Glue for business

May 17, 2017

Service design isn’t everything.
It’s just the glue that holds business together.

A colleague once said, that problems occur in the space between projects. His reference was about how unclear handovers result in miscommunication and, therefore, some kind of mistake sooner or later.

This is actually also what happens to customers during their journey from need to satisfaction. Each single touchpoint may, in fact, be totally OK in an isolated situation. But moving from one touchpoint to the next, something is lost in translation and customer disappointment sets in.

A very mundane example is the internet service of an, here not to be named, Swedish bank. By default the bank sends statements via snail-mail to the account holder according to some obscure rule. In the internet bank it is possible to unsubscribe from this service. However, when you click this link, the tab it opens is not a pre-filled form that you just have to confirm, but an unfilled form where you, as a customer have to fill in the account number and assorted specific information.

The obvious question, from the customer’s perspective, is that “if I click this link from within my logged-in internet bank account, I presume that my data is accessible to the bank and I don’t have to fill it in.” From the bank’s perspective, this is a minor function. From the customer’s perspective, it is a major irritant. In the real world, this would be akin to going to one service window and speaking to a service person, who refers your task to another service window. As you go to the second window, the service person moves there himself and asks you how they can help you, as if they don’t remember that he himself sent you there!

Google made a nice film, a few years ago, that in a humorous way illustrates similar frustrations.

The handover between different touchpoints is the space where problems are created, as the expectations of customers and service provider differ on what the function of the touchpoint actually serves in the delivery of the service.

Fast-food restaurants have introduced ordering and payment terminals, which replace the human tellers. The customer is offered a ticket with a queue number and then all the waiting customers are served in turn. This makes sense, if all the orders in the queue system are of equal complexity and urgency.

However, people come in with different expectations and needs. Some come to eat, some come to grab food on the go. The first group chooses from the menu what they feel like, the second group will have decided on popular standard fare, because it is faster. Like two cheeseburgers. But in the situation where there are no people cashiers anymore, and all orders are set in the queue, a two cheeseburger order is processed in turn, with all the other more complex orders, defeating the whole purpose of going to a “fast-food” joint.

Some of the glue is missing.

Similarly, an invoice issued by an insurance company includes the name of the agent, but only a telephone number and not email. Calling the number (which must be done during business hours), however, places the caller in a telephone queue, where suddenly the customer is made to wait on the service provider. Providing an email address for the agent would allow the conversation to take place at the convenience of the customer, not the company. Again, a small thing perhaps, but irritating nonetheless.

Improving the customer experience in the above examples isn’t difficult. However, it does require empathy. Being able to put yourself in the customer’s situation and “feel” what they feel. This will help you “glue” the touchpoints together in a way, that there isn’t a gap left between intention and result.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” -Bernard of Clairvaux

Similarly, without involving customers in the design of services that are intended to improve their experience, it is very possible that instead of glueing the touchpoints together seamlessly you instead dissolve the glue that held them together before.

Applying service design methods to understand the whole customer journey, from need to satisfaction, will help you to glue the pieces together in a way that makes sense for both the customer and the service provider. Sometimes by making such minor changes, that you will be face-palming yourself that, why, wasn’t it done before?!