What has really impressed itself upon my mind recently is how receiving services – of whatever kind – can so often make you feel offended, insulted, slighted or just plain angry. Objective thought makes it pretty obvious that the intention was actually to deliver good service, but somehow it can be hard to believe that when you see some of the symptoms of not thinking things through.
Let’s start with a fairly innocuous and
almost silly example from the
What I couldn’t help but notice, and that stuck in my mind more than anything else, were the local information maps displayed – a good and helpful feature that shows important buildings near enough to walk to from each station. They show where places are using colour-coded dots, for example pink dots show hotels. At my local station there were three hotel dots – so I which hotels were served by that metro stop. But it didn’t tell me which hotels they were – just that they are hotels – how much more effort would it have taken to write the names on? And how much would that final piece of data been worth? I think that’s what bothers me – when suppliers seem to do 90% of the work right but that missing 10% destroys 90% of the value.
But OK, I am sure that will be remedied - eventually. There is, however, a characteristic of physically delivered services that I see so often – and bothers people so much – that I have tried to give it a name. Best I have so far is VNS, Visible Non-Service. I am sure you have seen it – travellers will see it at airline travel desks and immigration counters, but all of us see it almost daily at banks, post offices and shops. Let me set out a typical scenario - one I saw last week (and most times I travel). There are 5 or 6 customer service desks; two of them have staff serving the waiting line of customers, one by one. At another desk are two of the airline or airport staff – every now and then a customer in a hurry goes up to them, only to be turned away. These people are not attending to customers. No, it might be that they are doing some critically important task, vital filing, discussing long term business strategy etc. But why do they do it in font of the customers? We can see only paid supplier staff NOT helping us, and apparently not caring. Actually, I think banks are amongst the worse offenders, frequently seating staff at customer facing positions to do non-customer facing work.
It seems to me that this is a failure to think through how customers perceive things. Of course it might make perfect sense to the planners and HR people – making best use of physical space, having managers where they can see staff working etc. But – if you feel tempted to do this, or anything else that customers will see - please think through how it will look and feel to someone who was NOT there when you planned it.
In fact VNS and other ways to disregard customer perception – once you think it through – have significant implication and consequences: whether that is IT applications that decide to archive your records when at times apparently selected to annoy you the most, scheduled maintenance that seems to target your busy periods or supervisory staff walking around apparently doing nothing helpful while customers wait in long lines. The more complex our world gets, the easier it is to get things wrong. Like the maintenance slot that is obviously good to the planner in New York but which hits the obvious usage slot in Dubai (where Sunday is the first working day of the week, and you want your administration services – like expense reporting – up and running at the start of the week – which is when business travellers typically do their expenses.
So if you are planning services that a customer will see, please do me a favour: try and think how it will be seen and perceived, putting aside how logical YOU already know it is. As the man said – perception is reality, try to make your customers’ perception into your reality.
Final story, about how it is possible to get it right. Many years back, when I worked for the UK Forestry Commission, I recall talking with our Recreation Planning Officer. He had just designed and constructed some way-marked walks through a forest he personally knew very well. Before he allowed them to be opened to the public, he brought his children in, and walked behind them on the route – noting down everywhere they had trouble seeing the right way – and then he corrected those faults. I believe that nowadays this might be called ‘User Acceptance Testing’ – and what it needs is users, not suppliers pretending they can see it from a user perspective.