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How to lose contact information and alienate people

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Best practice, How we work, User insights

DVLA’s contact centre is the largest single-site contact centre in government and it gets over 1 million calls each month. The volume has increased since the changes to important services such as vehicle tax, and scrapping the paper counterpart driving licence.

DVLA is such a well-known name that, unlike some other parts of government, people know that this is the organisation they need to talk to for certain problems. That presents a problem because people tend to think “I need to contact DVLA”, rather than “I need to get a replacement V5C”.

With help from our colleagues at DVLA and with their contact centre data, we found out that most people weren’t looking for the answer to their problem on GOV.UK. They just wanted a phone number and to talk to a human being.

We needed to find a way that GOV.UK could help reduce the number of people who need to call by making sure they saw good content before a phone number.

A numbers game

There are different numbers for different DVLA enquiries and we decided to take all those out from the mainstream pieces of content and into a single, definitive source of contact information. We wanted to control journeys through the site, reduce duplication of content, and reduce the risk of having to update the same piece of information many times.

We started with a single page listing all the different numbers people could use (listed in order of popularity). That didn’t reduce call volumes, it just led to more people calling the next number on the list if the first number they rang was engaged.

We figured that we’d ask users to identify which area it was they wanted help with. We could then present them with links to some of the most relevant content on GOV.UK. The result was the ‘Contact DVLA’ simple smart answer.

We thought this was a good way of getting information in front of the user - especially if they didn’t even know it was there in the first place. We also thought it would help reduce DVLA’s contact centre volumes.

You won't believe what happened next

We were wrong.

Google Analytics showed us that 50% of users who landed on ‘Contact DVLA' (around 800,000 a month) didn’t make it to any of the ‘output’ pages. They didn't see the links to helpful content or the phone numbers.

(As a positive aside, of those who did make it through to an output, we managed to reduce the exit rate from around 60% to 45%. At least those users were more likely to stay on GOV.UK and read the further content that might help with their problem.)

Despite the reduction in people seeing a phone number on GOV.UK, DVLA’s contact centre volumes still increased.

We’d tried to help people find the relevant information themselves, but by introducing one question - “What do you need to contact DVLA for?” - we’d alienated them and pushed them elsewhere before we could help.

Some of the anonymous comments we received from users also bore this out:

Looking for the phone number - not available on the next page!!!!!!! ????????

How do I speak to someone regarding sorn, can't do it online. No telephone numbers !!!!!!

Trying to find phone number for log book. There is not one, takes you round in a circle really really bad website.

All the numbers those users are looking for are there, but they just couldn’t see how to get to them.

When we did some user research in our labs at GDS, we saw how frustrated people were first hand. Some users didn’t know they had to click the ‘Start now’ button, and others thought they had landed on the wrong page. They went round in loops trying to find the correct way to find a phone number, only to land back on the same page.

Google Analytics showed us that a third of users were landing on this page more than once in the same session. It also showed us that the more often someone landed on the page, the more likely they were to click the start now button. In October, 43% of users clicked it the first time they visited. 60% of users clicked it if they visited the page 4 or more times.

Of those who did click the button, many were surprised that they weren’t immediately given a phone number and didn’t understand why they had to choose a subject area. They thought there would be a single phone number for all DVLA queries.

We realised our experiment had failed.

It's not a failure if you learn something, right?

The lesson is this: it’s really easy to annoy your users with what you think is a simple question. If people are already confused, annoyed or frustrated, they may not be able to see the path you’ve laid out in front of them.

We need to understand more about how users are finding phone numbers for DVLA. A quick search on Google for ‘DVLA phone number’ shows the extent of the problem. Phone numbers appear in forums and blogs, but there are plenty of third-parties trying to profit with premium rate services as well.

This is going to be true for a lot of other government services and agencies too.

We’ll find a better way of dealing with phone numbers for DVLA, and we’re going to avoid the same mistake of thinking we can throw ourselves into the middle of a user journey without getting in the way.

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  1. Comment by Bob Smith posted on

    Have you considered creating a little animated paper clip that pops up in the corner of the web page saying things like "it looks like your trying to pay for your road tax - can I help?"

    • Replies to Bob Smith>

      Comment by Jon Sanger posted on

      In all seriousness, when you find yourself in this kind of situation you can see why people thought Clippy would actually help. The history of user interaction is littered with good intentions.

  2. Comment by Andrew Robertson posted on

    Have DVLA tried online chat tools? Many retailers are now doing this to answer queries. Could be a way to direct more people to online content by providing specific links?

    • Replies to Andrew Robertson>

      Comment by Jon Sanger posted on

      We're looking at all kinds of options at the moment, in both the long and short terms. Whatever the answer is, the bit to get right is when to introduce the idea/ability for the user to contact an organisation. Too soon and you negate the advantages of having good content that answers the problem. Too late and all you've achieved is a very confused, annoyed user.

  3. Comment by Josh Tumath posted on

    Maybe the only real solution is to appear behind your users and shout "Can't you see the numbers? They're right there!!". It's amazing how, when people are not strongly digitally literate, they have a desire to just skim past things and if they don't immediately see what they're looking for, they assume it's not there. I'd be interested to see whether a user's age is a factor in how successful they are at obtaining a phone number using the wizard.

    This is a really difficult problem to solve. You're right about just how many fake premium numbers seem to be listed on Google, which goes to show just how important it is to get this right. How to present phone numbers in the most obvious way possible while at the same time reducing the amount of calls in the first place...