Can changing our tolerance of failure enable lower cost better service?

I use GiffGaff as my mobile phone company http://giffgaff.com/index/offer (don’t worry this isn’t an advert), partly because they are a little cheaper and more flexible than others but mainly because I like the business model.

The model is unusual because they don’t advertise in the conventional sense. They ask you to ‘like’ them on Facebook. You also get free airtime if you order a (free) SIM for someone else. Giffgaff to Giffgaff calls are free. There are lots of references to being in the “GG community”.   You can pay as you go, or buy a one month contract. No contract is over one month long, so if you have bought too much you buy less next month, and if you don’t like the service you go somewhere else.

Customer support is minimal with most questions being answered by members of the community, who receive a few points for questions answered. These points add up and can be converted into free airtime or a charitable donation. I recently bought an iPhone and the “how to set up an iPhone PDF” on the website had been written by a customer. Perhaps the most interesting thing I had from them recently was a link to a website with a range of T shirts advertising GiffGaff, again generated by a third party.

Reading the small print on the website they describe themselves as being “an independent company within the Telefonica Family”. They could be genuinely different or it is all very clever marketing.

The question for public services though is how do we replicate this level of passion for our brand and release similar levels of power in our community? I wonder what it would be like to crowd source our policy stuff, rather than use our current stilted processes. Can we get our community to spontaneously create communications materials? The list of things that could be done in a more collaborative way is endless.

Probably the main block to this collaborative model is our desire for ‘assurance’ and perceived blanket intolerance of ‘failure’. We, as consumers, have an increasing inability to distinguish between things that matter and things that don’t (how many times have you been thanked for waiting for a few seconds in a shop recently?). You wouldn’t have children’s safeguarding work being delivered by a collaborative model, but production of a fact sheet about how to get your children into primary school by a group of parents would be fine. This does mean that sometimes there will be failures. Is that OK  if the payback was more resource being freed up to deliver more services?

I’ll know we have got there when someone walks down Maidenhead High Street wearing a T shirt proclaiming “RBWM is great”….(and we didn’t make it)!

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About iansthoughts

Chief Operating Officer at DEFRA, and former council Chief Executive. All views expressed are my own and not formal policy of my employers current or past.
This entry was posted in Failure, Gifgaf, Risk and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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