As may have been noticed from recent blogs I
spent most of the last month travelling. Actually thinking about it, most of my
last 33 years has been travelling for work. So while I might spend much of my
time talking about service with IT professionals; the services that most impact
my life tend to be related to the travel industry. Seems to me that service is
service, and many of the lessons learned in travelling – and watching people
while travelling – are very relevant in all aspects of service delivery, IT
related or not.
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 Dubai
metro system. This metro is brand new, really impressive, fast, clean
comfortable – and cheap. I can forgive its rather early closing time (11pm) and
late start on the weekend as a necessary acknowledgement of how many taxis and
especially taxi drivers need to continue to make a living – and how much they
may have felt threatened by the new metro.
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,
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
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
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.