Assisted digital support is help for people who can’t use digital government services on their own.
You must find a way of providing assisted digital support to anyone who has difficulty using the internet and therefore can’t use your service.
Meeting the Digital Service Standard
You must provide assisted digital support so that you meet the Digital Service Standard and pass your service assessments.
Find out how your assisted digital support will be assessed.
Do research to understand the user
Before you start designing assisted digital support for your service, you must do user research to understand how and where people need help using your service.
See: Understanding users who don’t use digital services
Continue to do user research throughout the project - test the support you’ve designed and gather feedback to develop and refine it.
Tell users about assisted digital support
The assisted digital user journey begins with awareness. You must make sure users who need assisted digital support know that it’s available and how to access it.
You can give users information about assisted digital support on:
- the start page of a digital service on GOV.UK
- an existing phone or paper service
- other communications from your department or other departments, eg letters, emails, posters, leaflets
- communications from third parties, eg you can work with third-party advisers or staff at drop-in centres to influence the advice they give to clients and customers
See: Encouraging people to use your digital service
Decide which way to provide support
You can provide assisted digital support in one of 3 ways:
- in person
- on the telephone
- via web chat
The person providing assisted digital support sits with the user and helps them to complete the digital service. Both should be able to see the digital service on the screen. Ideally, users type in their own information. This helps the user to learn digital skills and build confidence.
Your user research may show that different users need in-person support at different locations, for example:
- a convenient high street location, such as the post office
- their own home
- their workplace
- a hospital or care home
You’ll need to provide support where your users need it.
On the telephone
The person providing the support guides the user through the digital service over the phone. If a user cannot enter their information themselves (if, for example, they have no internet access) the support provider enters it for them.
Via web chat
The person providing the support helps the user complete the digital service by talking to them online.
You must not use a paper solution to provide assisted digital support. Generally, paper services:
- increase the time it takes to use a service
- increase the cost of running a service
- increase the risk of error associated with re-entering data into the system
- are harder to improve iteratively
- do not help build the user’s digital skills and confidence
Choose a support provider
You can use the following to provide assisted digital support for your users:
- internal resources within your own department, eg contact centres and teams that already support users face to face
- external organisations, eg private, voluntary or public sector organisations (including other government departments)
Whoever you choose to provide support, make sure that they:
- are sustainably funded
- can handle future changes in demand for support, eg seasonal peaks or increases when non-digital channels are phased out
- provide support to users for free
- use suitably trained people
- use technology and equipment that users find convenient and easy to use
- keep information about users secure and protect their privacy
- provide a user experience that’s consistent with the assisted digital support that other relevant digital government services provide
- can provide reliable data about the support they’re providing, eg user satisfaction, completion rate
- can work with you to iterate the support they deliver, in response to usability testing and user feedback
- can guide users easily through other government platforms where necessary, eg Verify to confirm their identity
Procuring assisted digital support
If your department can’t offer support that meets user needs, you’ll need to procure it externally.
GDS has set up a framework agreement with a range of approved suppliers so that you can procure the support your users need.
If you’re interested in using this framework, email digital firstname.lastname@example.org.
Front Office Counter Services framework
In the meantime, when procuring for assisted digital services, departments can use the Front Office Counter Services (FOCS) framework where this provides value for money and meets user need.
Where departments choose to use an alternative contractual mechanism, they should consult and agree with HM Treasury (including reasons for selecting an alternative contractual mechanism) before submitting their spend request to Cabinet Office.
The Efficiency Reform Group (ERG) should seek relevant HM Treasury spending team approval on any decision not to use the FOCS framework.
Providing the right support
Not all users who require support to use a digital service have the same needs. You must support each user in a way that’s right for them.
Follow these steps when a user contacts a provider for support.
Check the user is eligible to use the digital service.
Find out what’s stopping them from completing the service independently. For example, if someone has internet access at home but lacks the skills or motivation to use the digital service, this could change the type of support that’s right for them. The support you need to provide that person may change over time as they gain skills and confidence.
Once you’ve confirmed whether a user needs support, remind them what they’ll need to complete the service, for example any documentation, addresses, ID or reference numbers.
Talk to similar services about how they assess user needs and eligibility criteria for assisted digital support.
Tailor your support for the user
Use evidence from user research to tailor your support to meet user needs. For example, make phone lines or in-person support available at times and places that work best for users. Measure how long users have to wait for appointments or for calls to be answered and confirm that these times meet user needs.
Opportunities to increase digital take-up
The support you give must also make it more likely that users can complete the digital service independently next time. For example, the prison visit booking service points users who say they are interested in improving their digital skills to training provided by UK Online Centres or Age UK.
See: Encouraging people to use your digital service
Check how your support is performing
You must be able to check how your service’s assisted digital support is performing across all routes, including support provided by third parties. This will help you:
- make sure your assisted digital support is working effectively
- identify areas for improvement
See: Using data to improve your service: an introduction
You may find the following guides useful: