Is good service honest service?

My iphone is being repaired at the moment. I sent it over a week ago, by special delivery. They have a neat little “track your order” facility. So I was notified when it arrived and also when it switched to “pending”, whatever that means. The site talks about a 24 hour turnaround time, but it’s now a week later and my status is still “pending”. Pending what – them getting the part, their technicians to finish lunch, or just me calling in to chase it along. After getting no response from emailing the site, I tweeted them and was told it should be with me on Tuesday. Well it’s now Friday and two further calls go unreturned.

I’m guessing that, like everyone else, they’re struggling with logistical delays due to the #uksnow – parts are coming in late, maybe they’re short of staff, or backed up deliveries are waiting to go out. Anyone reading the press would know this and I think most are sympathetic of this sort of “act of god” scenario. I certainly am. But if this is the cause of the delay, what I find odd is that they’re not telling me?

Is it ever a good thing to keep a customer in the dark?

Personally I’d be very happy if they moved my iphone status to “delayed” with a new estimated delivery date. It’s the ‘not being kept informed’ bit that I find annoying. It’s costing me time and effort to call in and chase them, and it’s all wasted if no-one responds. Result: I grow increasingly dissatisfied with a service that is probably (and I am guessing here as I’ve not been able to speak to them) in a situation for which I am actually sympathetic.

I’ve spoken to others in similar situations recently, many of whom are waiting on christmas gifts and fearing the same. It’s that word “fearing”. Why would any service provider allow their customers to feel fearful about their purchases? Surely it’s better to have them confident that a problem is being dealt with?

The truth that the service is experiencing delays is a negative, but a known negative is better than an unknown. It’s the same principle with queuing. People tend to be much happier to queue if they know why they’re queuing. I’ve read a study (still trying to retrieve it) that demonstrated how showing a queue of people video footage of the front end of that queue, helped them to stay patient. They knew what to expect.

Ignorance is not a good thing in a service situation.

People don’t like not knowing. They like to be treated as adults. But I suspect many service providers in the current situation turn into fearful pessimists – they worry too much about the delay’s impact on branded commitments like 24 hour turnaround etc and opt to hide away from what they can see – growing numbers of increasingly angry customers.

My guess is the people repairing my iphone are in that difficult vicious circle where you hold off announcing problems to customers whilst you race to resolve them. But you run the risk of problems accumulating faster than you can resolve them, leading to ever more problems.

My vote – service providers need to think and act like optimists. Nip problems in the bud, be honest, admit to delays and demonstrate you’re taking steps to resolve it. Have faith in honesty. It’s probably the best brand value for long term customer retention.  Like I say to my son “if you do something bad, tell me. It’ll be better than me finding out another way.”

Have a great Christmas everyone. Hope all your gifts arrive safely!

UPDATE: Another example of this point – – when a service provider keeps people hanging on again and again whilst they faff about, leading to an outcome that is bad for the customer, and inevitably bad for the airline. Would be interested to know what airline this was, if anyone knows.

Where are all the service implementers?

I’ve had some interesting conversations with buyers of service design of late, and though all are very positive about what service design can bring, without fail all have gone on to say -“but when it comes to implementation…” This seems to be a bit of an achilles heal. Is it because service designers haven’t had the chance to flex implementation skills – plenty tell me they’re gagging to get stuck in – or is it because, as designers, they tend to get a little bored quickly once the creative bit is over? I feel like the latter is a bit of a cliche, but as an industry we need to prove our way out of this by giving some good implementation. I need to know the answer, because at some point I’m going to need some service implementers – people who are motivated by design and what it can bring to the start of the journey, but who also want to follow through over what can take months and even years.

Outsourcing my life

Between them, google and apple serve up big chunks of my life. And not just the products they offer – calendars, email, apps etc – it’s the string of products that I’m talking about. Large parts of my memory are now outsourced to my iPhone, mac and google account. Pew Internet are worrying about this, but as their latest research suggests, most people think it’s a good thing.

I’m less certain. My reading habits have suffered as I seek bitesize chunks of info – sacrificing depth for breadth. I’m a great believer on “sleeping on things”, but that doesn’t work when the things are on machines. Others argue that you outsource the small stuff, making room for your brain to work on the big stuff, but my efforts to segment like this have been difficult, hampered by an overall erosion of deeper thinking. I just have less time to deep think. Emails, podcasts, music – there’s always more to take in, to fill the gap made by the stuff youve outsourced, and the “in between moments” dissapear as a result. These are the day dream moments when the subconscious gets to work on the deep and broad problems. Without it things feel a whole lot more erratic.

But this is the model for technology. It’s sold on how it makes life easier, freeing up leisure time (where’s the 3 day week Tomorrow’s World promised us with the advent of the PC?!) – but it just makes space for more. My blackberry doesn’t free me from the office, it let’s the office flood into my life (though I’m strict about not letting it).

Am I comfortable outsourcing my life to such a ravenous beast? What’s the advantage if it’s just more information? The answer seems to me to be filters. I need better filters so small stuff is dealt with systematically, so I see only what’s really relevant, so outsourcing means deeper time on the stuff that matters. Intelligent filters. That or ludditism, or stupidity, or whatever.

Which way the wind blows

Reading Matthew Taylor’s blog – he of the RSA – and his comments about the current zeitgeist for collaboration and inclusion struck a chord.

“So the message out in public sector land is; we have to do things very differently if we are meet growing needs with shrinking budgets, and that crucial to the capacity to reform and innovate is a much higher level of collaboration, focussed around a shared strategy and a strong sense of place. I don’t see this changing whoever wins the next election.”

It does seem to be that both sides are relying on us, the citizens, to design better services for ourselves. I can’t agree whether this shows a distinct lack of leadership, reflects paraylsis in the face of major demographic and financial upheaval or ingenuous insight into bottom up innovation. The proof will be in the pudding…

Currys – the service innovator

I never thought I’d say this, but Currys, long time high street technology retailer of Britain, has actually done a pretty canny bit of service innovation.

currys ad
currys ad
I’ve been in this predicament. New fridge comes, old fridge needs to go. I and so many other have relied on the wierd black market of delivery men who, for £25 would “sort it out for yer”. Lord know where those fridges ended up, but you just hoped it was better than dumping it on the corner like so many others.

Well Currys have been very sensible, identified that for each pallet offloaded, there’s a space to fill in the van, and in doing so won my business. Government should be supporting smart thinking like this. It saves on local councils picking them up off the street, it saves on fuel, it removes a tax evasive black market. Also – and correct me if I’m wrong – but I think the EU is trying to make manufacturers/vendors responsible for the eventual disposal of their products. If so, this could be a good example of a company turning an apparent cost into a clear benefit. Smart move.

And more easyjet…

Another response  from easyjet. Basically – what we said last time, but more legal sounding. Yawn. Issue still remains – we paid for a seat for our two year old, as per their regulations, but that seat was many rows away, so we couldn’t use it. Do I really have to go to the broadsheet consumer pages to get some basic common sense out of these people?


Thank you for contacting us.

I was really disappointed to learn about your experience on the flight from London Gatwick to Palma de Mallorca and then at Palma de Mallorca Airport. I can appreciate your frustration.

Allow me to respond to the points you have raised one after another.

1. Please be advised, that since we do not allocate seats on the plane and we have a free seating policy, it is not obliged to have a child sat next to a parent. Of course it is much more convenient and safe (from the child’s point of you), however if there was no seat next to you but there was a seat farther, we did provide you with the service you have purchased.

2. From our Carrier’s Regulations and Terms and Conditions you are aware that we have a free seating policy, therefore it may happen that all the passengers from the booking may not sit together.

