North Yorkshire County Council

North Yorkshire County Council

Buy Local Business Directory

Briefly describe the initiative/ project/service; please include your aims and objectives

The early weeks of lockdown introduced self isolation and shielding to North Yorkshire’s most vulnerable residents. Uncertainty, panic buying and general increased demand left some goods and services unavailable to sections of society. Likewise, local businesses were unable to trade in the conventional way. The solution needed to put local businesses in touch with customers in an effective and trusted way. The idea came from the Local Economy Work stream through its desire to help people to buy locally. The Digital and Customer team suggested the improvement to the initial solution of a list held on the NYCC website, based on their experience of managing this type of information for community services. Initial discussions with NYCC Local Economy Workstream Chair, were held to agree the most appropriate approach. As well as the core teams listed above there was key input from Data & Governance and Legal Services.

This is a new business directory built to put greater control at the hands of the user and done so under incredible time and regulatory pressure. Time was of the essence. The faster the service was launched, the greater its usefulness to our residents. By replicating an existing product (NYConnect- community directory) we were able to improve the solution, which was initially holding data on a website, with an overhead to keep up to date and constraints around data governance and sharing consent and create a model where data owners (businesses and service providers) sign up, consent, and are able to keep their own information up to date. We were able to give customers the function to search what types of products they were looking for and directly contact local  businesses.

The service put their trust an existing technical solution, which was already in use by customers. This saved months of time usually spent understanding requirements, defining and designing. The technical team were able to deliver a product that met core requirements within 4 days and took an agile and iterative approach to further tweak where necessary, based on customer usage and feedback and later on where COVID restrictions eased.

What are the key achievements?

Buy Local is a free online business directory developed to connect residents with businesses and tradespeople operating under Covid-19 restrictions in their local area. Developed in direct response to consumer demand in the first uncertain weeks of national lockdown to find local solutions online and assist local business to provide essential goods and services. Buy Local was developed exceptionally fast, as circumstances demanded, and has put consumers in touch with local businesses through a clear, user-friendly platform.

This has been a truly collaborative approach across the County Council. In particular, we are celebrating the following teams:
– Digital Team – for their exceptionally quick and responsive design and implementation
– Customer Service Centre – outbound calling to businesses across the area
– Communications – who researched and produced stories and case studies which brought the directory to life. Also highly successful media campaigns that brought people to the site
– Trading Standards – for checking and supporting all the businesses listed
– Covid-19 Local Economy Work Stream – for striving to invigorate the local economy in such difficult circumstances.
– Growth and Heritage Services – developing the idea of the a local directory

The customer experience was simplified. The solution put 750 businesses in one place. Customers were able to access up to date information on one highly functioning platform. In addition, the process for businesses providing the information was simple and already tested, balancing verification and consent with timeliness and detail. The customer experience was made more accessible by building the site to accessibility standards, as opposed to a PDF or Word document or a simple long list of business that would not be easy to navigate. Routes to the site were made known through excellent communications and links through other Local Authorities. The customer is more connected with other services, notably with Trading Standards. The trading standards service checked each applicant to the scheme and was able to engage positively with businesses who initially gave concern, giving them advice and guidance which enabled them to achieve compliance with relevant legislation and allow their entry to the scheme. This enabled the trading standards service to reach businesses it would not have had contact with otherwise and it is hoped that their positive experience on this occasion will encourage them to seek advice as required in the future. This is a good outcome for those businesses and also for the residents and other consumers with whom they trade.

Finally, the experience was made quicker for customers. Functionality within the tool enabled customers to search by business type, area or key word to help them quickly connect with relevant businesses and provided a direct link to their website and social media accounts. In terms of the benefits and efficiency delivered, this includes; Since the site launched on 10 April there have been almost 74,000 visits to the site. Visitors have clicked the links to business websites 2,800 times. One Business has received 80 visits to their website. There have been 53 telephone clicks, 639 email clicks and 3,358 clicks for further information about the services. In terms of the speed of the creation of the site and its usefulness in providing essential services, the shopping element of the
site alone was visited 1,385 times in April (10th -30th). Residents wanted and used this site. These figures show that customers have been put in contact with local businesses when they needed them most. The site went live in April and has been updated in response to customer feedback and as lockdown restrictions, we have updated the site to enable businesses to use it as a platform to support the ways they are trading.

What are the key learning points?

The key challenge was in terms of bringing the wider team up to speed with understanding the best and most appropriate way to manage data and make it accessible for all to use. We had taken a lot of learning in this area as we built our Community Directory Product, NYConnect – the business area needed to be taken on the same journey to understand why the product was built in the way it was and how this benefited NYCC, The businesses and the customers in terms of accessibility, data sharing and data governance.

Additional Comments

They say imitation is the best form of flattery and within a few weeks our site had been replicated by a neighbouring authority, as well as the New York city directory looking very similar!!

COVID-19 Response Recognition Award

This initiative was in response to COVID supporting local economy and also helping citizens of north Yorkshire self serve in terms of accessing resources available to them.