Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy

Running a discovery to help the government change payment culture in the UK

Challenge

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy wanted to understand how best to implement its new “prompt payment” digital service in order to improve UK payment culture.

Solution

We ran a discovery phase, where we carried out research to identify various user needs, and uncovered valuable information on payment practices in the UK. Our research will not only help build the right digital service, but will also inform the policy.

Services

  • Discovery
  • User Experience Research
  • Journey maps

Project Overview

REDUCING LATE PAYMENTS TO SMALL BUSINESSES

In recent years, how quickly (or not) businesses pay their suppliers has become a major economic news story. The negative consequences of late payments can be significant for suppliers, particularly small businesses.

In response, the government announced that it would introduce new “prompt payment” legislation, to encourage large companies to pay their suppliers within 30 days. As part of this legislation, a new digital service will be developed through which large businesses will publicly publish data on how long it takes them to pay suppliers.

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) needed more information in order to develop the digital service to support the new legislation effectively. They asked us to run a discovery to help them better understand large businesses’ payment practices and what large businesses and their suppliers needed from the digital service.

Discovery is an important phase at the beginning of a project. During this phase you start researching users’ needs and thinking about their possible journies through your digital service.

FINDING INTERVIEWEES AND GAINING THEIR TRUST

With only a month to do the research and deliver our findings, our biggest challenge was reaching the right people in a short space of time.

So that we can reach the most suitable users, we did not to engage research recruitment agencies, but used BEIS’ network of stakeholders, our personal contacts, and guerilla techniques to identify and interview users.

For example, we recruited and interviewed small business owners at the British Library Business and IP centre. This approach enabled us to find and talk to the right people in short space of time, without incurring recruitment costs.

Overall we conducted 25 interviews, each lasting up to 90 minutes. We spoke to:

  • Senior directors at large businesses, who will use the digital service to report on their payments practices
  • Owners of small businesses which supply large businesses, who might want to find out about their customers’ payment practices
  • Intermediaries such as credit control and debt recovery agencies, who help suppliers to get paid on time.

We found intermediaries through a contact at the Chartered Institute of Credit Management, and they proved to be invaluable source of information. They had years of experience spanning a variety of sectors and businesses. Their expert, independent opinion highlighted a number of issues that shaped our hypothesis.

Large companies agreed to talk to us as they were keen to learn more about the new reporting requirements. However, we found that some were concerned about “saying too much” as we were seen as being from ‘the government’. Although these concerns made some interviews tricky to navigate, by reassuring them about confidentiality and trodding carefully, we were able to have successful, open conversations with companies about their payment practices and the new legislation.

USER RESEARCH FINDINGS INFLUENCING GOVERNMENT LEGISLATION

Our initial brief was primarily to identify the least burdensome way for large companies to report on payments, and to explore what information would be most useful to small suppliers.

However, by structuring our interviews in a way that enabled us to get wider understanding of companies’ payment practices, we began to gain deeper insight into the payment culture in the UK.

We discovered useful information about the financial, technical, cultural, and procedural factors that influence payment practices and could affect the success of the legislation.

For example, a useful finding was that payment delays were often caused by a mismatch between the set invoice and payment processes in large businesses and the more informal practices in small businesses. We found that large companies expect to be invoiced in a certain way, with invoices processed by a central team. Small businesses often didn’t invoice “correctly” and sent invoices to their business contact, rather than the central finance team.

When talking to large companies, we found there were some concerns about the new legislation. For example, some companies were worried about the time it would take to collect the data needed to comply with the new legislation, while others expressed concerns about the potential for negative media attention.

All these findings will not only influence the build of the digital service, but also the development of the government policy and BEIS’ business engagement strategy.