Introducing local.co.uk – Co-op’s new marketplace

We’ve recently launched local.co.uk – a marketplace that connects independent businesses to customers across the UK. We’re doing this because we want to give small businesses a fairer way to trade and help make communities across the UK stronger.

We built the service in 13 weeks and we’re proud of what we’ve achieved. But we know it’s far from perfect – there are parts of the service that could be smoother and features that we want to improve and introduce.

We launched it when we did so that we could learn quickly from real users and make the service valuable for them.

We’ve done a lot and learnt a lot.

This video shows how we created local.co.uk (2 minutes 26 seconds) 

Karen Lindop: we’re hiring! Plus our ‘Federation Presents’ events

(Transcript) Karen Lindop: Hello, and welcome to our update on what’s happening in the Digital team.

Firstly I want to welcome some new people to the team. Caroline Hatwell, Matthew Edwards, Lucy Bridges, Devon Gillespie, Lowri Davies, Kyle Welsby, Dominic Jefferson, Danny Wilson, Mark Pittam and of course Kim Morley who returns to cover Cara’s maternity cover. Welcome to you all, it’s great to have you here.

I also want to congratulate Carl Burton who won Disruptive Leader of the Year last week at the Tech Leaders Awards for his work on Guardian for our Funeralcare Business. It’s really well deserved, we’re all proud of you Carl as well as the whole team, past and present!

We host lots of different groups and organisations events in The Federation. Anyone can use our events space, and you can find details of all upcoming events on the website and we’ll add the link to our blog.

We’ve also been running a series of free events called Federation Presents which has been designed to explore ethics in the technology industry and society and using technology for good. We have collaborated with experts from around the world to talk about our industry’s big issues such as surveillance capitalism, racial and gender bias in machine learning, ethical business models and the future of work. This week we held one on Toxic Tech, and our next one will be in December – keep an eye open for more details.

Co-op’s interim results came out last week, I’d encourage you to have a look. There’s some great progress in 6 months by doing things #TheCoopWay.

Within the interim results we announced that we’ve acquired Dimec who are a healthcare technology start-up who have developed a platform which enables patients and their GPs to interact and better manage their prescription needs. Dimec will give us the online structure from which to build a new range of health and well-being services for our members. Excitingly, we’re looking for a Head of Product for this new business, if you’re interested the link to apply is on our blog.

We’re also looking for software and platform engineers, BA’s and front end developers, again the links to apply are on out blog.

That’s it for this week. Don’t forget to subscribe for all our updates on our blog and follow us on Twitter. See you soon.

Karen Lindop
Head of Digital Operations

Why FAQs aren’t the answer you’ve been looking for

I was recently sent an email with a very polite request asking me, as the content designer on our team, whether we could add frequently asked questions (FAQs) to coop.co.uk.

The request was well intentioned. The sender had seen someone asking a question about one of the Co-op’s services, and naturally had wanted to help them. Alongside that, there were perceived business benefits to adding FAQs too: reducing the number of calls colleagues would need to answer.

As content designers, we balance business needs with user needs but we always put the user first. We give people the information they need, clearly, once, at the point they need it. We consider where the user is and what they’re trying to do.

Every situation is different, but we can advise Co-op teams if they’re receiving lots of questions about their product or service. However, this post outlines general reasons for opting against FAQs.

FAQs don’t solve the real problem

Imagine if you ran a walk-in barber’s shop. As a competent small business owner you’d have the opening times on your door and on your website. But I imagine that the most common question a barber is asked over the phone is:

“Are you open on x day at y time?”

You might want to reduce the calls like this coming in but the people phoning you up aren’t calling because they looked at your opening times on your door or website and didn’t understand when you’re open or not. They weren’t outside your door or on your website in the first place, so adding your opening times into a FAQ section on either of these places won’t stop the calls.

FAQs are unlikely to answer the exact question a user has

FAQs force users to navigate (or, wade through) your content by questions they may have, rather than look for the information that they know would answer it.

Recently, a local paper presented an ‘all you need to know about our exciting running event, including start times and route’ as FAQs. The content gave lots of information presented as ‘answers’ including what the route was, whether it had changed since last year, where you could park, where the toilets were, where the finish line was. But all those ‘questions’ (and many, many more) could be answered simply and clearly by a route map. This would have been a clearer, quicker-to-grasp way to present the information.

Time-consuming hard work for users

Using the same example, I wanted to know what time the run itself started.

I had to scroll through reams of information in the FAQs before finding out that: “Runners must be ‘in their pens’ at 10.30am”.

As a spectator, I’d presumed the FAQ would be: “What time does the race start?” The FAQs writer seems to have chosen to answer the question from a runner: “What time do I need to be in my pen?” The ‘answer’ available was certainly related to my question but only really gave me half an answer. And I’d read a lot of information I didn’t need.

A user can only guess what you’ve chosen to be an FAQ. This means every user has to look at every question and answer to find out if it answers their need. Even if their query is covered it’ll take a long time.

If it isn’t covered (or they don’t see the information they need), they’ll phone you up anyway. And they’re more likely to be annoyed.

Like all content, FAQs need maintenance

Often FAQs repeat information found elsewhere, but as a ‘quick’ or more ‘friendly’ summary. But once you start duplicating information, even if you remember all the different places that information is located, you’re increasing the work you have to do in future.

The FAQs I was asked to add concerned a page that already contained a PDF manual of how to use the service in question, and that did (in a more detailed way) answer the same questions. Attempting to summarise or simplify main problems has a need, but the problem was one ‘answer’ gave a completely different process to that in the manual.

Iterate the content you already have

All content should have an owner – someone committed to updating it for factual accuracy as well as keeping an eye out for if it still meets user needs. If you find that the same questions are being asked regularly, revisit your original content.

You’ll find one of 2 things:

  1. The information is missing.
  2. The information is in the wrong place.

If it’s missing, add it in in clear language in the place that would make sense to your user.

If you think you’ve already given the answer to the question, then it’s either the wrong answer, or it’s in the wrong place.

Put your effort into working on that. Start by asking the people who are asking the questions if they’ve seen the original information. If they have, it needs work because they didn’t understand it. If they haven’t, it’s in the wrong place.

If it’s in the wrong place, consider where else it could be placed. Where are your users before they’re asking the questions. For example, it may be that you should add information into a welcome email not a website. Perhaps you should put it out on social media?

And finally, talking to a content designer is really a good first step. You can email the Content community.

Tom Adams
Lead content designer

Using our data to improve Guardian, our Funeralcare digital service

Guardian is our digital service, designed with, and for, our Funeralcare colleagues. Next week, it will be live across our 1,059 Co-op Funeralcare branches.

That’s every single branch in England, Scotland and Wales.

At this point:

  • 4,014 colleagues across our 1,059 branches in England, Scotland and Wales are now using Guardian
  • 30,425 funerals have been arranged using the Guardian digital service so far

But the Digital team’s work isn’t complete. We’re working to continuously improve the service for our colleagues and their customers and one way we’re doing that is by looking at the data.

Improving the journey between the ‘first call’ and funeral

One of our key performance indicators in the Funeralcare business is around how much time the deceased spends in our care. Typically, families want their loved one’s funeral to take place as quickly as possible, so often, the shorter the gap between the date of death and the funeral equates to higher customer satisfaction.

From the ‘first call’ when a family member rings up to say they’ve lost a loved one, colleagues take details and the deceased is then in the Guardian system. As they move through the care process, the time they spend at each stage is calculated automatically as colleagues use Guardian.

Guardian then pulls that data through to a dashboard so we can monitor performance easily. Being able to break down the process is really useful in terms of seeing our average time for each stage – it helps us see where we’re excelling and where we can improve.

Giving colleagues autonomy

Giving time back to colleagues so they could spend more time with families has always been the most important outcome of Guardian. Everything has been focused on that.

Ideally, we wanted to build something that would help colleagues deliver the same number of funerals more quickly, ie, colleagues spent less time organising, note taking and communicating details to other colleagues, and more time with families who are going through a tough time.

Empowering colleagues to see for themselves where they’re excelling and where they could improve gives them autonomy and helps them manage themselves. Each branch will have access to their own data so they can see how they’re doing. The data is presented in small chunks and includes things like: number of customers served, breakdowns of the types of funerals, hearse and limousine use, customer satisfaction scores as well as a breakdown of the time the deceased has spent in each part of the process. 

One place for data

Back in early 2016, when we started to identify user needs, we knew we could solve a lot of problems if we could record information about the deceased and about their upcoming funerals, and make that information available to the colleagues who need to see it, at the point they needed to see it.

Early user research found colleagues inventing their own, paper-based systems to log details of the deceased and organise funerals which was time consuming. But above all, it was limiting because colleagues couldn’t easily share their notes with people who worked in the same funeral home as them and it was even trickier to keep external homes in the loop.

Paper processes limit who can work and where they can work from. Some recent feedback from a colleague highlighted this. He said: “What I like most about Guardian is that it means I get a better work life balance – I can go home and finish admin there, rather than having to go back to the office. I get to spend more time around my kids.”

Making data accessible to the right people at the right time

Because Guardian’s data is stored in one secure place, we can use it to help out other areas of the business.

For example, before Guardian, customers would call the central Funeralcare number on the website and come through to the customer service centre. Advisors weren’t able to answer respond efficiently to phone calls like: “My mother came into your care over the weekend. It was all a rush at the time. Which funeral home is she in?” This kind of information would only exist as paperwork in-branch. Advisors can only transfer the caller to a local branch, but this isn’t always the best experience because there’d be no guarantee the branch would answer.

We’re starting a pilot next month, looking at giving our call centre advisors access to relevant information on Guardian, so with a few clicks they could find out quite a lot of reassuring detail for the family of the deceased. For example: “Your mother came into our care last night at around 2am, she’s now at the Rochdale home. Would you like to speak to your Funeral Director?”

What we’ll look at soon

Now rollout is almost complete, we’re looking at what we could do with the data coming out of Guardian. We’ve been asking:

  • How could we optimise the 1,275+ vehicles in Funeralcare-owned fleet?
  • Can we predict the volume of demand for individual branches so we can ensure more customers are served first time in-branch?
  • Can we enable more customers to be served first time on the phone by leveraging the customer service centre?
  • How could we optimise the order and delivery of ten of thousands of coffins annually?

They’re all interesting problems to solve. The hard work isn’t over yet.

Jack Gray
Product Lead

Making things simpler for colleagues on colleagues.coop.co.uk

Photograph from over the shoulder of a Co-op Digital colleague who is using the update colleague site on their phone.

We’re redesigning the Co-op Colleagues website and updating its content to make the navigation easier and the information more helpful to colleagues.

The problem we want to solve

There are lots of places where colleagues can find information about our policies, procedures and working at the Co-op. This is confusing because:

  1. We’ve never flagged one channel as the single, definitive place to find information.
  2. The information we give across the different channels doesn’t always say the same thing.

We’re now working with our internal comms team to make colleagues.coop.co.uk the main place to find out about being a Co-op colleague. It will help people who work here with everything from checking when they get paid through to finding out what to do before they go on maternity leave.

Favouring a website over the intranet

When we built the site a couple of years ago, we put it straight into the public domain, even though the main audience is people who work here at Co-op. It was a quick proof of concept, to show we could be open about our policies and procedures and make them more user-friendly. Doing it this way meant one Google search from any device could get a colleague straight to the information they need, without having to get onto our network or remember log-in details.

The best way to make information available to everyone who needs it is to make it open – that’s why the right product decision was to build a website rather than pour time into redeveloping our existing intranet.

There are other problems with the intranet too. Around 80% of our staff can’t access it because they work in our stores and warehouses and don’t have a work email address to log in with. For those who can log in, the search doesn’t work very well and the navigation isn’t intuitive. It’s not surprising many colleagues can’t find what they need and end up phoning our internal call centres for help, which takes longer, causes frustration and costs us more.

We’ve created a content ‘quality filter’

To avoid the Colleagues site going the same way as the intranet, we want to empower colleagues to help themselves. So we’ve created a proposition that provides a quality filter for everything that goes on the site.

All content must:

  • have a clear user need
  • be about being a Co-op colleague
  • have a named content owner who’s committed to reviewing it at least once a year

If a piece of content doesn’t fit these requirements, it doesn’t go on.

A big culture shift

People are used to being able to publish any content they want to our colleagues – our proposition takes away that right. Everything for the site will now be reviewed, edited or created by a small team of trained editors from around Co-op. They will make sure everything fits the proposition and is designed to help users find out how to complete their task as quickly and easily as possible.

That’s why we’ve written guidelines for creating content completely open too. We’re asking a lot from people, so it’s only right that we’re completely open about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Then they can hold us to the standards we’re trying to set.

Where we’re going from here

We’ve already made some changes with support from Code Computer Love, but we’ll continue to add new content and restructure what’s already there over the coming months. We’ll also continue to review and iterate the guidelines to make sure they’re helping our editors to create content that meets our colleagues’ needs.

There’s a feedback button at the bottom of every page, so please let us know how we’re doing.

Hannah Horton
Content Community Lead

Karen Lindop: 5 awards plus our very own Federation bee

(Transcript) Karen Lindop: Hello, and welcome to our update on what’s happening in the Digital team.

I’ll start with some great news. Our teams working in partnership with our Funeralcare and Food businesses, as well as Equal Experts and UsTwo recently picked up five Big Chip Awards for the work they have done on Shifts, the app to help store colleagues manage their rotas and Guardian, our new Funeralcare digital service. Well done to the teams that have worked hard to get these digital solutions out to colleagues.

