When it comes to Agile development, there’s rightly a lot of attention given to qualitative user research. Few that would argue that conducting primary research with users is not a vital part of understanding their needs and creating an intuitive service that meets them. In Government, this is reinforced through the Digital Service Standard; the second point of which mandates the need to:

‘Do ongoing user research – Put a plan in place for ongoing user research and usability testing to continuously seek feedback from users to improve the service’.

This is excellent advice. However, there are other complementary sources of insight that can be equally valuable in understanding user needs, which are sometimes overlooked. In particular, if you have a strong focus on your digital service, it can be easy to miss the opportunity to capture (often more quantitative) insight from your other delivery channels.

In a multi-channel service, there are likely to be opportunities to tap into feedback from call centres, face-to-face meetings and correspondence. Data on why users are calling you, what they say when they meet your people and what is motivating them to write should be relatively easy to access. It should also be straightforward to analyse, if you adopt a common approach to categorising each contact.

Of course, your delivery channels are not the only additional sources of user feedback. It’s a given that people use social media to express their likes, dislikes and preferences about the services they receive. So, in an age where monthly users number 2 billion on Facebook, 1.5 billion on YouTube and 328 million on Twitter, it would be folly to ignore the potential to gain insight from these platforms. This is particularly true where your organisation has a social media presence and users are offering opinions in the (not unreasonable) expectation that you’ll respond.

To make sure that you’re not missing out on valuable insight, it’s worth thinking through all the potential data sources that you might access. Perhaps there are blogs, forums or hashtags related to your service that might help you gain a deeper understanding of user needs? Whichever sources you identify, collating and synthesizing this data is key to understanding users’ pain points within your service.

Creating a single ‘voice of the customer’ through this approach can be hugely powerful. Combined data offers new insight to target user research and compelling evidence for your service investment decisions. Putting in place frequent data feeds and automating the analysis also provides ongoing insight that supports continuous improvement activity. And, the closer you can get to making this data real-time, the more responsive you can be in iterating your service to meet emerging needs. Without it, your users are telling you about the service improvements they want, but you aren’t really listening.