We have some people in our department who are experienced speakers, happy to appear at public meetups and conferences. But we know there are lots more interesting stories to hear from other people. We wanted to encourage new voices and less experienced speakers to come forwards, but didn’t know how willing people would be.
Understanding the barriers to public speaking
We put out a call for speakers, making it clear we wanted to hear from everyone who might be interested. We offered coaching, feedback, or just an initial chat about ideas – whatever would help people feel confident to get started. Through this, we learned about a range of things that were on people’s minds:
some hadn’t done any public speaking before, and weren’t sure how to structure a talk or how they’d cope with nerves
it had been years since some people had spoken in person, and this seemed more daunting than the video calls they’d become used to
others were happy to talk in front of people they knew, or in communities that were encouraging – but weren’t sure how relatable their talk would be for a wider range of backgrounds
A common theme became clear: they all had fantastic stories to share and didn’t need much beyond a little assurance that people would want to hear them. We put together a varied agenda where all the talks were really well attended. On the day, the quality of the talks (and their slides!) was all really impressive.
A positive experience for our speakers
Our colleagues who’d put themselves forwards for talks told us the experience of talking in the supportive environment of an internal conference built their confidence for doing it again.
While it wasn’t the first time I spoke in front of a large-ish group of people, it’s the first time I presented my own content, not just product-related or business material. So there was an extra layer of feeling exposed and judged on a topic I feel very strongly about. I talk about anxiety and repurposing product design techniques to mitigate its effect and build better products and services. So you can imagine my, well, anxiety putting myself out there!
The experience of the conference gave me a lot of confidence to pitch this externally in a way that I never thought possible before. I’ve already got an external event lined up in a few weeks!
I was grateful to be given an opportunity to speak, especially with my name place alongside colleagues whose confidence and delivery I hugely admire. This is the first time I’ve delivered a talk to a large group of people and the warm support from colleagues before, during and after the conference has given me the confidence and appetite to do it again, and to a wider audience.
James Martin, ‘Bridging the gap between designers and developers’
Encouraging colleagues to think about public speaking – lightning talks
We carried this idea of encouraging speakers into the conference itself, by running a session on how to do a lightning talk.
A lightning talk, just a few minutes long, is a great way to start public speaking because:
there’s no need to plan and remember a long script
it’s over quickly so can be less daunting
they’re more informal than longer talks
Lightning talks do have their own challenges: with such a small amount of time to get to the point, you need to be really clear on what you want to get across, and be ruthless about leaving out lots of potentially interesting detail and asides.
People are interested in your talk
One of the biggest barriers to giving a talk, even a short lightning one, is accepting that people are interested in what you have to talk about.
“Come learn from me, I am an expert in this thing” is a daunting and difficult way to approach a talk. And often, advice from experts is not all that useful – sometimes when a world-class authority talks, listeners can be thinking “run multiple companies, decades researching this topic, wrote a book about it … of course they can do this stuff, don’t know if I can”
Instead, think about: “I thought this looked difficult but maybe useful, here’s how I found a way to put it into practice and here’s how a surprisingly small amount of work really helped my team and organisation. I’d like to learn more, next I’ll look at…”
This second approach:
is believable (you’re not trying to claim you’re an expert in anything)
is relatable and useful for the audience
invites the audience to come and learn with you
We were extra impressed with the bravery of the group of attendees for this session: they could have safely stayed listening to someone else talk in the ground floor sessions, but instead they ventured up 13 floors to discuss putting themselves in front of an audience. Taking that step itself showed they’re passionate about the topics they want to share, and we’ll look forward to seeing them talk at our future conferences.
We’ve been working remotely in Co-op Digital Technology and Data since March 2020. Since then we’ve seen new teams form, departments merge and new people have joined us. We’ve also been figuring out how to navigate a new world of hybrid working. Lots of things are working well, but colleagues were feeding back that they missed the serendipitous conversations in the kitchen and the opportunities to stumble upon other teams and see what they are working on.
An experiment to help us learn
Lots of people were on board with the idea of running an internal conference in principle, but as we got into the details we started to come across stumbling blocks. Would we run the event in person, virtually or hybrid? How would colleagues feel about gathering in large groups after spending years working remotely? How many colleagues would want to give a talk? How much would it cost? An expensive conference felt risky, so we decided to apply our mindset of experimentation.
Could we create a ‘lean’, low-budget conference to mitigate the risks and learn how to bring distributed teams together in a post-pandemic world?
Choosing the right location
There are lots expensive ways to do a fancy conference, involving lots of time and planning. But we were trying to mitigate risk, so we gave ourselves lots of limitations. We decided to run the conference on as close to zero a budget as possible, and to do it before the end of the year.
We used our office, 1 Angel Square as the location. It’s a stunning building and felt like a ‘home from home’ after years of working remotely. However, it didn’t have a big enough space to host everyone at the same time – so we split the conference across 3 days. This meant that we didn’t need such large spaces and it also allowed colleagues to join on the days which fitted with their schedules, which might involve childcare or different working patterns.
We also got creative and repurposed areas in the building like the Foodology hub, where our team designs and tests new Co-op products. We opened floors we no longer use and turned them into temporary auditoriums with big screens.
Making it inclusive and accessible
Coming into the office in person in a large group wasn’t for everyone. Whether it was due to other commitments, living far away or not feeling comfortable to sit in a large room full of people, we still wanted everyone to feel included.
We weren’t able to make all of our sessions hybrid, but where we could we streamed the sessions and held virtual breakout rooms in place of in-person activities. For those who couldn’t attend on the day we recorded these sessions. We trialled using live captions to help colleagues with hearing difficulties so they could participate more fully.
Designing a thoughtful schedule
Since we were running the conference as an experiment, we wanted to be careful about making good use of our colleagues’ time. While we might not have to spend money on a venue, asking our whole department to take time out is quite an investment, so it was vital to make sure it was worthwhile.
In the morning we had our All Hands, which was repeated on each day. This was time for colleagues to reconnect with each other and with the Co-op purpose. The sessions were designed to feel useful and give our colleagues a chance to greet old friends and make new connections. They were also interactive to get the most of being face to face.
In the afternoon our colleagues led talks and workshops. It was like being at a TEDx event, with talks on a variety of topics from reflective practice to risk-storming the Deathstar. Leaders encouraged people to clear their diaries and make space, but we also streamed and recorded the sessions where we could so that everyone had a chance to join.
What we learned from our conference experiment
Running a multi-track, 3-day event across multiple floors of large building wasn’t easy. A team of helpers, connected through an open chat channel, kept everything running smoothly. Each conference space had an assigned helper to check the tech worked so that speakers could feel calm and prepared before going on stage.
Throughout the conference we captured feedback using QR codes scanned on phones for quick in the moment praise, thoughts and improvements. We held lots of retrospective afterwards – one for the organisers and one for the speakers and helpers.
Our feedback told us:
the structure of the conference (schedule, timings and venue) worked really well
colleagues would like more sessions to learn about what other teams and disciplines do
sometimes we had too many sessions at once – so we’ll look to have fewer sessions running in parallel and we’ll consider having tracks or themes.
the next one should still be in person, but to have more live streamed and recorded sessions
everyone would love to have another conference – at least once a year but ideally twice
We’re collating this into a book of lessons to remember and experiments we’d love to try next time.
The Customer Experience (CX) team has been working with our Co-op Food colleagues to look at how we can improve customer service in our stores. When the CX team help the wider Co-op business solve problems, our process usually involves prototyping. Because we often work in the digital space, our prototypes are often on a screen too.
This challenge however focuses on in-person experiences in our stores. So, for this piece of work, testing in a physical space and in a more tangible way felt more appropriate.
Before trialling in a store, we wanted to test our ideas in a low-risk environment where we wouldn’t be in the way of day-to-day store life but where we could still involve colleagues who bring other expert knowledge.
We used a ‘desktop walkthrough’ method to simulate the in-store experiences.
We are writing this post to share:
why we chose the desktop walkthrough method as a prototyping tool
how we used it to get a better understanding of our trial logistics
what we learnt about using a less familiar method
Exploring the problem with a team of experts
To discover how we can improve customer service in store, we needed to understand the current customer experience and identify pain points.
We formed a small team of colleagues across Food Operations, Insight and Research, and store managers to help us focus on the right things. Each discipline has its own perspective and involving the right people means we’re more likely to focus on the right things.
Defining the problem and prioritising 1 concept to tackle
Based on our research, we identified 3 areas we could explore that would help our customers receive (and our colleagues to be able to provide) better service. They were:
Technology – how might we use new and existing technology to make improvements across different parts of the customer journey?
People – how might we help our colleagues to prioritise service through training and recognition?
Insight – how might we make better use of the insight we have on our customers, colleagues and stores to make improvements to customer service?
We chose to explore the ideas focused on people because we identified the most amount of value, opportunity and feasibility here. We specifically wanted to look at how we might recognise colleagues who were great ‘customer service advocates’ in stores.
We defined our hypothesis and used it to develop a plan for our trial in a real store. We established the basics of good customer service, and we defined the role of a customer service advocate.
Choosing an inclusive and lightweight way to test
To choose the right prototyping method for the scenario, we revisited what we wanted to learn. Our learning objectives were to:
get a shared understanding about the end-to-end customer experience
understand the important interactions between colleague and customer journeys
identify other problem areas so we can address them
We decided to try a desktop walkthrough because:
It brings experts from different areas together, in one room, without distraction so we could explain why we had arranged the walkthrough and what we planned to do afterwards in real stores. Each person has a unique perspective and can raise challenges the rest of the group wouldn’t necessarily consider.
We could figure out our next steps without getting in the way of or taking time away from in-store colleagues.
We had a hunch it might help us realise things relating to the physical space we otherwise likely wouldn’t have with a different method. For example, shelving and fixtures tend to be tall and make it difficult for colleagues to see each other providing good service.
As the name implies, the walkthrough takes place at a desk. The Format team shared a generic store floor plan which we printed out and laid on the desk. Then we added 3D card shelving, tills and self-checkouts on top of the paper layout to recreate a mini-scale, realistic-as-possible store. We used figurines to represent colleagues and customers.
Walking through scenarios
We chose to walk through common scenarios for store colleagues. For example:
opening the store
navigating around the store at the times when there are fewer colleagues on the shop floor
operational tasks such as unloading deliveries or scanning gaps on the shelves – times where a colleague is less available to directly help customers
customer interaction trade-off scenarios like helping a customer to find an item while being asked over headset to pack a Deliveroo order
We also took note of real colleagues’ shifts, lunch breaks and list of tasks too so we could get an idea of how busy the space would be. Weaving this into our walkthrough brought an additional layer of understanding for the people in the room.
A desktop walkthrough meant we got a bird’s eye view of colleagues moving through our model store for the duration of their shift. It also helped us see where, when or why colleagues interact with customers.
Building value for our CX team and the wider community
Our desktop walkthrough was a quick, cheap way to prepare for an in-store trial. Bringing our ideas to life in this way meant we picked up on things that might not work in stores and we could adapt our concepts without wasting time or money. A lot of this was down to 2 ex-store managers who joined us for the walkthrough – their input was invaluable. Their first-hand experience of working in – and running – stores meant they could sense-check our assumptions which made the scenarios we walked through far more realistic. We made changes to our experiment plan based on their insight and we believe this contributed to the success of our first store trial.
Since our desktop prototype we have progressed to trialling our customer service advocate concept in stores and continue to learn and adapt.
I’m Rich, I’m a Quality Analyst at Co-op in our engineering department, where I’ve been working for the last 3 and a half years. I’ve been a QA (aka Tester) for around 16 years, which when I look at it in writing makes me feel old as dust! People choose to work at Co-op for a number of reasons, but for me it happened after a friend approached me and said ‘you’ll love how we make software’.
Why QAs are different at Co-op
As a QA it’s easy to feel like your role is an afterthought in the engineering process. You build your product and then someone sits in a corner isolated and tests it, right? But after speaking to my friend and going through the interview process at Co-op, my head was turned and I learned that things were very different here.
QAs work as part of the team, right from the start. They are seen as coaches of quality and involved in the development process from the initial problem space, through to elaboration, design, development (with testing throughout) to release. Our goal is to embed quality into every stage of the development lifecycle, reduce feedback loops, and do the right thing for the right reason.
I’ve never had to sit in a corner and wait for a developer to just send a piece of work at me I had no idea about with a mandate of ‘test this’ or ‘put some automation round that’. Everybody appreciates the part testing plays and how important it is to get it right.
Part of a community
We have a number of vibrant communities within engineering that come together regularly to help better each other. We share what we are working on through show and tells, pass on knowledge with lightening talks, we have a code club (where people come together and do katas), book club, video club. I’ve never worked anywhere that has such an inclusive collaborative approach to software development.
