According to the Local Government Association, councils have increased recycling from 23 per cent to over 43 per cent over the last decade. Services that collect large items that residents can’t dispose of via their own bins are an important part of this. Rubbish and recycling is the top reason to visit council websites, according to data from Socitm’s Website Performance service, standing at 17% of visits. Given that efficient 'bulky waste' services also discourage flytipping, and that local waste management issues can be a barometer for overall satisfaction with the council, it follows that councils should be aiming to provide a really good customer experience for anyone looking to use the service. Excellence in the online service, including good information about the range of other local recycling options, should be a high priority.
December 2016 and January 2017
English, Welsh and Scottish unitaries, shire districts, Northern Ireland districts, metropolitan districts
40% of councils provide a good or very good service in this area according to our survey. However, because we tested the survey on a mobile device, results have been depressed by the 16% of our sample of 356 councils whose websites are still not purposed for mobiles. We did not review non-mobile-optimised websites after landing on them from Google, and the percentages of ‘Yes’ answers quoted below are based on the full sample and not the smaller sample (300) that had full reviews. 47% of sites that had full reviews scored three or four stars. Reviewers were unable to find five sites at all from our Google search (‘Council name collect mattress’) and none of these were mobile optimised either, each scoring 0 stars for this task. One other interesting observation from our survey is the growing number of councils outsourcing bulky waste collections to charities that can repair suitable items collected for sale and reuse. Digital services associated with such developments can, however, be disappointing.
Check ‘coverage’ to see if your council has been surveyed. Go to councils page and select your council. Look for link to task report under 2016-17 results
Provide a good or very good online service based on this survey
Better connected rankings
*Discrepancies in the figures are due to rounding off
Reviewers carried out this task on a mobile phone, and did not continue with the task if the site was not purposed for mobile.
A number of otherwise good sites failed on our essential question ‘Is it clear that the service will remove a mattress - 33% of sites for which we completed full surveys. (See note under ‘overview’ explaining 'all council' percentage results for this survey).
Readers may feel that it is adequate to say ‘bed’ in a list of items to be collected and expect people to read ‘bedframe and mattress’. The Better Connected team feel it is not, and we don’t think residents should be left in doubt about this one. Who wants to drag a double mattress to the edge of their property on a rainy day and come home to find a soaked mattress and a note saying the service doesn’t collect mattresses?
If you have ever ordered a bulky waste collection, there is in fact more than one ‘essential’ question you need to have answered before booking. For the 38% of councils that enable online booking (only 24.4% of them, we discovered, with mobile optimised forms) it is essential that these questions are answered, otherwise that investment in ‘channel shift’ just isn’t going to pay off, because service users will still need to phone up.
It seems obvious that ‘how many items can be collected for a single payment/booking?’ is essential and yet even assuming all our non-mobile sites got this right (unlikely) nearly 15% don’t make this explicit.
Perhaps less obvious is recognition of the need to know how far in advance to book a collection. We added this question because a number of people needing this service will be those vacating a property, and they will need the collection to take place by a certain deadline. Not nearly enough sites (around a quarter only) made this information clear.
It was good to see so many councils going to the trouble of advertising alternative options to having the council come and collect their items. Of course, this is enlightened self-interest, in that the true cost of the collection service must be significantly more than charges levied (although significantly less than clearing up fly tipping that may result if a poor, or no service is offered). It was good to see sites where this option was highlighted right at the start of the customer journey, with the council's collection service being presented as a secondary option.
Some councils have gone a step further and outsourced services to recycling charities or businesses that will collect things free of charge if they can be recycled, charging only for items that can’t. This seems like an excellent move, except that some of these services are really deficient when in comes to providing information online, let alone online booking and fulfilment. By following best practice highlighted here, these services could be made much more efficient and user-friendly. We would encourage councils entering an outsourcing arrangement to make the provision of a digital service part of the discussion from the outset.
