement has fluctuated over the years. In May we acknowledged the importance of belonging to a community – especially when remote working can be isolating. We wanted to create a more consistent level of enthusiasm for our meet-ups.
This post is about the changes we’ve made that have worked for us. We’re sharing them in the hope it helps others in a similar position.
Sharing the responsibility
Honest communication within our community helped us figure out what we needed to change. As a result of our quick research, we realised we needed to share the responsibility of choosing topics, planning, preparing and running our community of practice meet-ups. Until recently, principals DMs or the Head of Delivery Cara B did all this.
We split into groups of 3 or 4 people and we committed to organising 4 sessions per group.
Since we started self-organising like this, we’ve had meet-ups that focus on topics like wellbeing, failure as well as empathy and inclusivity and engagement has been really good. Here’s why we think that is.
Adrenaline not pressure for organisers
Each group shares the tasks of planning and organising the sessions and are invested in their subjects, so it doesn’t feel like a chore. Together they get to choose topics and present it in a way they feel is relevant. And the facilitation is shared too meaning no one feels the pressure of running the whole thing. There’s a determination to do a good job and engage everyone (to the point of people getting a bit competitive, which is nice). Plus, DMs that don’t normally work together get a chance to get to know each other too.
2. High quality over high quantity of sessions
With more people sharing the responsibility, the quality of the sessions is higher because no single person is feeling fatigued with the pressure of filling an hour-long slot. Our sessions are more diverse in topic now too – more organisers means more points of view, a wider range of interests and also a bigger range of concerns. This can never not be a good thing.
3. Interest not indifference for attendees
Our research said that sometimes the meet-ups felt like a chore – pretty brutal. But since we started to self-organise, that hasn’t felt like the case. We’re a big community too (there are 20 of us) so sessions give us a chance to introduce ourselves over an hour, in a way that feels more natural. Each Monday afternoon, there’s always a feeling of turning up to support our friends too.
All 3 of these subheads feed into each other: interesting, relevant content means enthusiastic attendees who are inspired to make their sessions interesting and relevant when it’s their turn to organise. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle and we don’t want it to stop.
Strengthening ideas of ‘community’
Our community of practice feels stronger since we started to share responsibility for meet-ups. This of course is a very co-operative way of running things – we all own a piece of it.
We’ve found that although colleagues are aware of – and have often contributed towards – their immediate team’s objectives and understand how they feed into the overarching Co-op vision, there’s often less visibility around how a wider team’s work aligns with it.
So for example, the Co-op Membership team is made up of people with expertise in Operations, Marketing, Insight and Finance, as well as us here in Digital. It’s a huge team. Each of these areas of expertise has its own set of objectives but up until recently there hasn’t been much visibility between areas of expertise. We’ve always believed it is better to be joined up than to work in silos and universal remote working has forced us to make a conscious effort to do this better.
How might we align better?
At the beginning of last summer, the product community of practice invited Martin Eriksson, (Founder of ProductTank and Mind the Product), to speak to us. He introduced us to the ‘decision stack’ – a framework intended to “connect the dots from vision and mission, through strategy, objectives, and principles to every single daily decision.” From top to bottom it asks how we are going to do something, and from bottom to top it asks why we are doing it.
It sounded like it would go some way to solving our visibility problems on the Membership team so I spoke to people from all areas of expertise to find out what their objectives are.
When I had a list of objectives plus metrics on how we’ll know each has been met, I looked at how we could present them alongside several other connected elements such as strategy and principles. Even though few people are involved across all elements at the same time, it felt important for everyone to be able to see both the big picture, the details and the links between them all in one place.
So, in Figma (later Miro for ease of visibility), from top to bottom we stated:
Co-op vision – “Co-operating for a fairer world”.
Co-op visionary principles
Co-op Membership vision – “A membership that makes a difference for me, the communities I care about and a fairer world.”
Co-op Membership strategy – “A frictionless experience that motivates Members to participate by showing the impact that trading with Co-op has on their community”
Co-op Membership ‘north star’ (this is the number we care about above all other metrics)
Co-op Membership objectives (including all areas of expertise within the Membership team).
Objective metric (how we know we’ve been successful).
We now call this our ‘Vision and strategy framework’.
Our hope is that by making the flow of priorities from the top of the organisation transparent, we can empower teams to deliver work that meaningfully contributes to our organisational vision. We hope it will help us make sure that we’re all working towards common goals.
Showing the thing
When we showed what we’d done to the people with digital expertise in the Membership team, the feedback was that this was a useful way of thinking about how vision and principles and objectives are connected – in other words, the organisation’s goal and targets set within individual teams. So we shared it more widely: first to the rest of the Membership team and from there it’s been picked up by senior management and other teams have used the framework to align their work too.
The general consensus has been that this framework has made it easier for us to:
zoom in and focus on the immediate priorities
zoom out and put work in context
have a single accessible source of truth
share progress and update figures
How we’ll use it in the future
The framework should evolve to reflect what we have learnt, and any shifts in direction the business area or team might take. To make sure we have rigour around each framework, we are looking at how we can visualise these strategies alongside each other and how they are joined up by broader objectives on an organisational level.
