Words with purpose … a text service to meet user needs
It’s not only the technology that matters, user research and content design are also essential
21 April 2022
Over the past 18 months, CDPS and the not-for-profit consultancy Social Finance have been working with the local authority Neath Port Talbot on a text notification service called Track My Request. The service aims to improve communication with people accessing adult social care support.
The service had been in private beta since September 2021, which means it was tested with a small live audience. It has now been handed over to Neath Port Talbot, who have integrated it within their overall adult social care service and communication channels with residents.
‘What’s happening with my case?‘
The development team held several rounds of interviews with people throughout Wales who had experience of accessing adult social care. It was clear from the first round, in 2021, that an important problem with the service was users being unclear about what was happening with their case. They wanted more information.
When asked if text message updates from adult social care would help, the response was overwhelmingly yes. Users expected to receive text updates from services they use, for example banks and hospitals, and they had the same expectation when accessing adult social care.
The insights from subsequent rounds of interviews proved essential in understanding at what points a text message would improve a user’s experience. What was less clear is what information the text messages should include to meet user needs. This is what the final round of user interviews, which took place in March 2022, focused on.
Listening to service users
Clear themes emerged. For users, a text message about adult social care needed to:
- be concise and use simple language
- provide regular updates on progress or changes to their case
- provide clear timescales for a call or further relevant action, particularly on long-running cases
- show the referral number and when the last contact happened
- show the type of support the referral is for
- provide the full name of the team member who would be dealing with the case
- be timely – that is, received immediately after the contact with the local authority
- only refer to ‘closing’ a case once all parties had agreed that it was closed
- provide access to information or other support while the referral was being processed
Translating user needs into texts
One of the main challenges was meeting user expectations about timeframes. The social care service could not always say immediately how long someone might have to wait. So, our text examples tried to strike a balance between reassuring someone that their case was progressing and not committing a service provider to a timeframe they might be unable to meet.
Users wanted reassurance that their case was being looked at and that they were being listened to. They understood that it might take some time to process their case, but they wanted information that showed that they were moving through the system.
We gave our text messages to Neath Port Talbot as part of the handover, to provide actionable examples of how to write texts that met identified user needs.
Top tips for writing user-centred text messages
For anyone interested in setting up a text notification service, or for those already running one, here are some top tips:
- you’re working with a maximum of 160 characters – make sure every word has a purpose
- confirm the variables you must include before you start to write (for example, name, reference number, type of service requested)
- be as transparent as possible about the process, including waiting times and what happens next
- consider sending an email, as well, allowing you to write a long-form version of your message if you need to give more details
Find more tips for writing text messages on GOV.UK.
Got lessons to share from a text service? Tell us in the comments below