Using service design to help the people who need housing advice the most

Published: by Matteo Remondini

As the first service designer here at Shelter, it’s been vital for me to prove the value of service design throughout our work. I’ve had the opportunity to deliver a significant step forward in the quality and quantity of advice we provide to thousands of people each day, so thought I’d share how this all came about.

Our national helpline is open 365 days a year, offering expert advice to anyone struggling with housing and homelessness-related issues. In 2016/17, our helpline advisers spoke to 60,580 people – averaging 25 minutes per call. One of the main challenges we face is the large number of people who call us for help, but are unable to get through to speak to an adviser. Demand for our helpline service is much higher than its capacity to answer calls.

Investigating the problem

We formed a team consisting of a service designer, user experience lead, web developer, and product owner. We used a design-thinking approach to consider how we could help our users connect with the services we offer. This typically means working to understand our users, challenging assumptions we have about them, and redefining the problems we face to create alternative solutions.

We mapped the typical journeys our users take, and our helpline system, by talking to our helpline advisers, listening to calls, and read webchat transcripts. We also analysed performance reports to understand the situation and demand.

When reviewing the qualitative, quantitative and secondary research we undertook, we found that:

  • our service offering wasn’t very clear for those in need
  • it wasn’t easy for users to self-serve
  • we answer a large volume of what we’d consider non-urgent calls
  • the user journeys for our advice channels weren’t consistent, making it hard for people in need to switch channels

Designing new solutions

We looked at the main issues with the user journey, and broke these down into the potential features or service components that could resolve these. Combining these, we created a more ideal user journey (for an end-to-end service) and developed a roadmap of work to be done.

Some of the solutions we’ve launched so far include:

These have helped us streamline the user journey, and we’ve had a high volume of people use our emergency helpline. Next, we’ll look at making it easier for people to use our self-service advice information – as there are some cases where speaking with a housing adviser might not be necessary to solve their problem.

It’s been fascinating to see service design show its potential at Shelter, given the organisation’s size and history. We’re excited to keep delivering positive change across our services.

This blog is the first in a series of posts on service design at Shelter.