Our Federation bee was unveiled last week as part of Bee in the City taking place in Manchester over the summer. Our bee was created by artists Nomad Clan and shows the history of Manchester right from its beginnings as a roman fort. It now has pride of place outside The Federation. You can follow our bee on Twitter and if you’re in Manchester, check it out.

A massive thank you to Nick McLaughlin from our Funeralcare business and Carl Burton who spent time with the team, giving them insight into their business plans, strategy, market and challenges and learning. It was a great opportunity to learn more about one of our businesses, thank you both for their time.

Our next Federation Presents event is taking place next month. This time we’re exploring what humanity needs to do to make sure it survives the technological revolution with tech ethicist Shannon Vellor and other guests. The event is free and you can sign up using the link.

Some more great news. In a few weeks we’ll be welcoming back Kim Morley to the team. She’ll join Co-op Digital as our Head of Agile Delivery, covering Cara’s maternity leave. It will be great to have you back Kim!

Finally, we’ve got some vacancies for a variety of roles, you can find them all on our blog.

Don’t forget to subscribe for our updates on our blog and follow us on Twitter. See you soon.

Karen Lindop
Head of Digital Operations

Adapting traditional service management processes for our DevOps environment

Photograph of the IT service management team stood on stage at an awards ceremony celebrating their award

In June, our Digital Service team won the Special Innovation Devops award at the IT Service Management Forum (ITSMF) Professional Service Management awards.

Each year, ITSMF present innovation awards to organisations who are exploring new territory, often around the edges of traditional IT service management or those who have found innovative solutions to well known problems.

We’re proud our work has been recognised as being innovative and thought this would be a good time to share our story.

IT service management at the Co-op

When we talk about ‘IT service management’ we mean making sure we can operationally support our products and services.

Over the years Co-op has put in place IT service management policies and processes based on an IT infrastructure library (ITIL) – the industry standard framework for developing and running IT services. It includes processes to help manage incidents, requests and changes.

The principles of the framework aim to manage business change whilst maintaining stable services. And because the Co-op has been going through digital transformation and business change over the past few years, maintaining stable services whilst being able make frequent changes in an agile model has been hugely important.

Adapting traditional processes for an agile environment

ITIL processes were created before working in an agile way was commonplace and the Co-op service management policies and processes were originally written for traditional, on premise, waterfall applications. So recently, the Co-op Digital IT service management team have been adapting them so they’re better suited to our fast-paced, cloud-hosted, agile world.

Here are some of the ways we’ve been working innovatively.

Working collaboratively (especially when things go wrong)

Typically, development teams are separate from the IT service management teams who operate live services. But we’ve been involving them. For example, our monitoring systems continually check the health of our services and when something breaks, we’ve set up alerts so that problems are automatically posted into incident chat rooms. We’ve made these visible to the whole Digital team. This way, the wider team can swarm on fixing the problem.

We also review incidents together for 2 reasons:

  1. To make sure we’re continually improving by preventing recurring issues.
  2. Reviews act as training guides for new colleagues to learn from past mistakes.

Creating patterns to make things more efficient

We created patterns for how we build and support infrastructure, how we deploy, and how we manage availability and change. Every service follows the same patterns and is scaled appropriately for its size.

Patterns make getting a service live for the first time simpler and quicker. When a service needs something different, we can fully concentrate on those areas rather than trying to reinvent the more basic, standard things. Before we put patterns in place, teams would often hit a wall just as they were planning to launch because they hadn’t sufficiently considered all the security and operational needs that needed to be satisfied. Now, our digital teams can take learnings for an alpha, and create the application and infrastructure for a production-ready service within months.

So far, so good

We’re now consistently doing 5-10 releases a day without service outages, we display our alerting and monitoring in the open so we’re transparent about our weak points and we share our post incident reviews widely so everyone can learn from our mistakes.

As a result we’ve seen improved uptime, typically never falling below 99.95%, have a change failure rate of less than 1% and we’re catching more issues proactively, all while supporting an increased number of services with the same size team.

A reasonable amount of governance

As product teams take on more responsibility for managing their own services, our role as a service team is shifting from being the gatekeepers of production, to making sure we have great processes and governance in place.

We’re giving teams the tools they need to manage changes and incidents themselves which saves time. Our aim to create processes that are supported by tools as well as automation that makes sure the appropriate governance is being done, rather than relying on people to do repetitive admin tasks. And as we try new tools and techniques, we’re sharing these with the rest of the Co-op IT teams, as well as here on our Digital blog, so that they can build on what we’ve learnt.

Michaela Kurkiewicz
Principal Service Manager