As a rule, we mob – this is where the whole team works on the same thing, at the same time, in the same space, and at the same computer. I spend a lot of my time as a QA challenging developers as to why we are taking a certain approach, getting them to ask each other ‘are we doing the right thing here?’.
Something to be proud of
When I first joined Co-op, I was working on our funeral arrangement application for our frontline Funeralcare colleagues. Our team’s job was to make software and implement features that made our colleagues’ jobs easier – saving them time which they could better use to support grieving families.
This was amplified even more in recent times due to the challenges faced because of the pandemic. The new app features that the team delivered for our colleagues during this time were vital to their roles and to keeping our colleagues safe. Throughout the peak of the pandemic our core application had zero down time, something we can be extremely proud of.
For me personally, Co-op is a fantastic company to work for, because our purpose is much more than just making money. We’re dedicated to building a greener future, to helping local communities, charitable causes, and having a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion.
We make software the right way, for the right reasons. And I’m lucky to work with some superbly talented, kind and thoughtful people in a place where everyone can be their true self.
We’re hiring at the moment – so to see all of our new vacancies and register for job alerts click the button below.
This time last year, I think we all imagined that working from home so regularly would be temporary. But here we are, a year on. The Digital Product and Design team is not fully remote like we were for most of 2020, but we are a remote-first team now.
Although this has had its downsides, we’ve navigated the shift well. We’ve continued to iterate our processes and adapt our tools and, if anything, we’ve become a more flexible, pragmatic, impactful team. This hasn’t been easy though, and while we’ve continued to deliver for Co-op customers and members, we’ve also had to deliver for each other. We check in with each other more often to help balance the stresses and strains of the outside world with the ones inside Co-op.
Our colleague happiness survey, Talkback, shows 90% of colleagues feel they can have open and honest conversations; 95% of people feel we have an environment where they can be themselves, and 98% feel their manager role-models a healthy balance between their work and home life. These results reflect the open, honest culture we strive to create – we all contribute to this culture, so we can all be proud.
To everyone in the Digital Product and Design team, and to all our close collaborators across Engineering, Delivery and the wider Co-op, thank you for all your hard work and kindness this year. It’s been tough but rewarding, and there’s a lot to look forward to in 2022.
The Digital Engagement and Loyalty portfolio (previously Member and Customer) re-organised ourselves this year, adding Co-operate to the fold and building a new team around improving the membership experience. We’re now 5 product teams (Co-op App, Personalised Offers, Co-op Account, Co-operate and Membership Experience) working to make Co-op a brand that inspires loyalty.
We’ve delivered valuable features… including the most-requested feature in our app reviews (adding your membership card to your digital wallet), an easier way to become a member (paying via Apple/Google) and ensuring Co-op Accounts are accessible to all (earning a zero issues report in testing).
We’ve contributed to the success of the wider business… by delivering millions in incremental sales via the personalised offers programme, driving 10% of ecommerce sales via a new in-app promo, and making it easier to checkout online, so that signed-in users spend more and convert 35% more often.
We’ve helped deliver Co-op’s vision of co-operating for a fairer world by making it easy for 1.2 million members to select a local cause to support with just one click. We’ve also:
connected the Local Community Fund with Co-operate, our online community centre, to help more than 10,000 local groups apply for funding and access wider support
introduced a new volunteering service to help people find opportunities locally
encouraged almost 250,000 people to engage in communities
showcased relevant opportunities to participate and support our community missions locally
And we’ve paid down important technical debt… by switching our identity provider (a huge endeavour that’s reduced fraud, whilst causing barely a ripple to the user experience) and introducing a new Membership API Gateway that makes the way we share membership information easier to maintain, more secure and quicker to extend when new opportunities arise.
Looking forwards to 2022 we’ve been working with our stakeholders across the business to set shared objectives and priorities. We’ve been using decision stacks to unite teams from different areas (including marketing, commercial, CRM, and data science) around a set of priorities with KPIs that we think will have the greatest impact. It’s been fun to work with colleagues with different perspectives and build diverse thinking and expertise into our plans.
Customer Experience Strategy team
We set up the Customer Experience (CX) Strategy team. We’ve been well-received so far.
Delivering financial value through CX strategy
We identified the funeral arrangement to probate journey as somewhere we could prove the value of our CX strategy. Why? Because you never need one without the other. So, we moved probate to the right place in the online Funeralcare journey and improved the content.
Comparing the 16 weeks since the content went live to the previous 16 weeks, there has been:
49% increase in probate leads
50% increase in bookings (where we quote for probate)
55% increase in number of probate sales – an extra £140k per year
Enabling teams to move from strategy to delivery
We’ve been supporting teams in the wider organisation to adopt a customer experience approach to designing services. We’ve been documenting them too so that guidance and support will be available after we leave the project.
We’ve co-designed various tools with Co-op Powerincluding:
A service design toolkit for the Power product development team
A product definition canvas focused on customer needs
Working with Nisa to connect business and experience strategies
We improved the customer experience for Nisa’s independent retailers (Co-op acquired Nisa in 2018). Our work is a good example of building a vision framework based on a detailed understanding of how customers interact with Nisa across each touchpoint. Ultimately, a customer’s experience is the sum of all the individual decisions the business makes, the systems they use and the processes they follow. Thanks to everyone who has been involved in helping us learn about, understand and improve each tiny part.
Customer Experience Day events
We marked CX Day 2021 with a series of CX best practice talks covering Insurance, Funeralcare and Food. Across 3 days, over 200 colleagues watched the sessions showing there’s an appetite from colleagues across Co-op to learn more about what customer experience is, why it’s important and how it can be improved for our members, customers and colleagues.
Co-op Legal Services
This year our focus has been on optimisation.
We have redesigned our Co-op Wills Writing service using web analytics, data from our existing platform, and user research with the aim of improving conversion rates and reducing lead times. We are launching soon and estimate that the time spent drafting a will be reduced by up to 1 hour.
We also created a new digital lasting power of attorney service (not publicly available at the moment).
Customer Platform Service team
This year, we restructured, and we’ve made great progress in re-branding and simplifying processes and tools like our Statuspage, Service Catalogue, Runbooks and Impact matrices to optimise how we work.
This year we’re proud of the work we’ve done to:
Introduce standard change which means we have cut manual effort to review and approve changes by up to 70%. Our Change success rate across all products was 98.6%!
Offer 24/7 support for Food eCommerce web-platform and Funeralcare customers
Reduce costs by approximately £50K by decommissioning the archaic server for Membership wallet
achieve a record run of 110 consecutive days without a major incident in some products! Work in Problem Management ensured a reduction in major incidents by 32% compared to 2020.
There are now 1,600 Co-op Food stores that accept online orders through our ecommerce site, shop.coop.co.uk This time last year, only 760 of our stores were taking part, up from 32 stores in 2019.
Given the increase in numbers of participating stores, it’s not surprising that 2021 has been busy. We:
made it easier for shoppers to see which products are included in deals
made it possible for the Merchandising team to edit product titles and descriptions
added a ‘Top deals’ page
added a contact form to the site to help customers report order issues saving our contact centre colleagues time
made it possible for shoppers to use Apple Pay on service
made stock availability visible to customers and offered alternatives on out-of-stock products
trialled ‘delivery within an hour’
still maintain crucial operational services like Shifts and How Do I for our colleagues
Funeralcare’s Core Transformation and Guardian team
Guardian is our colleague-facing digital service. We designed and built it in-house so our Funeralcare colleagues could spend less time on administrative tasks and more time with clients. Since its roll-out in 2018, we’ve supported the maintainance and we’ve continued to listen to colleagues and support the great work they do by iterating Guardian. This year, improvements include:
Adding a Contract transfer system so colleagues can manage the collection of someone who has died from the police and hospitals. The system also makes sure each party is invoiced correctly.
More accurate tracking of ashes so funeral directors can check the deceased’s ashes are collected within mandatory 3 days and reduce administration overhead.
Creating a Direct Cremation functionality so colleagues can easily track whether the mandatory cremation paperwork is complete
Our team has also replaced existing architecture to connect the website front-end to the new Microsoft product supporting the Funeralcare strategic systems upgrade programme known as ‘core transformation’.
Funeralcare’s Customer team
This year, we’ve created:
a new online payment journey that has allowed over 2,500 clients to pay their funeral balance online, saving both clients and Funeralcare colleagues time
a new regulatory compliant online pricing component on 900 branch pages allowing clients to understand and compare local Funeralcare prices
a trial to help understand how we can help clients make appointments with branches, through the website
User research was at the heart of all our work again, with some emotional sessions. All participants reassured us they want to help us make services better and enjoyed the research, tears and all.
We’ve also changed a lot in 2021 – halfway through the year we introduced an entirely new engineering team.
Responsible design: more important than ever
Over the past decade, digital delivery teams have adopted the mindset of ‘moving fast and breaking things’ and we’ve reached a point where a lot has broken. We’ve spoken a lot over the years about designing the right thing in the right way, but we need to keep adapting and changing what ‘the right way’ means in the context of the challenges we face in our communities and globally. We’re having more conversations around ‘responsible’ design and this will continue to be at the forefront of our minds going into 2022.
Last week we published a post that explains what we mean when we talk about customer experience at Co-op. Today’s post aims to show the applied, practical side of some of the things we spoke about. We’re using a piece of work that we – the Customer Experience Strategy team – has been involved in as an example.
(Slightly surprising) background and context
Most UK residents will be familiar with Nisa Locals, the convenience shops. What is perhaps lesser known is that those shops are actually independently run – in fact, Nisa’s tagline is ‘the family of independent grocers’. Nisa is a wholesaler who the independent shops buy their stock from (plus, many independent shops also buy from them but do not call themselves Nisa). So, when we refer to ‘customers’ in this post, we’re referring to each independent, local shop.
Since Co-op completed its acquisition of Nisa Retail Limited, teams from both businesses have been sharing approaches and ways of working. The Nisa leadership team were concerned that the customer experience (CX) for the independent retailers who interact with the wholesaler was lacking in some areas – they said they would like to improve customer retention, loyalty and sales.
This felt like a good chance for Co-op’s relatively newly-formed Customer Experience Strategy team to set out a vision for what the experience of interacting with Nisa could be. We knew the vision should stem from our research with Nisa’s customers, and this would then inform the CX strategy.
Taking an end-to-end view to understand challenges
In short, our research allowed us to identify the top pain points the shops were having when interacting with Nisa when they:
place an order for stock
receive a delivery
update prices or promotions in their stores
We then used these conversations to map the customer experience for those 3 user journeys. It was important that we also took internal data into consideration, as well as the existing processes and systems that Nisa colleagues currently use which will also have an impact on their experience. We worked closely with Nisa teams who helped us unpack the complexities of the business and improve our understanding of how and why things happen so we could more easily identify genuine opportunities.
Defining an ‘experience vision’
Our insight from the user journey maps, contextual research and interviews with Nisa colleagues meant we could pinpoint opportunities for immediate improvement.
But more importantly, and on a bigger scale, the maps helped define an overarching ‘experience vision’ – this is what an organisation aspires to become for its customers. This experience vision feeds into Nisa’s existing brand proposition, which in turn supports its brand purpose (but that stuff was outside the CX Strategy team’s remit).
Working out how to get there
If an ‘experience vision’ is something aspirational – a place where Nisa is aiming to get to – we started to look at how they were going to get there. This is where the concept of ‘strategic priorities’ came in – in other words, guiding principles to help Nisa make better decisions that give customers the experience they want. Those decisions could be around things like a new technology architecture, updates to the ordering system, or an improved onboarding process for new customers. The strategic priorities allow Nisa to assess whether their actions support the delivery of the experience vision.
Together, we identified 3 strategic priorities, within those the CX team created ‘service briefs’ which formed the bulk of our recommendations. They included:
our observations of customer pain points
the underlying reasons these were happening
our recommendations for improvement
the metrics to track impact
Basically, the top priority work for them to start delivering on the strategic priorities.
We underpinned the service briefs with 3 ‘foundational principles’ that focused on setting the teams and organisation up with appropriate ways of working to achieve the vision. (You can read more about how we make sure team objectives align with a vision here).
Early days but so far, so good
We only recently shared our recommendations, but changes have already been put in place. For example:
The Nisa brand team championed the new tone of voice document and encouraged colleagues to use it .
Nisa’s senior leadership team is taking our recommendations on board and has confirmed it will put an accountable project sponsor in place. (In 6 months, we’ll check in on the progress).
Good collaboration: we needed Nisa’s subject matter experts
A CX team like ours could not have just come in and made customer pain points less painful without working closely with the subject matter experts from Nisa and the people working in the independent shops. Speaking to them helped us see and understand the underlying reasons for the experiences customers are having.
It has also been invaluable to work alongside sales and finance teams who helped us to size up the opportunity and balance it against perceived time, effort and expense for Nisa to make the changes. This helped massively with prioritisation.
Ultimately, a customer’s experience is the sum of all the individual decisions that colleagues make, the systems they use and the processes they follow. Thanks to everyone who has been involved in helping us learn about, understand and improve each tiny part.
Allow people to contribute anonymously or in smaller groups.
Check if people can access the tools you’re using, explain how to use them and offer an alternative if necessary.
Use visible timers and allow thinking time.
Use captions and transcripts where possible.
Consider how people could contribute outside of the meeting, in their own time.
Set clear expectations, early
Send out an agenda in advance.
Clearly state the purpose of the meeting and the outcome you want to achieve.
Give a running order, include approximate times.
Give context: do not assume any prior knowledge
Reiterate any information that someone would need to know to be able to contribute.
Give regular recaps. Consider taking notes as you go so you can easily refer back.
Be mindful of late joiners and the context they might lack.
Use clear language
Do not use acronyms without explaining what they mean.
Use plain English.
Be mindful of people who are new to Co-op, or a team. If you use jargon, explain what you mean.
Respect people’s time
Book only the amount of time you need with people, and allow people to leave if they’ve contributed all they need to.
Plan your meeting to allow people breaks between meetings, for example 5 or 15 minutes past the hour.
If the meeting is long, schedule in regular breaks.
Value all contributions equally
Give everyone a chance to speak, do not allow one voice to dominate.
If you’re referencing what’s been inputted, reference contributions from a range of people.
Consider your audience. Be prepared to adapt your approach or process to encourage contribution from more people.
Encourage clarity, curiosity, and challenges
Explain how people can ask questions.
Encourage people to get clarity on things they do not understand.
Allow people to ask questions anonymously, for example by adding post-its to a collaboration board.
Why we created inclusive meeting guidelines
With a lot of collaboration now online, it can be harder for people to contribute effectively. This can mean some voices are not heard.
We want everyone to be able to contribute in a way they feel comfortable. This means being thoughtful about people who, for example:
have a disability or condition
are new to a team
cannot attend a meeting at a specific time
cannot access certain tools or systems
need thinking time
We hope these guidelines will encourage more inclusive discussions and more perspectives to be heard.
As a result of more inclusive collaboration we believe Co-op will:
become aware of problems earlier
save money, as problems can be fixed earlier
create more inclusive products and services
open up our products and services to more people
How we created these guidelines
Our hypothesis is that remote working has made some of the ways we collaborate exclusive. We wanted to see if this was an issue for others and if so, how they’d overcome it.
Using a survey, we asked people:
what they believed could prevent people from engaging with and inputting into a meeting
for practical tools and techniques that can help people to engage and input in to a meeting
We gathered loads of valuable advice, ideas and knowledge from people in Co-op and from other organisations. After synthesising the responses, we ended up with broad themes that helped us form the guidelines.
Using what we’d learnt to structure the guidelines
From the analysis it was clear that people were time-poor and often meeting-fatigued. They wanted to get the most out of collaborative sessions as efficiently as possible.
So, we reflected this in our guidelines.
We focused on the actions – the tools, techniques and ideas – that could be immediately useful for facilitators and attendees at the start of a meeting.
The guidelines are not overly prescriptive, to allow them to be adapted for different contexts and scenarios. And we hope they’ll be shared in a whichever way works well for the facilitator – maybe added to the start of a Miro board, a Word document or a meeting invitation.
We’re looking forward to learning if and how they’re useful, and if they encourage more mindful and inclusive meetings.
These inclusive meeting guidelines are a first draft. We will continue to:
get feedback and make them better
understand if and how they’re being used
understand if they’re helping us have better discussions
share updates and get involved in wider inclusion discussions
see how they can complement other work that’s happening in Co-op and beyond
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.
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!
I’m on the Operational Innovation team which supports store colleagues and empowers them to spend more of their time and energy on customers and members rather than on admin and paperwork. Unsurprisingly, lockdown has affected a lot of work for our team. We had to pause some trials, and of course we couldn’t do face-to-face user research. Because we haven’t been able to get what we’d been working on into our users’ hands to validate our assumptions, we’ve had to delay making some decisions.
Making the most of things with a design sprint
The pause on our regular work meant we hadanopportunity: suddenly, the teamhad enough time in their diaries for a design sprint.
