Aged care providers can improve their digital channels by applying human-centred design principles, writes Michael Burke.
Digital channels are an increasingly important part of the service delivery mix. So how do we ensure these channels reflect values like compassion and inclusivity, with genuine effectiveness?
As we all pass through important life stages, digital channels are becoming an essential conduit to access information, support, and services.
So the importance of understanding people’s needs and designing solutions to fit the human experience – rather than a technology-first approach – is a critical step in delivering value through positive customer experiences.
For all its potential and increasing necessity, technology can be daunting. Not everyone has the same appetite for it. It’s not unusual for someone to begrudgingly use a website only so they can find a phone number to speak with a real person.
For technology to succeed, we need to make sure it’s imbued with the kind of human qualities that people look for in that phone call or a face-to-face chat. It’s not always in the surface details – although those play a role – but in providing an experience that reflects a customer’s needs in a way they can relate to and feel heard.
We’re trying to simultaneously empower and reassure our audiences as they navigate important life stages.
We know that giving people what they need to make informed decisions encourages them to be more proactive and can improve independence. We know that, when done right, digital services can simplify challenges and break down barriers.
So, as communities are being asked to increase their reliance on digital services, how do we give the wider community more confidence that their needs will be met?
We believe that the answer is in the application of human-centred design (HCD).
HCD is a field of practice where anything from physical products to service delivery and digital experiences are developed in close collaboration with – and tested by – the community and the users. It’s a process of testing, learning and continuous improvement supported by customer testing, data, and analytics.
Applying human-centred design
By asking the customer what they want and collaborating on the solution we can be more confident of the outcomes. We are not the arbiters of what is right or correct.
It’s only in speaking with our audience that we can understand the nuances of their situations, their burning priorities and the hesitations they face.
It means speaking early and often with customers. It’s about:
- having conversations – humans helping other humans
- listening to feedback, understanding context, empathising
- understanding what obstacles they face and what a successful outcome looks like for that person.
It’s also about rapid prototyping, validating and optimising, which means:
- starting low-fidelity and testing ideas with customers
- testing that the details make sense from the usability of the interface to specific language choices
- prospective users can test on remote software in their homes, giving authenticity.
Following these processes sets up the essential foundation for addressing our customers’ needs, but it’s still possible to arrive at a poor solution.
If we were to simply apply the feedback we receive from user research literally, we could end up with something that has every option for every person, but in a way that doesn’t help them make sense of it.
When we talk about helping people be informed, it’s not enough to simply upload all the information we have and say, “All the answers you need are in there somewhere. Good luck.”
We need to take what we’ve learned from our customers and think about how we can help them make sense of it; to guide them through it as if we were that person on the phone with them. If we only had a minute to help them, what would we say first? What would we ask?
Merging HCD with digital product design
This is where the user research side of HCD must be paired with a mature approach to content and design execution.
Through the research, we uncover the unique considerations of our specific users, their needs, motivations, and situations. But then we need the domain expertise of content and digital product design informing how to give form to a solution that addresses those needs effectively.
These disciplines consider the behavioural factors that shape how people explore, gather, learn and interact with information. They have approaches to make something engaging, intuitive or to help build affinity.
It’s in applying this broader craft knowledge to the HCD process that we have the best chance at truly addressing our audience’s needs.
Whatever the solution, however, it always starts with getting the foundations right and working through a process of building, testing and learning as we continue to fine tune any product in collaboration with customers.
Rethinking My Aged Care
Liquid Interactive was appointed as the supplier for the build and operation of the new My Aged Care website (pictured above). In collaboration with the Commonwealth Department of Health and other delivery partners, we’ve been applying HCD practices that led to the new site launched in June last year and continue to inform continuous updates.
Our research showed that senior Australians and their families were worried and overwhelmed. We needed to turn complexity into simplicity. We needed to guide people who might arrive with misconceptions about what kinds of care are available and introduce them to options that better suit their needs.
If we could pull it off, it would be a win for them, their family, the service providers, and the government.
The new ‘apply for an assessment online’ feature of the redesigned My Aged Care site is a good example of what came out of the HCD approach. We took a service that used to be primarily delivered over the phone. We spoke with users, we spoke with call centre staff, we listened to calls to understand the problems people face.
Our challenge was to turn the complexities of that manually guided process into an interactive process. To do this, we continuously asked questions like:
- How can we make this simpler and more intuitive?
- How can we ease the burden on the user?
- How can we help them make sense of choices in front of them without overwhelming them?
Under the hood, this is essentially a series of application forms, but by going through the HCD process we were able to ensure the experience of filling it out is intuitive, engaging and respectful of the user’s time, attention and emotional wellbeing.
The response since launch has been positive, in a way that is rare for the type of application that is often considered to be a necessary pain to go through.
The My Aged Care site continues to evolve as we work on the next stages of the strategy. The spirit of HCD is to always look for the next opportunities to improve the experience. Its success here is largely thanks to such sincere, curious and deeply engaged collaborative partnerships between government, industry, and community.
It’s an approach that requires trust, humility, and empathy in representing the voice of the customer, but when backed by the evidence and rigour of testing, that’s precisely why it’s so capable of getting better results.
Michael Burke is managing director of digital creative agency Liquid Interactive.
This contribution was first published in Australian Ageing Agenda magazine (May-June 2020)