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Macmillan supports people who are affected by cancer. They help everyone: from those diagnosed with cancer to carers. They run a range of services including a coaching service for people wanting to make a positive change in their life.

Use this Guide if you are thinking about making it quicker and easier for people to access a service. Use it if you want to reduce admin effort too.

Steps to creating an online referral form using SmartSurvey

Do some research into how existing referral routes are working for different stakeholders. This includes your users and your staff. It could also include other referrers and carers.

To research existing routes you should do some research. You can expect to spend 1-5 days doing this.

Start with your workers' knowledge of how existing referral routes work. Then talk to your users about any problems you uncover and what they think might solve them. You may decide to use particular user research techniques to help you do this.

To find out more about user research use Catalyst’s collection of user research resources.

A screenshot image showing the landing page for the Macmillan Well-Being Coaching service. The first service to add the self-referral process

Macmillan thought people would be likely to use a self-referral form to access their coaching service. But the main need was actually Macmillans: They were relying on their helpline staff to assess and refer people. This narrowed service access to only helpline callers. It also meant it took longer to connect people to coaches.

It’s important to explore how any solution works for your users before you implement it. Journey mapping is a way to do this. It focuses on the actions and interactions a user will have. It’s best to map their whole referral experience, not just what happens when they fill in a form. This helps you see their journey in context.

Macmillan knew people visited their website so it made sense to offer self-referral through the site.

They thought about what information to collect at each step of the process. They did this by sketching the future user journey with some of their coaches. The journey included these steps:

  1. User fills out simple referral form that collects minimal information (because Macmillan knew that the user’s service needs were best captured by a coach after referral rather than via a form).

  2. User receives a welcome email that includes a coaching contract - so they know they are signed up and can get an overview of the service.

  3. User receives an email introducing them to a coach. That way they know who they’re going to be speaking with, when it will happen and can be ready to use the service.

  4. User meets with their coach, shares their story and sets goals.

  5. User receives automated check-in emails to make sure they are OK using the service.

For more on future user journey mapping, try this Catalyst article.

There is a wide choice of platforms offering online forms. List what you need the platform to do, based on your research in Step 1. This could include:

  • Simple functionality - be easy to administer

  • GDPR compliance - to meet your organisation’s GDPR requirements

  • Offer integration options - so you can integrate it with your CRM or website

  • Automated responses

  • Value for money

Macmillan chose SmartSurvey, a UK-based software platform that creates online surveys and forms.

Though SmartSurvey met their core requirements, it didn’t:

  • Integrate with Macmillan’s CRM (customer relations management system)

  • Allow visual tailoring to the Macmillan brand

  • Offer automated emails to people after they have sent a form

They decided they could manage without these elements to start with.

Macmillan also chose to use Microsoft Excel to store and track the self-referral data they downloaded from SmartSurvey.

Before implementing a new process you need to test how the journey of using it works for your users and your staff. Doing this at a small scale will show up problems and opportunities for improvement.


  • What journey you’re going to test

  • Who will test it

  • How you will get feedback during or after the journey

For an introduction to Usability Testing, try Nielsen Norman group's Free 101 Article.

Macmillan tested two scenarios:

A. Scenario test A (their hypothesis scenario)

User fills in a form with their name, email, phone number and times for a call back.

Service manager matches them with a coach, using the referral tracking spreadsheet and shared calendars to see coach availability.

Coach calls them back.

B. Scenario test B

User fills in a form with their name, email, phone number and times for a call back.

Macmillan staff member calls the user to gather more information about them.

Service manager matches user with a coach, using the spreadsheet and shared calendars to see coach availability.

Service manager emails the coach with further details about the user.

Use what you learn from testing to iterate how the journey works for your users and staff. This could mean changing parts of the process, how the software is used, or even exploring alternative solutions. It’s better to pivot or start again than persisting with a process that doesn’t suit users and staff.

Macmillan implemented a process based on Scenario A.

They also:

  • used what they learnt to write response email templates. These templates ensure all users get a consistent service experience.

  • used the referral tracking spreadsheet to ensure a consistent experience. They use it to track people’s progress through the service. Now coaches and staff can see people’s referral status, if they need a nudge, or if it's time to check in on their experience of coaching sessions.

Further information

Referrals, self referrals and forms: other guides

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