The problem with good service design is that you don’t notice it.
It’s only when you experience truly bad design that you appreciate the good stuff.
That’s why so few organisations are design led. They focus on designing out the bad rather than designing in the good from the beginning.
Earlier this week I ordered a package – to be delivered from the Royal Mail.
It required a signature so I arranged it to arrive on Thursday when I planned to be working from home.
On Tuesday morning the Royal Mail sent me an SMS and email to say they were pleased to announce that the item would arrive earlier than expected.
They might well have been pleased at the early arrival, but I was 60 miles away and stuck in a meeting. There was no option to request a redelivery. No option to even cancel it. Just accept an inevitable failure.
Any redelivery could only be attempted after they had first failed to deliver it.
Here was a company actually wasting the time of their employees and their customer – and seemingly proud of it.
In defence of Amazon and Uber
It’s easy to criticise the likes of Amazon and Uber for their ethics , but we forget at our peril the benefits these providers have bought us.
But they don’t pay taxes! As if no company ever evaded taxes before Amazon.
But they exploit workers! As if taxi drivers were never exploited before, or resisted the opportunity to exploit us customers.
We shouldn’t let these type of companies off the hook for their transgressions, but neither should we forget what life was like before their breakthroughs in customer experience.
Getting a delivery within 24 hours or not having to queue for a taxi now feels so normal that one starts to wonder why it took so long.
The incumbent companies they disrupted all had the same money, time and technology to change the way they did business, but they resisted the opportunity to shape themselves around what customers actually wanted.
Why digital transformation isn’t enough
Richard Godfrey makes a similar point about the failure of banks to reimagine their services. Setting up a new account in most cases still requires a bank visit, or an e-form or a phone call at the very least. How can that still exist in a world where you can sign up for a Monzo or Revolut account in minutes by downloading an app and proving your identity and address with image capture software and facial recognition?
As Richard points out, most ‘transformations’ are nothing of the sort, but simply a digital overlay on top of how business has always been done. He wonders why the process of claiming housing benefit can’t be made so easy. Of course it can, people just don’t want to make it easy.
As someone who has worked to redesign services from the ground up, putting the customer in control, I’d say you can’t underestimate how difficult this culture change required is.
Many of our organisations – despite the rhetoric – have policies and procedures that are profoundly anti-customer. We have built checks, balances and verifications into our process because , deep down, we don’t actually trust the motivations of the public.
This is an uncomfortable truth – but goes some way to explain the difference in satisfaction levels between some of the public and private sector.
A new post from McKinsey finds that whilst many the public sector and governments are moving forward with customer experience initiatives, in general private-sector organisations are a lot better at providing services.
I don’t always agree with the private/public distinction but some of the stumbling blocks they identify are helpful. The common traits that prevent genuine transformation are:
- A monopolistic mind-set. When customers don’t have a choice, it dramatically removes a major incentive to innovate and improve service.
- The public sector have to be fair to everyone. They can’t just ignore certain customer segments. This ‘fairness’ often solidifies over time into a principle of providing one-size-fits-all service. Or rather, one-size-fits-no-one.
- We often lack the capabilities needed to assess and address gaps in customer experience. Those with deep analytics skills, as well as human-centered design skills, are often in short supply.
- Data is typically incomplete or sequestered in silos. Organisations often lack a full, timely picture of the customer’s overall experience.
This ‘fair for everyone’, but exceptional for no-one, agenda presents a genuine design challenge. The capacity for innovation for huge, but the capability for it is virtually zero.
It’s hampered because innovation requires a tolerance for failure , and upsetting people. It’s too easy to see the short-term political consequences of initiatives gone wrong and debate whether public money is going down the drain.
However we have a responsibility to take risks – we need to cultivate a culture of innovation, and sometimes that means spending money trying new things, and being ‘unfair’ to some people.
What if Uber and Amazon did health, housing and social care?
Three years ago I wrote a post speculating on that very question – it remains the second most popular piece on this blog.
I don’t stand by everything I said back then, but I do agree with the final point.
Any sector that has multiple players performing similar services is ripe for disruption.
There’s no question about whether the Uber , Amazon, Facebook and Alibaba of the public sector will emerge.
It’s simply a matter of when.