3. I can confirm that you were not prevented from using the purchased seat. As I understand you have chosen to fly with your child on your laps instead of letting the child seating away from you. Please be advised , that since you have paid for the seat, it was waiting to be used by your child. Please also see point 1. and 2. where I explain that we have a free seating policy, so a seat was booked for your child but due to boarding the plane not in the first group, you were not sitting together.

4. I was sorry to learn about your impression on our service. I can assure you that we value all comments regarding our service and yours is acknowledged.

Allow me to provide you with our Customer Service telephone number 0871 244 2366 (calls cost 10p per minute; calls from mobiles and other networks may cost more) and also the international line: 0044 870 6 000 000 (calls made to this number will be charged at the prevailing overseas call rate). If you require to talk about this issue to one of our agents, please fell free to call us.

I deeply regret to inform you that we will not be able to offer you a refund for the seat purchased for your child.

I do hope I have been able to answer your question fully, if I have not, please click here and we will be more than happy to assist you further.

Yours sincerely,

Customer Experience Champion

Waitrose Delivers… sort of

I expect great things from Waitrose, so I was shocked to discover their online service feels so bolted on and un-integrated.

We keep running out of food, so my wife suggested we start getting a weekly shop delivered. I checked out the options and found out Waitrose delivered for free in my area, compared to others who charged. Yes, it’s a bit more premium, but we spend less when we plan our meals and order them online.

The job of registering on their site was laughably difficult. I build websites and design services, so I know the pitfalls, but even I was struggling. It kept telling me “YOU MUST BE REGISTERED TO USE THIS FACILITY” in large shouty capitals, but no-where did it tell me how to register. If it hadn’t pricked my professional interest, I’d have left. FAIL#1

Finally registered, I started “shopping” for groceries etc. The menu system was chaos. They mixed categories of item eg by colour, or if they had a stone in, or whether they were local or organic. And who’s to say what a “speciality vegetable” is? Apparently a sweet potato is a speciality vegetable. Hmmm. Someone needs some card sorting. FAIL#3

Once I’d finished I went through to checkout and fumbled the card details bit a couple of times, but finally submitted my order. No response – just left me hanging. I nervously clicked again, seriously wondering whether I would end up with two deliveries on my doorstep! Screen reverted to homepage and suddenly my basket was empty. I then had to find my account area to get confirmation the order had been gone through. Didn’t inspire much confidence. FAIL#4

And the delivery itself. On time, and by a lovely courteous lady, as you’d expect from a premium retailer. And the food was great – good quality, with no peculiar stand in products. But… with the bags (and my do they like bags – very small bag-to-product ratio. Hoping they’ll take em back!) came a cardboard pack of “welcome” material. In it were four (!?!) copies of the same waitrose entertaining brochure, a discount voucher for my first shop (erm – this WAS my first shop), two copies of the waitrose food magazine (which is alright if I’m really bored, but two copies???!!). What was all this stuff? What was it supposed to add? FAIL#5

The welcome letter on the front had a 5 point “promise” – all of them related to “delivery”. That’s fine waitrose. But you need to take a look at Ocado (if you’re still talking to them that is). Their promise is about “service”. They recognise that you can’t just bolt a digital interface onto your store, buy some vans and away you go. Digital opens up loads of opportunities to deliver your brand experience in novel and engaging ways. Ocado’s iPhone app is a great example, but only because it’s tied into a properly designed service.

Unfortunately, your WaitroseDeliver service feels like a jumbled mix of services. Like your digital team, print team, store team and deliver drivers all thrashed it out in a couple of days.

The major danger from all this is that you probably think that doing sexy online shopping is a must have addition to your modern brand. But actually it’s currently damaging your brand. You should be proud that I have high expectations of your service. You’ve never failed on that brand promise before. But this experience has left me wondering what’s going on. It’s left me concerned that digital is doing you more harm than good. It’s left me worrying that your competition gets it, but you don’t.

But don’t fret too much. You’re not alone. If you’d like my professional view – take a look here.