A couple of months ago, as I was getting ready to fly to Scotland to run the Loch Ness marathon, I suddenly realised that my passport was about to go out of date. Luckily, as it was a domestic flight, no-one cared if my passport had less than a month left on it and if it had really been a problem I could have used my driving licence.
With all the excitement of the marathon out of the way I had a look online to see what I would need to do to renew my passport.
When I got my first one, about twenty years ago, it had meant finding a photo booth and getting the photo signed by someone who knew me, then filling in a bunch of paper forms and posting them to somewhere in London.
Now I realise that a first passport and a renewal are slightly different, but I was very impressed with how far the service has come in that time, even compared with my first renewal ten years ago.
The site had very clearly defined sections depending on why I needed a new passport - had I lost it or was it damaged?
Then there was very clear information about what documents I would need for the renewal and the type of image I should supply.
This time a digital image could be submitted, although that is not the only way, so my biggest issue was finding a well lit area with a white background to have my photo taken against.
Once I had everything I needed the process itself was very straight forward.
With one question per page it was easy to focus on exactly what I was being asked at each point without being distracted by past or future questions. Everything was very clear to me and it did not take me long to complete.
Of course it helps that I did not have any problems like a lost passport or missing information, but the site gave the impression that these would have been dealt with in its stride too.
Within seconds of completing the form I had an email which gave me a reference number and details of what I needed to do next - post my current passport to them.
Over the next week or so I continued to get emails, reminding me of things I needed to do, and confirming when they had received something or completed a stage.
At all times I felt like I knew exactly what the situation was and my new passport arrived exactly when they said it would.
I have been to a few talks by members of the Home Office who created this experience so it was very interesting to try it for myself and see how simple it really is, although I know how much work has gone into it to make it so.
How many services could be improved by this sort of attention to detail? Obviously your passport is a very important document and so knowing where it is and when it will arrive is pretty important, but I can think of other services that could benefit from this too.
What about other services who may have expert knowledge that sometimes they forget you do not have, for instance when dealing with financial or health services. Something as simple as using plain language when communicating would help everyone using the service.