Posts Tagged ‘empathy’

When customer service goes bad…

I am currently in the middle of a lengthy and very poor customer service experience. You see, my 9 month old rather expensive condenser dryer suddenly stopped working on 22 March… right in the middle of a record breaking rainy period.

My customer service journey began smoothly enough with a call to the customer service centre who immediately arranged for a service technician to come and inspect my defective appliance. Great – I think to myself. This will be resolved in no time at all. Two days later, the service technician is punctual and courteous on arrival. He is at my house for less than 2 minutes before announcing that the dryer needs to be shipped off to the repair centre and he will arrange for a courier to contact me for collection. Two days later again and my machine is carted off to be repaired. And so begin my woes.

At first, I am contacted every few days to advise me of progress:

Customer service:  “We don’t have the part in stock, but we have ordered it and it should be here in a couple of days. We will call and let you know when the part arrives.”

Ok, that’s not too bad, I think to myself. A week later I hear from them again.

Customer service: “Your spare part has arrived at the workshop and we are ready to start repairs”.

Me: “That’s great! When can I expect my appliance back home?”

Customer Service: “Oh I can’t answer that. Your appliance has been placed in the repair queue and once repaired will undergo testing to confirm everything works as it should before we return it to you”.

Me: “Will I have it back before Easter – that’s one a half weeks from today?”

Customer service: “Oh I really couldn’t say. Someone will give you a call when it is ready for delivery”.

And that’s the last I heard. Easter comes and goes. The school holidays come and go. It’s now over a month later and I am still waiting and chasing to try and discover the fate of my faulty dryer…

Customer service is all about meeting the needs and exceeding the expectations of your customer. Providing delights, as Kano1 suggests, to change the perception of the service and or brand is one way of doing this. In order to do this, you first need to understand your customer’s needs. It also requires you to anticipate what your customer might reasonably expect in common scenarios such as the repair of faulty products under warranty. This requires empathy and the ability to listen openly and honestly to customer feedback. A good place to start is to put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself – how would I feel and what outcome would I want? In my case, it would be perfectly reasonable for me to want to know when I could expect to have my appliance returned, especially when I have just been advised that they have the required spare part in their hot little hands.

Think about the times when you have been in a hurry and you have had to stand in a queue at a government department or bank – You ask yourself ‘how long is this going to take?’ The issue is that you have lost control and now don’t have all of the information for you to make an informed decision – ‘should I stay or should I go and come back later?’ If an estimated waiting time was indicated then you are in a better position to make that informed decision. Of course, there are other ways in this instance to improve customer response – add more staff so the wait time is less, modify the processing system to enable things to be completed online thereby negating queues, create a Fastlane and so on. However these systems all bring with them potential for error and issues that may be disagreeable for the consumer.

This is where the concept of the service blueprint should be developed for that particular service and system. Fundamentally, the service blueprint reviews the interactions between the consumer and the frontline service personnel, it then reviews the interactions at the backend of the organisation that make the frontend work. It allows the service to be dissected and integrated in order to minimise negative touchpoints and maximise business efficiency and effectiveness and of course customer satisfaction.

When customer service degenerates to ticking boxes and following procedures, based on business processes, rather than listening to and empathising with customers to try and genuinely meet their needs, then you are no longer providing good customer service. While on paper your employees are meeting all their customer service targets by following up with customers and keeping them informed, by all appearances providing ‘good customer service’, in actual fact you may be doing more harm than good.

When you fail to meet a customer’s expectations the impression you leave behind is most often one of dissatisfaction, frustration and an overwhelming sense of your incompetence. Worse still, not only have you lost that particular customer for life, but you have in all likelihood lost many more potential customers. What you don’t know is how many other people your dissatisfied customers are telling about their experience – family, friends, work colleagues, their hair dresser – anyone who will listen. Believe me, I know firsthand and there are at least a dozen people in addition to me who will never go near this dryer brand in the future.

In todays ultra-competitive, brand saturated world, great customer service can make or break a company’s reputation. With the commoditisation of products business need to look for different ways to gain advantage and differentiate themselves from the competition. In this ‘experience economy’ the provision of exceptional customer service is a critical way to differentiate your brand, build strong and lasting customer relationships and a loyal customer following. Can you afford not to deliver great customer service?

1 Kano, Professor Noriaki – Theory of product development and customer satisfaction 

Read more

(Design) