Kylie is a hands-on product leader who works with equity-driven organisations to deliver inclusive public services for the most vulnerable groups in society.
Prior to her senior leadership role at Citizens Advice, Kylie led a number of product teams in the Canadian and U.K. governments to transform and join-up mission critical services.
Kylie is particularly motivated by service delivery for people who are disadvantaged by structural inequity. She speaks regularly about product leadership, service design for equity, and how to build diverse teams.
Kylie also co-presents and produces the OneTeamGov podcast, featuring real conversations with awesome people doing interesting stuff in government and the public sector. The podcast connects passionate public sector reformists from around the world with inspirational content.
Tailored Advice Services In The Modern Age
Head of Product at Citizens Advice Kylie Havelock talks to us about ways the organisation have scaled a tailored advice service for clients.
Kylie covers how Citizens Advice are building product capability; re-platforming underlying technology; tailoring content, and experimenting with data. This talk is for anyone looking to tailor products to people.
Very happy to be here in what is a surprisingly sunny Manchester. I’ve come from London yesterday and never did I expect that it wouldn be raining there and not here, so I’m very happy to be in this location today. Hello to everyone who's on the live stream, I know I have some colleagues joining me so hello and welcome. This is my talk today. Tailored advice services in the modern age. And I’m going to explain a bit about what that means, but before I do that I’ll do the tiny history lesson. So the previous talk had a much more fun version of this one, where they talked about liking things like wine. So I guess my version of that is I’m Kylie. I like craft beer and social justice.
But if we're going to do the professional one then oh yes, this is the sneak preview of the talk. Digital by default is no longer the strategy, but we'll come back to that. This is where I started off in my public sector career in the Department of Health. This was just about ten years ago. Got my first role in digital as a product manager and I was very excited to be there. It was right at the start of the GDS digital revolution and so excited was I by this revolution that I quickly progressed to an even bigger digital team at the Ministry of Justice where I worked on one of the GDS exemplar services, which was visit someone in prison and book a visit.
A really cool time to be working in government digital, and I was super passionate about the work. My next step took me to a different department but this time in Canada and so I went over to help set up the Canadian digital service, their version of GDS, which was fantastic. I delivered three digital services in a year which is probably the fastest I’ve ever shipped stuff in my life and again I had an absolutely fantastic time. Would highly recommend working in Canada. But what I’d started to feel by that point was that I wanted to get a little bit closer to the front line, so in Canada I was in the federal government, in the UK I was in central government, and just by the nature of it you are quite far away from the people that you're delivering services for. Of course you can get over some of this with user research. You can go out and see people that you're designing for and learn from their experiences, but it just didn't quite click with me anymore that I was so far away. And so many layers between me and them so I knew that my next opportunity was going to be one that took me towards that front line, so I was absolutely delighted when I was able to move to Citizens Advice. This brought me back to the UK and I was very lucky to become their first head of product which is where I’ve been for the last three and a half years.
Little history lesson as has become customary. So Citizens Advice was founded the day after the Second World War broke out, and this is one of the iconic images that we have. So this is a horse box, and what would happen is that the Ministry of Health would notify a local community that had just experienced a raid. And people in that community, volunteers, would get together, get some resources into these horse boxes and drive to where the raid had happened and they would open up the door and throughout the rest of that day they would help people. They would get them support, they would help them find their lost ration books or replace them so they could still get access to food. They would help them if they had become homeless when their home had been demolished, and any sort of help that they needed at the time. And this is really foundational to our purpose. Taking the advice and the help to people where they need it, when they need it.
Fast forward a few years, I was inspired to bring this little image on the left-hand side here by a talk last time we had Camp Digital in person by Matt Edgar. This is National Health Service. So around 1948 was the establishment of this other massive institution here in the UK. And Citizens Advice is, I think the third most recognised brand after the NHS and the BBC. It holds a similar place in a lot of people's hearts. So this is the NHS booklet and I’ve pulled up a slightly more dog-eared version of our Citizens Advice handbook. So as the decades continue. You can see here some of the other big crises that have hit during that time, obviously in more recent times here we've got the COVID pandemic and right now the cost of living crisis. Not so quietly the digital revolution begins around 1998, that's when it starts to get more mainstream in the UK.
And things continue on with rising inequality alongside this digital revolution, and that brings us to now. This is what Citizens Advice looks like today. So you've got some stats up there. I won't read them all out. One that I’m particularly proud of is this one down on the bottom right, which is that for every pound that Citizens Advice receive, we benefit our clients by 13 pounds. So that could be we save you money on your energy bill, we get you a referral to a food bank so you can get some food, we help you out of debt.
So it's a very effective service in the way that we spend the money. And this one here as well. Many people feel less stressed, depressed or anxious as a result of the help that we're able to give them. So this is incredible. And you can see that we're helping millions of people. Some of them one-to-one through things like phone chat and email, but many many more online. But despite that, demand continues to rise for Citizens advice, so what do we need to do?
Well here's the challenge. How do we scale? And I’ve put in slightly greyed out texture through technology, while staying true to our purpose. To that horse box that you saw right at the beginning, that brings me to this. So if I go ten years back when I was just starting out in my digital career in government, and the digital by default service standard was published. So this was GDS’s mantra, and you can see the little excerpt here. So it says digital services that are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to do so whilst those who can't are not excluded. Sounds great right.
I’ll just highlight this part here. All those who can use them will choose to do so. And I bought into this, lots of people bought into this. We thought this was absolutely the way forward. This is what I was doing back then. This is a young me, down in the Department of Health building services. Digital health and social care, and I was fully on board with the digital by default mission, it made total sense.
But not everything went as planned so, with channel shift being the strategy the channels were essentially treated as separate and the digital bit was the bit that was getting all the investment. And that to some extent was right. You know we did need to build better digital services, but it was often at the expense of some of the other ways in which people received that service. Assisted digital, which was alluded to in the slide previous was intended to be the way to work around the fact that some people don't have the skills, the access or the resources to go back to the previous talk, to get online.
So assisted digital. The principle is that you help them to use the digital service but the principle there is that they are still using the digital service. It's just with the help of something else, and that really failed to mitigate digital exclusion. It just has been proven not to work super well. And finally, reputation-wise pushing people to digital channels started to be perceived as a cost-cutting exercise.
Now we all know that digital service delivery is not cheap and it was not universally the way to save costs on government services, but nonetheless when you're perceived to be taking something away so you're taking one-to-one interactions away, and replacing that with a website. That's what many people experienced, but that was then, and I’m gonna get a little bit more hopeful now. So fast forward ten years later, we're in the present day now. Digital exclusion has got worse, and I promise there's some hope in this.
So 5.3 million adults have never used the internet or used it more than three months ago. This is a really recent statistic. Sixteen per cent of people cannot carry out basic digital tasks. That's actually twenty per cent for Citizens Advice people that we help, because the demographics we serve tend to be more marginalised. Thirty three per cent of people over 65 do not regularly use the internet, nine per cent fewer disabled people use it compared to non-disabled people and it’s forty per cent more likely that high-income households are able to carry out basic digital tasks than low-income households.
So what these stats tell you is that inequality compounds digital exclusion. So if you're in one of these categories, you're older, you're disabled or you're in a lower-income household, that makes your chances of digital exclusion worse. And this is a really interesting one to me because this is not about digital exclusion, this is a general statistic, which is that fifty-five per cent of people recently said that there are key day-to-day services that they don't want to do online, or they feel you can't do online.
So where does digital by default sit when we talk about that statistic? And finally, one that we have particularly seen at Citizens Advice during the pandemic, nine per cent of households with children don't have access to a device. So we had some really interesting insight from one of our Citizens Advice officers in Newham, which is one of the most deprived areas in London. And they found that there were loads of young people, teenagers, who essentially lost the access that they normally had to the internet because they used to get it by using the free wi-fi at the shopping centre. And when the shopping centre closed for the pandemic, that was it, that was their access gone.
But nowadays omnichannel is the standard that we're expected to aim for. Omnichannel is what people experience when they get what they would consider best-in-class customer experience, and that's when people can access any of these channels, but when they do all of their interactions are joined up. So behind the scenes we're knitting together the information about those interactions so that they don't need to repeat themselves. If they've been to see us in a branch and then they call us on the phone we're able to find out who they are and we can connect with all of the case notes that we've had on them previously. So that time that we're spending with them isn't wasted and we can get them to an outcome more quickly. We've also learned a lot about what people need since ten years ago in terms of channel choice and digital services. We know that people's needs fluctuate based on a number of things. Who you are, the type of service that you're accessing. So even if I have all of the ability to access a digital service, I might choose not to because I want to speak to someone on the phone, or in person.
Equally I might normally prefer to speak to someone, but actually the service that I’m accessing it is quite a private matter so maybe I would prefer to do that online in an anonymous way. Your preferences can change at any given time based on what's going on around you, how you're feeling that day, based on your location so where you are in the country, or where you are physically. Are you at home? Are you at work? Are you on the bus? And the time and energy that you have available.
So what do we do with all of this new insight that we have on what people need? Well luckily for us this is true. The technology exists for us to be able to provide a highly personalised service on any combination of channels, we just have to plug it all together. So what are we doing about this at Citizens Advice? This is our product strategy. You’ll see that it was written September 2020. We brought it into action about six months after that, so we just passed the one year anniversary.
And there are four work streams, which I’ll dig into, one of these in particular shortly. The first of those is really about our culture. The way we work, how we measure, how we incentivise. And that's to radically improve our ability to measure outcomes. This is a really good concept for a charity because charities are often measured on the outcomes they deliver, so if we're able to do the same for the technology that we're building it's a really nice way to plug into the rest of the organisation.
And it helps our teams to understand the value they're delivering in terms of the users or the clients or the advisors that they're delivering it for. Enabling a seamless client journey. Very common mantra for many organisations, and we do this by knitting things together behind the scenes. So whether that's case management systems or a referral to another organisation, and being able to pass someone over between those interactions seamlessly. We want to validate our tailored and tactical advice strategy. So this is really about personalised content and this is the one I’m going to come to shortly. And we also are transforming what we call our remote advice or contact centre platforms.
All of this really, fortunately, sits within the same product and platform function at Citizens Advice, which means we're able to work and improve services across all of the channels at once not just the digital service. And this has made a real difference. So three things, three platforms that we're working on right now. We've got our content platform and the main thing that we're doing here is essentially decoupling the way that the advice is delivered and how you receive that. So that could be through your phone, through a website, through social media, through voice.
And so we've experimented with things like Alexa, decoupling the medium of delivery from the advice content itself. So essentially we've now got a big database of content which is really well structured and tagged. We can serve that up in different ways and through different channels in a personalised manner. Our data platform is one of our internal platforms, so this is for the people who work at Citizens Advice, particularly our policy analysts, and it allows us to understand and analyse our data really well, and particularly use that to make decisions.
And now I’m going to show you this in practice, and this is one of my favourite examples of Citizens Advice data during the pandemic. What you see here is a graph that represents the number of applications made for Universal Credit. So we knew that during the pandemic when everyone went on furlough we knew that there were going to be loads of increased applications for universal credit. But the question was how many? And in our work, we particularly work closely with government, and our policy analysts were looking into the Department for Work and Pensions predictions on how many people are going to apply for universal credit. Now why does this matter? Well it matters so that we can scale.
We help a lot of people apply for benefits, so we want to be prepared to help them and have the right amount of staff on the front line. And so we were digging into this really for our own interest, but what we found is that Citizens Advice data is so broad and there's so much of it, that we're able to better predict this statistic than the Department for Work and Pensions themselves. So three weeks in advance we took a very informed guess as to how many people were going to be applying for UC. This was our prediction up here. 512 328. And then we had a long and painful wait to find out when the DWP published their latest statistics how accurate we had been. This was the actual number 511 940, so extremely minimal difference. And we were far closer in our prediction than the Department were themselves, and that's because we're much closer to the front line. We see people every day, we can track visits to our website which is one of the lines you can see here, and we're able to put all of that insight together to make these really powerful predictions, and that is something that our data platform is intended to make super easy.
And next our phone platform. So I mentioned contact centre technologies. We've started with the phones because that's our biggest remote channel, and we're re-platforming that as well. This is the earliest stage project that I’m going to talk about today. We've named it in one of those fun competitions that we often get in organisations to name the new things. Luckily for us everyone chose the super sensible name, which is the name of the technology itself which is Connect.
And so we are busy preparing to roll that out later this year, and that is intended to bring a really modern really efficient, scalable platform for our advisors to use to deliver phone advice. So this will be invisible to the client, but it will make our operations behind the scenes much easier. All of this stuff isn't new, the platforms are new but the tailoring is not a new concept. So going back to Citizens Advice history, we've got the horse box that was all about location, so the advice was coming to you. We've got lots of location-based things that we tailor our services with these days. This photo I took last night on the walk home from the speaker's dinner. This is a local bank partnering with a local Citizens Advice service. And this is really common. We have loads of Citizens Advice people working in GPs, in banks, in community centres, in food banks, and that's about finding people where they are. We can also tailor your advice on the website based on where you live, because there are different policies, different legislative frameworks. And we've also got the modern version of the horse box which is a van that one of our local offices in the south of England uses.
Then we've got this one here. So this is a portable advice-giving set that Citizens Advice had in the 1970s. So it was basically a way for someone to take all of the resources that they need to give advice and carry it anywhere. So this is a briefcase with a little typewriter and you can write up your case notes. So that's again about reaching people where they are. We do this now so this is a Google snippet, this was taken just this morning, and thank you to Dan Barrett for getting this up for me. And this is someone searching for benefits. My child gets disability living allowance, what else am I entitled to? And because our content is really well structured we pop up in the top search result there with one of the featured snippets.
So that person hasn't even had to come to the Citizens Advice website to get the advice that we provide. And this is another example. This is video advice on a tablet that is left at one of the local food banks in Manchester so that when people are there collecting their food they don't also need to go to the Citizens Advice down the road. They can use this to start a video call directly with an advisor in the Manchester office.
Then we've got knowledge management, so this is as you can see some time ago using microfiche for all of the canonical data that we use to give advice, so that's legal advice. Super legally checked, make sure it's accurate and up to date. And it was obviously very burdensome to carry all of this around on paper so we used to use microfiche and pop it up in these computers and take a look. This is the old version of AdviserNet which is our advisor-facing knowledge management system that they use to get all of the most up-to-date advice on any topic, and this is what it looks like now.
So this is the brand new version of AdviserNet. Really clean, really simple. And that's underpinned by the content platform that I talked about before. So this is our headless content management system and the content model which has everything structured in that way that it can be easily rolled out. And then case management. So this book was the one that you saw earlier. This is sort of the bible on how to give advice, how to case manage someone who comes to us for help. And this is our modern-day equivalent. So we have a single case management system.
We built it ourselves, it was the first ever product we built at Citizens Advice with an in-house digital team. We're super proud of it and it continues to be used by every single advisor who works on our behalf. So how do we knit all of this together? We've got all of this brilliant new technology and we had to essentially rewire things behind the scenes to make sure that tailoring could happen again. Ten years ago, let's take that step back again, we've got traditional content management system.
Nothing wrong with, this loads of organisations have it, but the way that it was set up at Citizens Advice there's really only two options to access the content in this content management system. You could access it on our public website so you know, just you, one single straight line from the website to the person. Or you could access the advice through an advisor and this symbol here I’ve put there to represent tailoring. So the only place where you can essentially get the advice tailored and wrapped and personalised just for your situation is if you were able to talk to an advisor because they would do it for you.
So it was human tailoring. They would listen to what you were requiring what your needs were, they would interpret it, they would ask you some more clarification questions and then on that basis they would search knowledge management underpinned by the CMS and then provide that advice to you on one of those three channels. But we can do so much more than that now we can tailor in so many different ways. Now we have an advice content store. So this is the headless content management system that I’m talking about, but basically the whole database of structured advice content and we can tailor a lot of different layers so still got our public website that's still a huge place for people to get advice from it. But it doesn't need to be direct anymore.
You can access the public content through socials. So we do lots of social media work on TikTok, on Twitter and other socials. The snippet that I showed you before, so that's essentially you are looking for a specific piece of advice and Google has done that tailoring for you. So that's another place that tailoring can happen. We've got decision trees, so that's sort of self-tailoring like you answer a set of questions. It's still very much self-service but at the end of it you're you receive a structured set of advice or information or steps to follow next that is relevant to you and your circumstances. And of course, you can still access our advice through our advisors but we have more tools than ever to support them to do the tailoring for you.
So on the phone and on chat with the new contact centre platform technology that we have, one of the things we're most excited about is the possibility to do things like listening. So the technology that we're plugging in over here can, for example, listen to someone who's called up whilst they're in the queue waiting to speak to someone, ask them a series of questions and whilst that's happening that's connected to our knowledge management system. So that by the time the advisor speaks to you the advisor is presented on their interface with, this person is here for say debt advice and they have served up all of the relevant debt advice that they think is the most relevant. And that can continue to get more clever over time as the advisors tell the computer whether or not that advice felt relevant. So there's still always that element of the human making the ultimate decision on what to say, but the platforms are able to do some of the tailoring on the advisor's behalf. And the same of course is always going to be true in person. You can always come to us in one of our offices and get access to that advice content through an advisor.
What's interesting I think, is that in the strict definition, this person over here getting advice from an advisor could be digitally excluded. They might not have access to the internet. But what I love about this model and these opportunities is that although they're digitally excluded, they're still getting access to the fantastic advice content that we have. They're just getting it invisibly through a person but they're still ultimately being helped and their experience is being enhanced by the technology that we have.
I’ve got some real examples for you. So if anyone wants to get out Twitter, put in any one of these words on the left-hand side here and see what happens. So this was a really cool project we did with Twitter. It still works now. They did some very similar ones with NHS and other organisations during COVID. I've also got a little video of it here, but essentially if you type in any of those words onto Twitter, the first thing that you'll see when you hit enter is this prompt. So it says do you think you might have been scammed? You click on that link and it takes you straight to our website and you can access advice about what to do next.
Example decision tree. So we've got lots of these on our website and again they're a really good way to tailor the advice to the person. In this particular example there are more than 200 possible combinations that a person could enter into the various sections of the decision tree. And that means that by the time they get to the end and the results are delivered we know that it's really specific to their particular circumstance. This is a great tool for us.
And finally, this is a really super cheeky quick peek at our new contact centre technology. So this is very much a prototype in development at the moment. But what you can see here is each one of these boxes is a way to personalize what we call the interactive voice recognition or IVR, so that again when that person is calling they answer a series of questions and behind the scenes we start to personalise the experience and direct them to the right person for their query. All of this is invisible, but it makes their experience better. So in conclusion, tailored advice services. We've always done them as Citizens Advice, we're still doing them now, but with technology that we have they can be enhanced but not defined by it. And that's me.
Thank you very much.