Have you ever been ‘referred’ or ‘signposted’? How did it feel?

Benjamin P. Taylor
3 min readDec 20, 2021


Have you ever been ‘referred’ or ‘signposted’? How did it feel?

We worked with one council to analyse the whole of their customer contact.

The council was very dedicated to accessibility and support to those in the community most in need.

What we found was that all the good intentions were a part of the problem.

Realising that their services were very complicated and quite hard to access, the council had invested heavily in advice, information, and advocacy services to support and improve access.

And when it was discovered that a community group had a particular need, another charity was supported to provide advice there.

What we discovered was an accretion of these advice-giving services that had layered up like sediment over the years.

The effect was that citizens — especially those with the kind of combination of particular complex needs and social exclusion that the council was trying to combat — faced a bewildering array of choices.

Most of these would ‘signpost’ them to other services, and so on and so on.

I experienced the same thing when looking for advice on the care of an elderly relative who’s losing his memory.

We made a formula for this, to make the point:

Complex service arrangements


complex customer access


complex advice and signposting arrangements


staff ‘going the extra mile’ to help the customer (people from one department would take the case forward, advocate, chase)


‘The pinball council’

‘Pinball organisations’ are those who are working hard to do the wrong thing right.

It all seems so logical, from a certain point of view.

But let’s look at just one problem: ‘referral fatigue’

This is the phenomenon by which there can be a **40% or higher** drop-off with each referral. Even when people are seeking support for really important legal problems.

So ‘making a referral’, usually counted as ‘one item of success’ in performance reporting, should really be seen as a service failure on a par with waiting lists, triage, queues, checking, following up, and waiting.

Other problems which I’ll look at later include the pantomime of ‘the waiting list’, making the customer play ‘guess the game’ with your processes, and the self-generating, self-licking ice-cream.

What was it like when you were ‘signposted’? What would have been better?

#customerrelations #innovation #management #complexity #publicservices

On ‘referral fatigue’, see Civil Justice in England and Wales 2009: Report of the 2006 English and Welsh Civil and Social Justice Survey (Legal Services Commission, 2010) (Figure 5) http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1575510/1/Pleasence_2006_Civil_Social_Justice_Survey.pdf

Our research with teams (‘pinball council’ factors in dark brown)