A design sprint usuallylasts 5 full working days and involves a small team. The team works togethertounderstand a problem and design a solution. It’s challenging, because each part of the sprint istime-boxed and lasts one day only. The intensity means the pace is super quick but generally, teams keep focus,build momentum and sustainincredible productivity over the short time.
Design sprints can be reallyinspiring but our question was, how can we do this well, remotely, with the added anxieties of lockdown?
We adapted the format
We knew the usual 5 full days would be impossible.Staring at our screens for 8 hours a day isn’t realistic or fair, especially when some people are caring for elders or children,or they’re keeping things ticking over on other projects. So, we broke the work up into 10 lots of 2-hour chunks and spread these out over 7days. Even though we all agreed to try a design sprint and make it ourbiggest work-related focus,we also refused to let it become completely exhausting.
We had one or 2 sessions each day, depending on what else we had on. On the days with 2 sessions, we scheduled in a 2–hour lunch break which felt needed.
Prototyping took around 6 hours (2x 3 hour sessions) rather than the 4 hours we had planned and was pretty tiring, so I’d recommend splitting up the 2 prototyping sessions and spreading them over 2 days.
Organising and setting up the remote research took a couple of hours outside of the group sessions, so if you’re a facilitator or researcher, schedule in the extra time.
It would have been good to spread theresearch interviews out over a long morning sowe could reflect on our observations together. As it was, it felt like we were cramming all the interviewsinto that 2–hour session.
Preparation and facilitation
Once the team had given the go-ahead for the sprint, I put together a plan that laid outthe activities,the timings and the tools needed for each session. I had Annette Joseph and Emily Cowell as co-facilitators who gathered the problem statements and relevant materials beforehand, invited subject matter experts to the relevant sessions, and helped me find users to research with – I couldn’t have done it without them.
Agree roles and responsibilities from the start. As well as facilitators, it will speed things up if you involve at least onesubject matter expert, as well as designers to lead the prototyping and user research. A mixture of skills and experience is really beneficial to a sprint.
Structure sessions so everybody gets to share. And related: decide how you’re going to interact. For example, will you all respond to open questions, orhave cameras on?
Agree what you’re trying to learn with the prototype and decide the scope of the sprint. It’s easy to be overly ambitious but a design sprint is such a short space of time.
In our team, a couple of people hadn’t worked in this way before so at the start of each session it was essential to outline how it was going to work, how to use the tools and most importantly, the desired outcome of the next couple of hours.
I made the basic mistake of not checking what browser user research participants were using which resulted in technical difficulties and a last-minute change of plan.
Get the whole group to take part in synthesis – so everyone sees all the notes and engages with the learnings.
Online versus in real life
Plenty has already been written about the difficulty of facilitating sessions when you can’t read the room. Ilearned to avoid ‘open discussion’style sessions, in favour of more structure. I asked participants to take turns to shareby reading out thenotes they were adding to the whiteboard.
I also felt that despite getting loads of valuable insights from the research, the team lacked that amazing buzz we usually have when we’ve just observed research in person, and we can’t stop talking about it.Maybe allowing time for team reflection after each interview could go some way to replicating that feeling.
Digital teams are used to working remotely and although some are more favourable than others, there’s usually a piece of software to help with remote collaboration. Lockdown has probably caused us to experiment with more of it, butuse something you’re familiar with so you know it does what you need it to do for sprint sessions.
Here’s what we used:
Miro – an online whiteboard In the absence of physical whiteboards and sharpies, the team usedMiro to write and group post-its simultaneously. There’s also almost infinite space (unlike on our office walls), so we could keep all our notes and maps in one place, everyone could see everything at once because we weren’t in each other’s way, and there was no illegible handwriting.
Figma – for prototyping We normally use Figma so there wasn’t much difference here.
Microsoft Teams– for video calls and scheduling. Again, our usual.
User Zoom – for user research User Zoom is a remote research tool that shows the prototype on the user’s screen and allows us to watch them using it via video. Very different from face-to-face research, and prototype on a device.
I’d do it again
Overall, the sprint went well – we went from no knowledge to a validated prototype in 10 sessions, and it didn’t feel like we’d compromised in our learnings or output.
It was a tiring 2 weeks, but we‘re proud of what we achieved. A remote design sprint is not without its challenges, but I’d be happy to run one again.