By now I am sure you have heard of or experienced one of the many Tuesday the 8th of August, 2016 Census night failed attempts at counting the nation.
Hopefully you were one of the lucky ones who made it through the gauntlet and didn’t have any of the following issues:-
- No delivery of access code to log on and lodge your Census
- If no delivery and you tried to call you were advised the hotline was closed until the 10th of August (yes you read that right, 2 days after the Cencus they would reopen their hotline due to being unable to handle to calls from Australian Residents, who were purely calling due to lack of simple delivery of codes….)
- If you were lucky to get a paper copy but unlucky to be at a hotel or FIFO camp for the night, stuck with a Census paper that no one wanted to collect (or even knew what to do with it) and in big text “Do not post”, you were stuck taking it with you and hoping you could find someone to hand it off to at a later stage.
- If you tried on the night of the Census to do it online like they had been telling you in their big advertising promotions if you were one of the 2.33 million people who supposedly got it completed that has got to be a relief but for the rest of the 22 million people (who still needed to be counted) they were faced with cannot connect to server, submit button not working, or crashing mid Census. Which the Australian Bureau of Statistics was very silent about the issues however then advise (and scare everyone) with a statement advising the Census website had been attacked…… Which in fact was not correct and was later announced by The Federal Government that in fact earlier claims of the site being hacked were not correct but instead was shut down intentionally to safeguard users’ data. “This was not an attack, nor was it a hack but rather, it was an attempt to frustrate the collection of Australian Bureau of Statistics census data,” said Michael McCormack, the minister charged with overseeing the 2016 Census.
Below we go through the 3 big areas that businesses can learn from Census 2016 mistakes:-
- Plan B
- Delivery / Returns
When an issue arises keep everyone informed.
In the case of the Census communication was not sufficient to inform the whole of Australia of the issues especially when you have threatened people with $180 per day fines for not completing the required paperwork. Remember not everyone reads the fine print nor are they aware that they have until September to complete the Census prior to getting fined. The call centre was closed until after the Cencus, Tweets were vague (and not everyone is on Twitter)
In business let people know of the issue on your social media channels and if possible a notification on your website. Be available to take enquiries and offer people guidance, support and reassurance. I have seen businesses launch a new course or product at a special price and due to the sheer number of people checking the website out the website crashes, extend the offer and let people know when they can expect the website to be back up, or better still have a Plan B and filter them through to Plan B.
Always have another option.
In the case of the Census removing the paper version that they have had in the past did reduce paper wastage and the number of trees that needed to be cut down to produce every persons copy of the Census (and was initially reported to also save the country $350 million) however this forced the majority of people only one option to complete it online. Yes they could attempt to order a paper copy however the phone lines were struggling well before the Census night with people trying to get their log in details or people requesting paper copies. Now not everyone has or knows how to use a computer and that was a huge gamble to just have one method of competition unless you requested a different one.
In business if selling or launching a product / service online always have a Plan B available.
- a different payment gateway (have heard horror stories of peoples PayPal and/or Stripe being closed down during a launch due to large number of payments and the merchant facility had not been made aware of the possibility for an increase in payments.)
- A back up platform to take orders that is not located on your servers incase your server crashes or your website is hacked.
- Even the ability to take orders over the phone or by email (and send them a direct payment link if needed or your direct deposit details)
Delivery / Returns
Ensure you have reliable delivery methods and a clear easy to use returns system.
This years Census there were huge issues in the lead up to Census night, which some of them totally confuse me.
If Census Collectors are tracked and electronically logging deliveries, surely the Area Supervisors or District Mangers out have noticed issues, missed houses or delay in deliver? If not how did properties slip through the cracks (most of the houses that I know of were not brand new houses and had been here since the last Census so outdated map is not a possibility).
No tracking of letters sent out through Australia Post.
Tracking is essential with all delivery and returns, even for purely online content. Tracking allows you to account for stock, places or service allocation. It assist with troubleshooting and customer support (even helps you weed out the people wanting something for nothing).
With returns provide traceable return packaging or system so you can ensure the stock returns to you for you to make a claim or to put back on the shelf.
As everyone says “Hindsight is an amazing thing” however in the case of the Census 2016 you didn’t need hindsight to know that there was going to be issues, if it actually went off with out a hitch it would have been a miracle. You can not expect 24 million people (even if half of them were required to log on and complete it that is asking a lot on the infrastructure and a country that has one of the slowest internet speeds in the world across most of the country) to log onto a website at the exact same time, even if they did it through the 24 hour period that is still over 1 million people per hour.
Maybe for future Census they can look at local contact employees located in each town or community to help reduce the stress on the call centre, provide a place for drop off or even collection of Census paperwork if not received by the resident but also to provide feedback to ABS if large numbers in their town or community are all having issues or missing required documentation.
Find out more about the Census 2016 visit the Australia Bureau of Statistics website.