One area of poor practice highlighted by reviewers was nonsensical charging arrangements. One council charges by ‘half or full lorry load’- so presumably the resident has to guess the size of the lorry and whether their items might fit in it? Another said the items must be ‘easily lifted by two men’- well, how strong are the men? Another charges by time, in 15 minute slots. Are those delivering the service fast or slow workers? Do I need to think about whether my stuff is awkward and time-consuming to carry? Do I get charged more if the loading takes longer than I’ve booked? These are all questions that are going to lead to calls to the council or non-fulfilment when collection teams go out to deliver the service.
Charges for the service can be over-complicated, for example: there is a charge of £16.20 per unit for this service. A unit is equivalent to a double bed and mattress or a standard cooker. All collections will be rounded up to the nearest unit. For example 1 and a half units will be rounded up to 2 units: £32.40. A three piece suite based on five seats will cost £23.70.
It is hard to imagine these sort of narratives surviving even the most basic user testing.
In the main, this task was quite easy to navigate to from landing pages and home pages, although some home pages are very still cluttered for mobile with too much news, events, and PR information rather than services. Some councils continue to reflect the organisational structure in the navigation, with the task under the unintuitive ‘Environment and planning’ section.
With regard to content, and this is a general point that applies well beyond this survey - councils could really boost the user experience by improving how they write, using simple and standard methods such as:
They shoud also try to ensure that content reflects the logical steps a user would take when trying to complete the task. Simple changes can have a big impact on the user experience and journey.
Only relevant information should be added for each step so that tasks can be completed as quickly as possible. General subjects like information about fly-tipping, or the social enterprise the councils is working with, or what happens to items, should always come at the end of the content, otherwise it gets in the way of task completion.
Not all sites exposed the useful content before asking customers to commit to filling in a form or taking other action. A small but significant proportion:
Many sites don’t have online forms to complete the task, making a phone call to the council unavoidable. Volumes of bookings for the service will determine whether there is a business case for investing in online booking, and it is hard to comment on these figures without having this data for individual councils.
Where sites did have online forms, some were not responsive or could not be accessed if the person trying to so so was using the wrong 'browsing mode'. We appreciate that it can be difficult to set up and maintain forms that work for all operating systems and browsers, and to write error messages that are easy for all users to understand, especially when the solution is to change settings on a device. We do not have universal adive on this point at present - comments welcome below.
One final point where services are accessed from a mobiel phone: pop up messages can be troublesome because they take up so much valuable screen space. Sites where the message came up every time a new page was clicked were particularly annoying.
This is excellent. Lots of solid information. The form tells me there are 6 pages which I like.
Basingstoke & Deane
All very good indeed - very helpful and comprehensive information, and despite the lack of online requesting I was able to get everything I needed quickly and simply.
Excellent experience - clear and comprehensive information, a highly usable request form and all my questions answered quickly and concisely.
I am impressed with the flow of the information as it leads me to the information I need when I need it - eg tells me what I should read before I book and clearly tells me what I can and can't put out. It's also very easy to find through search and navigation.
This was a great user experience. All the information (bar alternatives to council collection) was there and was well presented and written, with clear subheads and a clear call to action (button linking to form). Only suggested improvements would be to justify the content on the first page of the form to the left (centralised content is harder to read) and add information about alternative ways of getting rid of items (eg charities).
The online form is well designed with the stages in the process well signposted. Useful to remind residents of the fines for flytipping on the bulky waste page.
The online booking form renders well on a mobile device. The Swansea Swap Shop is an innovative concept that could be replicated by others.
Although the information about collection days could do with being tightened up, this was an enjoyable user experience. The information is excellently presented, with clear subheads and calls to action. The online form presents well.
Despite the online form not being responsive, this site scores a 4 as it's one of the best I've seen for this task. All the information is easy to find and understand and the task is accessibly directly from the home page. There is also some useful extra information about collecting from flats and communal housing (although recommend looking at sentence length etc in that section to make the content more accessible).
Windsor & Maidenhead
The collection of large items page contains all the important information and the online form renders well on a mobile device.