To update the framework, someone has to add information and data manually. It has been a challenge to manage this and creates a bottleneck if someone is uncomfortable using Figma or Miro. In the next iteration, we will look at how we can automate live metrics and targets.
Like everything we do at the Co-op, the user should be central to these frameworks too. We are looking at how we can bring user experience outcomes alongside our business objectives to ensure we are accountable to the people who are ultimately affected by these strategies.
We’re really interested in hearing how teams of all sizes stay aligned. What do you come back to time and time again to keep you on track?
As a Digital team we are proud of the work we’ve done to support our communities, our customers and our colleagues – particularly those on the front line in our Food stores and in Funeralcare.
When the virus took hold back in March, we reprioritised where we could add the most value so we could keep colleagues safe and we could continue to serve communities.
We were in a position which meant we could respond to the pandemic with relative ease.
Our ways of working meant we were set up well – we were used to pivoting and changing direction; we were already collaborating with subject matter experts; and getting value into users’ hands quickly and iterating on feedback has always been what we’ve aimed for.
Over the years, we’ve also attracted a group of smart, determined and – most importantly – compassionate people who are intent on doing the right thing.
We are thankful to everyone who has helped transform Co-op so we could respond quickly, and well, to a pandemic. ❤️ 2020 has been awful but there is a lot to be grateful for too. ❤️
The big focus for our teams this year has been evolving and relaunching Co-op’s Membership proposition to maximise its value to members, communities and Co-op.
Members can now donate their personal rewards to other like-minded organisations. 70,000 members donated over £500,000 in total from their rewards to the Members Coronavirus Fund.
Customers can now use Co-op’s digital services without becoming a member through ‘Co-op Account’ (they can upgrade to a Co-op Membership later).
Members can now choose a local cause through the Co-op app or direct from their email without signing in – we saw a record breaking 619,000 people choose a cause in the first 8 weeks.
Members can now scan a digital members ‘card’ on their smartphones in store – no need to remember the plastic card.
We improved and grew stuff too.
The Co-op App surpassed the 1m download mark, with a rating of 4.4 stars across both app stores. We were number 2 in the app store on relaunch day, second only to NHS Track and Trace.
750,000 members choose 8.1 million offers in 2020, and 4.6 million of those have been used. This saved members over £2 million on their shopping and generated millions in incremental sales for the Food business.
The systems and services that power our product stood up to 10 times our biggest ever day’s traffic, for weeks, thanks to the investment we made in moving to serverless technology.
We also connected up our digital experiences:
Members can now sign in, shop and earn their rewards through Co-op’s ecommerce service.
Groups can sign up to use Co-operate to publicise their activities within their communities.
We implemented a new Membership design, which ties together how Membership looks and feels online with stores, on emails and in our marketing activity.
Joel Godfrey, Head of product
This year we took some big steps towards making the law accessible — by creating experiences that allow people to proactively use the law for themselves.
Our team grew from a small group working on a conversational tool, to a multidisciplinary agile team working across digital services, website, email and search.
We started embedding design thinking, marketing and OKRs into our ways of working with multiple business areas.
And it’s started to have an impact:
our work redesigning user journeys led to all-time high levels of probate enquiries in Q4
our SEO work more than doubled organic traffic in some business areas
one of our wills chatbots had 10,000 visits this year and increased average order value by £75 — because users are better informed about their needs
we created a self-serve digital service that guides people through the probate process — we think it’s the first of its kind in the industry 🙌
Pete Kowalczyk, content designer
Digital service community
2020 has been the year that we reorganised and went from being the digital service ‘team’ – all sitting together in the Membership team – to digital service ‘community’ embedded across delivery teams. Being present and more visible at all stages of a product or service lifecycle has helped us put integrated processes in place and ensure continuous service delivery. This year we’ve helped our teams deliver 1,600 changes with 99.98% success rate – something we’re really proud of.
We’ve also improved our post-incident review process, increasing visibility across product teams to prevent reoccurring issues.
As part of our post-incident review process, we’ve started to share any outstanding actions with product teams which has helped prevent reoccurring problems – it’s all about working in the open! We’ve also created a ‘production readiness’ checklist which has allowed us to provide the best support for new services.
We’ve created and built support models to ensure a robust service too.
A big focus has been on embedding best practices and championing new ways of working – lockdown has felt like the perfect opportunity to do this. Everyone on the team has completed their ITIL 4 training which is making it easier to support our product teams to enable them to continue to do some awesome things!
Our mission this year has been to look at how we design and build accessible products by default.
We delivered accessibility training to over 150 colleagues across many disciplines which has helped us raise awareness about what the term ‘accessibility’ encompasses. It is so much more than screen readers.
“It’s great to see so many people within the business mention accessibility across lots of different internal communication channels. It’s great work!”
“It’s nice to have a policy on a page on the internet but it must never become a virtuous-but-otherwise-empty promise. We know that if we don’t read it, keep it in mind and revisit it, it is just a vanity project.”
By October 2021, our product teams will have embedded our accessibility policy fully in their work and, by collaborating with external accessibility experts Fable, we’ll include up to 1,200 people with disabilities into our research, design and testing of products and services in the coming year.
There are now 760 Co-op Food stores that accept online orders through our ecommerce site, shop.coop.co.uk This time last year, only 32 of our stores were taking part. The pandemic forced us to rethink and reprioritise how our how Co-op Food stores serve their communities. Back in lockdown 1.0 when people were stockpiling, we protected the availability of stock by introducing limits on the number of products each customer could buy on shop.coop.co.uk
We worked with the Identity team to make sure customers can log in to our service using the same details they use for other Co-op services. An architectural change allowed us to show a customer’s previous order for ease of reordering. Early results show greater engagement from customers interacting with previous orders, higher conversions and larger baskets.
With a growing team we needed to reorganise ourselves so we could become more efficient. In mid-October we held a team ‘evolution session’ and split into multi-disciplinary work streams to help us to deliver at pace.
To top it all off the Online Delivered Convenience programme won the E-commerce initiative of the Year at The Grocer Gold Awards 2020.
Making the platform more efficient and secure has been another priority. We have started to move our tenants onto Amazon EKS. This has led to a 30% reduction in deployment times and 95% reduction in failed deployments.
We have also delivered many features for Co-op websites. For example, we added ‘buy online’ buttons to the store finder pages. This allows customers to go from store finder to shop.coop.co.uk to order online.
Our digital expertise are spread across 2 teams: the Customer team which looks after the Funeralcare website, and the Colleague team which is responsible for the software used internally.
Like all other teams, the pandemic has meant we’ve had to pivot from our roadmap, respond quickly, and switch contextual user research to remote research. But, because of the nature of our business, we’ve been busier than ever.
Here’s some of what we did.
The Customer team
wrote guidance on how to arrange funerals during lockdown, updating them as the guidance changed
re-designed the website alongside agencies and our digital marketing team
created – and trained writers in – new tone of voice guidelines
launched an online funeral planner so clients can plan a funeral in their own time and feel more prepared for a conversation with a funeral director
designed and built (not yet released) a function to pay for a funeral online
migrated to a new payment service provider in the process of enabling 3D secure for online payments
designed and built (not yet released) a web chat function
replatformed pre-need funeral plans and direct cremation sites from the episerver
The Colleague team
added a warning to collection notes if there was suspicion that the deceased has died of the virus and may be – keeping colleagues safe is a priority
allowed families who had lost someone to register their interest in organising a memorial service once lockdown restrictions were lifted
unrelated to the virus, we added a ‘quick notes’ function to allow colleagues to capture information around the context of the deceased’s state. It is added to the collection sheet to help colleagues mentally and physically prepare
2020 changed the way people think about health services. With government advice to stay at home and ‘protect the NHS’, people needed more convenient access to repeat prescriptions.
We responded by opening up more ways to use the service. Now, customers can visit coop.co.uk/health and register on our app using a code from their GP.
To reach more people, we launched a TV advert, promoted the service in stores and our Chief Pharmacist, Neil Stewart, appeared on the radio to discuss worries about visiting the GP.
As a result, we’ve grown:
into the 11th biggest UK pharmacy (based on the number of customers who choose us as their pharmacy) – we ranked at number 7,116 in 2019
registrations, with 206 new customers every day on average – up from 30 earlier in 2020
order volumes, with a record-breaking 1,610 orders on 30 November 2020
Our customers rate us ‘Excellent’ on Trustpilot, saying things like, “You have made my life so much easier.”
Mary Sanigar, content designer
The Operational Innovation Store (OIS) team has been working across 4 services that support store colleagues. Each empowers them to spend more time and energy on customers and members rather than on admin and paperwork.
Until this year, store colleagues clocked in and out when they started and finished a shift by punching their employee number into a legacy Kronos terminal (at a cost of £1,000 per store). Research told us it was easy to forget to do this and so colleagues would have to ask managers to amend their ‘hours worked’ in order to receive the right pay.
Alongside the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, we’ve made the process simpler, more transparent and more accurate which has helped make sure our colleagues receive the correct pay for the exact minutes they’ve worked. This has led to a 50% reduction in payroll amendments.
We started working on the Clock-in app idea in February and we’d rolled it out to every store by July. It can be accessed from till screens, hand-held terminal or tablet and has replaced the Kronos terminal.
We developed it as an extension of our Visit app and Clock-in times can be accessed from our Shifts app – which most of our colleagues use.
Raza Rizvi, product manager
Entry and exit
Colleagues safety is paramount and we did not want to ask them to stand at store entrances to make decisions on whether another customer could enter, or whether the store was at maximum capacity. To make sure social distancing rules are observed in our stores, we looked at how technology could help.
The Entry and exit solution was developed working with a number of different suppliers – through an iterative test and trial approach across a number of different test sites. The tests included the use of lights, sound and POS to understand what would be required to interrupt the customer journey and start a queue when the store reached its customer capacity.
You can read about how we chose a solution – it uses a camera sensor inside the entrance to keep track of how many people are inside and how many have left. It is connected to a traffic light system with voice messaging that advises customers that the store is full and to wait, or, to enter the store.
We launched the solution in the 250 busiest stores during the summer, and set it up in the 50 student-heavy / campus stores in the autumn.
James Beane, operations lead
Our work this year has been around making it more efficient for store colleagues to carry out date checks on both ambient (non-chilled) and fresh (chilled) products.
We worked closely with stakeholders from the Commercial; Risk, and the Retail loss and costs teams to develop an app that colleagues can access through a hand-held terminal. The app knows when a ‘section’ (small area of the store) will next be checked, and tells colleagues which dates they need to search for. Any items with that date or earlier will be scanned into the app, and colleagues will be prompted to reduce the price of them. Algorithms work out the best time to reduce items and improve the chance of selling them.
Previously, colleagues checked every fresh item, in every fresh section, every day.
The new process means colleagues no longer needed to record product checks and details manually or remember when to go back to reduce products and apply the correct reduction using a static reduction matrix.
Development started in March and we’d rolled out to every Co-op Food store by November.
We believe this product will save the business around £6m each year.
The News and mags app was developed in order to simplify a laborious paper-based system that our store colleagues used to manually log newspaper and magazine delivery, claims and returns. The aim is to significantly decrease financial loss caused by waste and leakage, by simplifying and bringing real time visibility into the process.
We kicked off development in September 2019. The app allows colleagues to scan papers and magazines, identify stocks in store fixtures of the same issue and retains information about previously delivered quantities in the app’s database.
Colleagues can now quickly swap old issues and top up existing stock. It also has an initial stock upload functionality that allows store colleagues to know what stock is currently in store and track what should be returned or if there has been any leakage of stock.
The last 2 months has been focused on the completion of dev and testing to move back into Alpha stores. We have rolled-out into 41 stores and performed stock uploads successfully, while simultaneously reviewing data, analytics and insight. Lockdown has forced us to research remotely but we’ve had remote access to hand-held terminals through Mobi, a smart app that allows us to observe colleagues complete their checks remotely.
Quantitative and qualitative research is ongoing and we’re working towards a full roll-out in August 2021.
We’ve moved Co-op Legal Services website from a content management system (CMS) managed by a third-party supplier to a new CMS – managed and controlled by our internal Digital team.
The reason for the change wasn’t because we wanted to re-design the site – it was because the old CMS was costly to maintain and would soon be ‘out of support’ which meant it would no longer receive security updates.
The new website is part of a shared platform used by Co-op Food and Co-op Funeralcare making it cost effective and easier to maintain because we are sharing best practice and development across all our business areas.
Balancing our 2 competing priorities
The biggest risk to the project was losing traffic because of a dip in our Google rankings (our ‘SEO’). There was a very reasonable assumption that any loss of traffic would result in loss of sales.
At the same time if we didn’t change the design and code to match Co-op’s design system it would make the site costly to build and maintain.
This meant we had 2 competing priorities:
By changing the design and content, we’d risk SEO, however if we didn’t change the design we wouldn’t reduce the costs.
Maintaining SEO was the main tool we used to decide any technical or design decisions. The compromise for the project was to ensure we migrated all the pages with the same URL structure, meta description, links and content but presented that content in a different way using the standard Co-op shared components which are used on our other major websites across the Co-op business areas.
Testing the UX
Changing the visual design of any site means it may affect important goal completions for the website. The key metrics for the Legal website are the number of:
services started online, for example creating a will
To ensure we were comfortable with the visual changes we A / B tested some of the smaller visual changes on the old site.
For the larger design changes we sent 50% of organic users to our beta site and 50% of users stayed on the live website. We then measured how the KPIs compared.
This test is slightly different to other tests we might usually do. Normally we are trying to make improvements to UX but the goal was to ensure the changes we were about to make to the site didn’t adversely affect our KPIs. It wasn’t necessarily about making improvements but maintaining the status quo.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to tell what Google will do when you make a change to a website.
However, we prepared as best as we could by:
removing over 1,300 critical SEO errors
ensuring no 404 errors (missing pages) encountered after the switch
What we’ve seen
The new co-oplegalservices.co.uk went live 30 September.
Website re-indexation in search engines including Google often takes time when changes to websites are made – sometimes it can take weeks for the full effect to become apparent. Enough time has passed now that we can confidently say the site replatform was a success at maintaining SEO.
Here’s what we’ve seen so far:
The year-on-year comparison returns an 8 to 14% uplift on most days since migration.
There are individual keywords fluctuations. The number of featured snippets (the top result that appears in a box below the adverts in a Google search) is higher than pre-migration (from 80 to 96 today).
The total visibility of our tracked ranking keywords have dropped by 3% since the migration. However, the impact on core business areas is negligible.
Enquiries coming through the website are comparable to before the website go-live, all show favourable figures in terms of overall enquiry volume and conversion rates.
We are still at the stabilising phase but so far the results are looking good.
We can now say with a high degree of certainty the re-platform has improved the website’s conversion rates and number of enquiries it generates from existing traffic sources. This provides a strong platform to start future optimisation and testing to further improve the site.
So not only have we reduced the sites running costs and made considerable savings, we’ve maintained SEO and improved our conversion rates.
What we might do
Throughout the project there was a massive temptation to make improvements to the content and structure of the site. We didn’t want to change too much at the same time – that wouldn’t have been a good way to observe the impact on our Google ranking. However, now the site is live and we are happy the replatform has been a success we can start making changes to the content and layout. We’ve already started conducting a number of A / B tests on the new site to start iterating on what we’ve already created.
invited stakeholders to design crits as a way to check that our forms guidance is specific to us at Co-op
We A/B tested our initial designs across certain journeys, gathered more data as a result, and iterated before adding the designs to our design system.
The forms guidance we’ve added so far isn’t ‘finished’ (and likely never will be). The roadmap below shows we still have much more to research and design and test, but we’re sharing what we’ve done so far.
Why forms are so important
Forms are one of the most commonly used design components across our digital products and services at Co-op. From both a customer and a business point of view, they are also an essential part of a service because they allow a transaction to take place. At the simplest level, the user adds information into a form so we can help them complete what they came to coop.co.uk to do – whether that be buy groceries, get an insurance quote, or sign into their Membership account.
In line with GDPR, we also collect customer and member data through forms and use it to improve services. Having a standardised way to collect data across all digital services makes data more reliable.
The problem: inconsistency across digital journeys
Before we began this piece of work there was inconsistency in our form design across the organisation. Design teams were creating forms that worked for their specific service and implementing them – sometimes, there wasn’t consistency within forms in a single service. The form type variations were numerous and the time spent designing each must have amounted to a lot.
I’m a designer in the Digital Experience team in Co-op Insurance. Our aim is to make it easier to find, buy and manage Co-op insurance online. Part of the user journey to get a quote or buy insurance takes the customer away from a Co-op-managed website and onto our insurance providers’ (we call them ‘partners’) sites.
When we started our research into forms, we were selling 11 insurance products through 11 different partners. Each partner manages their own online buying experience so there are inconsistencies with customer experience (and this will continue to be the case for a while). The customer journey for each partner looked different, and the functionality of individual components like checkboxes varied too. Considering the huge inconsistencies, we do not think it’s a coincidence that we experience a poor ‘customer struggle score’ (one of our key metrics), an increase in drop-out rates and poor conversion.
Of course, we have no control over our partners’ design decisions but when they designed their pages, we didn’t have thoroughly tested forms guidance to point them towards. I hope we can now use it to start to influence them. We’ve done the hard work and it’s in our partners’ interests to use the guidance to create more seamless, usable customer journeys.
The way we communicate with a customer in a food store is likely to be very different to how we speak to a customer in a funeral home. So it’s likely that our services might feel different. And that’s ok, as long they feel familiar.
A design system lets us create this familiarity. It should lead to a much more unified experience when they interact with different Co-op services.
When something feels familiar to a user, it reduces the cognitive load for them because – consciously or not – they know what to expect. And on some level that’s comforting.
Accessibility is also a huge consideration. It’s something we’ve been determined to get right so we can use accessible components and patterns in our forms across all our services. It’s not only the ‘right thing to do’, it also lessens frustrations for anyone with access needs and reduces the chances of potential customers going to competitors. We know that 83% of people with access needs limit their shopping to sites they know are barrier-free (source: clickawaypound.com). If someone does not have a positive experience with one business area, they are unlikely to return to another.
We made design decisions based on evidence.
So for example, we used Session Cam to see heatmaps of where users click, hover and scroll and it showed us that when they were choosing an answer from 2 or more options on a form, many weren’t selecting the button itself – they were selecting the label next to it. (On the left-hand side of the image below shows this). This informed the design of our radio buttons and checkboxes shown on the right-hand side of the image below.
Sometimes, we made assumptions based on other teams’ evidence – and that’s ok. For example, at a crit we agreed to use a border for focus, active and hover states so the user would know which areas were clickable. Then we read this post on from GDS which describes why they ended up removing the grey border from radio buttons and checkboxes. As a result we agreed that the area would remain clickable but only highlight the border at hover state. We tested with our own users to confirm our assumption.
The Design System team are taking it from here
We recently put together an official Design System team who’ll be dedicated to taking this type of work forward. They’ll keep you posted on their progress.
We’ve been working hard to improve accessibility across Co-op products and services and as our Head of Digital Products, Adam, has said, “having accessible services shouldn’t be a question for Co-op, it’s what we should and must do.”
Publishing the policy is a public statement of intent – it shows our commitment to further improving our level of inclusivity.
Why we need an accessibility policy
We have people with good accessibility knowledge within Co-op Digital and ideally, each product or service team will have at least one of those people. However, teams frequently change shape which means that sometimes accessibility isn’t as prominent in conversations as it should be.
We needed to change that.
The policy makes accessibility standards more tangible because colleagues can see what their responsibilities include.
Saying it out loud gives it more weight
Nobody intentionally ignores accessibility problems but they do sometimes lack awareness. Both the policy and this post aim to raise awareness of our commitment and invite colleagues, customers and members to hold everyone working in Co-op product and service development accountable to the standards we’ve set ourselves.
How we’ll implement the policy
To do this we need accountability at all stages of product and service development. We’ve identified 8 stages and have worked alongside experts from each discipline to create the policy. Now those 8 people are responsible for implementing it and supporting their communities and teams to uphold the standards.
8 stages of development and the representatives:
Procurement – Jack Warburton
Research – Eva Petrova
Design – Nathan Langley
Front-end – Matt Tyas
Content – Hannah Horton
Quality assurance – Gemma Cameron
Automated testing of live products and services – Andy Longshaw
Annual accessibility audits – Dave Cunningham
Adam Warburton has overall accountability.
The process behind the policy
We know many organisations have set themselves standards. For teams that haven’t but would like to, here are the things we considered that might be helpful.
We looked at how teams work currently by mapping out projects so we could fit the policy around their processes. We felt teams would be more likely to support a policy that echoed the way they already work because adopting it would be easier.
Improving or monitoring accessibility across a product or service can be a massive task. To make things more manageable, we looked at how we could break things down. We identified the 8 ‘stages’ of accessibility we’ve mentioned earlier on in the post.
We worked alongside subject matter experts (SMEs) from each of the stages we identified to create the part of the policy they would eventually lead on and be accountable for.
Drafts of the policy went backwards and forwards between me, the SMEs and the senior management team. It was essential to share, take in feedback and collaborate wherever we could because adoption of the policy depends on these people supporting and agreeing with it.
Where do we go from here?
It’s nice to have a policy on a page on the internet but it must never become a virtuous-but-otherwise-empty promise. We know that if we don’t read it, keep it in mind and revisit it, it is just a vanity project.
We’d like you to read it and keep it in mind too. And if you spot something you don’t feel is accessible, email me email@example.com
We can’t promise we’ll be able to improve it straight away but we will add it to the backlog.
Thanks in advance for helping us make things better.
When the UK Government announced lockdown on 23 March this year, many of our teams pivoted quickly to respond to a new set of priorities. A new team was formed to work out how Co-op Food stores could safely and efficiently manage customer traffic inside stores, and queues outside.
The team came from different areas of the business so our different expertise meant we had varying priorities and different ways of working.
Together, we moved quickly to learn about the problem and get something in place as soon as possible. It felt like an essential piece of work that we needed to get right for the sake of our colleagues’ and customers’ safety, as well as the need to keep communities well-fed.
Here’s how we approached the research and what we learnt during the process.
Store colleagues self-organised
We quickly learnt that brilliant colleagues across our 2,000 stores were managing queues themselves – which sometimes might not have been great for their safety and it meant fewer were on hand on the shop floor to help customers. Colleagues were also trying to manage customers’ panicked behaviour.
We held an ideation session to align ourselves
Early on in the session, it was clear that all ideas had limitations, but moving quickly and getting value to our colleagues and customers as soon as possible was the most important thing. The team adopted a ‘test and learn’ mindset – even those who were unfamiliar to digital ways of working. By the end of the session, everyone understood how we‘d approach testing these ideas.
Testing signs from head office in stores
Stores had already been sent the signs below to display with rules and advice on them.
Unsurprisingly, using signs was one of the ideas that came out of the ideation session but the size, the shape, the positioning wasn’t considered with this specific message in mind.
We visited different types of stores, at different times, to understand how customers interacted with the signs, to learn what was and wasn’t working.
Customers didn’t notice the signs
As they were the signs weren’t enough because:
they didn’t stand out amongst marketing
they were positioned differently at each store and customers
customers were preoccupied by their stressed and/or anxiety and were therefore less observant
we were assuming customers would be actively looking for the information themselves
Through regular playbacks, we shared photos, quotes and talked through examples with our newly-formed team. Working openly like this meant there was no resistance to trying a different solution.
Attempt 2: testing digital solutions from external providers
In a matter of days, we’d written a set of requirements based on what we’d learnt from our observations with the signs from head office; the business had come back with 3 types of digital solutions, from 3 different suppliers that we could now trial in stores.
a digital screen attached to the ceiling
a freestanding digital screen
a traffic light system
Each of them had:
a sensor/camera to detect customers
a counting system to count customers entering and leaving the store
technology to allow colleagues to manage and override capacity if they needed to
a visual prompt to tell customers to stop and enter
Agreeing success criteria
Together, our newly-formed team agreed that a good solution:
would count customers accurately
would help store colleagues feel confident and safe
would not significantly interrupt the customer journey
So we focussed on customer behaviour during our store visits and used surveys to ask colleagues how they felt about the system. The data and number of resets helped us learn about the system accuracy.
Best of the bunch
The traffic light system best met customer and colleagues needs because:
it’s a system that is instantly recognisable
it could be positioned at eye level
there was no information to read
the sounds and lights worked together
And we moved forward with it.
Testing 2 versions of the traffic light system
We’d only quickly validated the concept and tested 2 variations of the system in trial stores.
A freestanding traffic light.
A traffic light that was fixed to shop doors which opened and closed them.
Observations told us the fixed door traffic light was most effective because it took the responsibility of deciding whether to enter the store away from customers and helped colleagues enforce rules on numbers in store by automatically stopping too many customers entering.
Rolling it out to seasonal stores
Based on our research and new government advice Co-op execs gave the go-ahead to install a fixed traffic lightin stores where demand would be highest over the summer.The next focus is to work out all the practicalities of getting it into stores, how it works with current systems and the time it will take to rollout.
Another team will continue to observe and learn from its performance and take it forward.
Pandemic. Safety. Urgency.
This piece of work was challenging – we’re working remotely most of the time and visiting stores for contextual research during lockdown which was sometimes nervy. It was exhausting – we were working so quickly, having to communicate well so our new team understood each step and so that nobody felt excluded. But it also felt very worthwhile. At the beginning of lockdown, many teams around Co-op sprang into action, pivoting from roadmaps, hell-bent on supporting colleagues on the frontline. This was one of those projects. Our team added value and learnt a lot.
The Co-op Funeralcare homepage includesa section dedicated to arranging a funeral. Within it there’s the option to ‘start an arrangement online’. If someone chooses to do this, we ask them to fill in a form to give us details about the person who has died and their relationship to them. They will then get a call back as soon as possible.
The ‘start an arrangement online’ service is just the first step in the process. The form went live around 2 years ago and iterating it hasn’t been high priority, despite a lot of other changes being made to how Co-op Funeralcare offers its services.Analytics have shown us that the drop-out rate on the form is very high – though it has been difficult to track where people drop out, or whether they ring the number on the page instead.
But, instead of removing the form that appears to be ‘failing’ according to dropout rates, we carried out research because we know:
There is a small subset of people who use this form who are dealing with unexpected or tragic deaths and it is vital we provide an alternative way to phone calls or in-person meetings for them to start an arrangement. While the number is small, their needs are especially important.
In principle, taking information online rather than a conversation means colleagues have more time to speak with people who are further into the process who need personalised care and understanding from a human.
So how we might make the digital experience as simple and pain-free as possible to avoid any unnecessary stress?
How we recruited for the research sessions
Our 10 participants were people who had been the primary funeral arranger for funerals that took place between 6 and 12 months ago. We wanted to avoid more distress for anyone who had lost someone within the last 6 months – this seemed too soon. That said, we were carrying out the research duringthe coronavirus crisis which increased the risk of having recruited someone who had experienced loss recently.
We recruited a mix of ages, gender, tech literacy (we always aim for this), and we also made sure they had used a range of funeral providers.
What we tested
We tested the live version because it had undergone minimal iteration forseveral years ago. But, we also tested 2 variants which we designedbased on what we know now, 2 years on.We wanted the form to feel like something someone could do as much or as little of as they wanted during an emotional time,and we would take care of the rest. A staged prototype was better at conveyingthe idea that it is ok for someone tomove around the form, and stop when they wanted.
However, the more interesting findings for us were the small improvements we can make to the current form that we feel will make a big impact.
3 things we learnt
1. The visual design needs to feel different
We heard that the live form looks ‘cold’ and one participant likened it to a tax return. We’ve been thinking about how we might change it so that it feels warmer and more personal, rather than an intimidating, tick-box-style chore. We also need to balance that with simplicity to reduce the risk of overwhelm.
2. The content needs to reduce cognitive load for users
We observed several instances where participants weren’t sure how to answer a question. For example, the form asks “Were they known by another name?” and one participant’s response during the researchwas “different people called him different things. He had at least 3 nicknames.” They felt the form should indicate why it was asking this and what it might be used for.
Similarly, there was a feeling that the form needed to prompt people about what information to give in a box that says “Is there anything else you’d like to tell us or think we should know?” One participant pointed out that “you’re not really thinking straight when you fill this in” but they were still keen to add an answer.
We’ve been thinking about how we might reduce the cognitive load for people by including prompts and examples, and being clear why we’re asking for certain information. It’ll help people give the information we need and – importantly – help them feel reassured andconfident they’re doing it ‘right’.The form also asks for information that the Funeralcare team don’t necessarily need at this stage so removing thosequestions would mean we’re not adding to the load.
3. The form needs to fit within the service as a whole
We found that participants are often very concerned with ‘getting it right’ and we heard people say “I want it to be perfect”. Thisunderstandably comes up a lot because giving someone a ‘good send–off’ is seen as a way to honour the dead and show respect. We’ve been thinking about how we might reassure people that they’ve completed the form correctly and they’re confident they know what happens next – in this case they wait for one of our Funeralcare colleagues to get in touch. One participant said:“I didn’t know what to do… I spent so much time organising that I didn’t have time to grieve.”
We looked at the form in isolation, but making changes to it will help us collect data and see how it fits within the wider service so we can see how we can simplify or communicate what happens throughout the entire process.
Remote research: tread carefully, be sensitive (even more than usual)
Death is an emotional subject and research around funerals mustalways be carried out with acute sensitivity. However, carrying out research around funeralsin the midst of a pandemic has been particularly challenging – doing it remotely makes it harder to pick up on non-verbal communication so we’ve had to tread even more carefully than usual. It’s important to remember that it’s impossible to know what participants are going through, but we worked with an awareness thatmortality is at the forefront of many people’s minds.
To try and put participants at ease we sent instructions for downloading the remote clients and tips for video calls.We also sent over photos of us to introduce ourselves a little better and spent longer than we usually would chatting and easing into the start of each session.
Over the 2 days of research, we contended with:
technical difficulties –we had to factor in extra time for things going wrong
emotional stress likely brought on by lockdown – for example, pets and children in the same room as the participant
reading emotional signals from the participant and knowing how to guide the session would be interesting
participants realising they’re not prepared for the discussion. We tried to make sure they feltsupported and heard despite the session not going the way we had intended
We have written up and played back our findings to various stakeholders and are now looking at how we can make measurable improvements to the experience.
This post is about the Digital Service community – what we do, why we do it, and at which points it’s important for Co-op Digital teams to get in touch with us. Michaela wrote a post that aimed to do a similar thing in May 2017 but so much has happened in the last 9 months, never mind the last 3 years.
Firstly, instead of sitting within the Membership team like we used to, the 10 of us are now spread out and embedded across different product teams. We know multidisciplinary teams are higher-performing and a lot of that comes down to there being representatives from different areas of expertise present to advise at each stage. We realised that if we want teams to consider the things that our community champions, it’s better if we’re more visible throughout a product or service lifecycle.
So, our name has changed too to reflect our new set up: we used to be the Digital Service team and now we’re the Digital Service community.
The earlier you speak to us, the better. We will help you:
put the correct support in place, for example, the service might need support from our 24/7 operations team
develop a process so that everyone on the team knows what to do if something goes wrong
understand how to identify, record and mitigate risks
Before you make changes to a system
If you want to make changes to a system or you want to push something to live, get in touch so we can make sure change happens in the right way. For example, we coordinate changes across Co-op Digital to make sure your proposed changes won’t clash with another. We’ll consider risk details – but we’re here to enable change, not block it.
If there’s a major incident
If there’s a major incident, like a site going down, we will bring the right people together – often in virtual ‘war rooms’ – so we can discuss the incident and restore the service. We also send out regular communications to the relevant stakeholders to update them on progress. Our aim is to minimise disruption to our colleagues and customers.
After an incident
When we’ve dealt with the incident together, the Digital Service community will facilitate a post-incident review session with product teams. The aim is to understand what went wrong, how we can mitigate the problem in the future and where we can improve. Each incident is an opportunity to learn more and be better.
Work we’re proud of
We’ve been involved in many projects, where we’ve added value. Here are a few we’re particularly proud of.
Re-platforming the Funeralcare website
We supported the transition from Episerver to the coop.co.uk platform, whilst embedding practices such as incident, problem and change management. We ran a 3-month training plan to help our Funeralcare colleagues, to support our product in an agile way.
Moving Shifts over to ‘maintenance only’
Development on the Shifts app has ended so we worked with the Retail and product teams to change how support works. This support now comes from an operations team rather than the product team but we’ve still had to make sure unresolved issues are managed effectively by the Ecommerce product team. It’s been a success so we’re using this support model as a template for new services within Retail.
Optimising ‘one web’ coop.co.uk
We reviewed coop.co.uk and identified opportunities to make improvements. Since then we’ve built service models, defined an engagement model for how teams raise incidents, enhanced 24/7 support and created risk frameworks, impact matrixes and service catalogues.
Co-operate support is now live, we set out processes and best practices so product and service teams can follow a defined support model, which covers monitoring, alerting and reporting.
Saving time and money through Tech Ops
Our tech operations specialists have been working with our suppliers and third parties, to optimise our cloud costs. Providing efficiencies within infrastructure has resulted in savings.
Our culture: here to help, not hinder
The Digital Service community is here to support Co-op Digital teams to build robust services, efficiently. We’re not about blame culture or heavy-handed governance, we’re about being there – involved – from the start.
The bottom line is: we are here to enable you to do some awesome things!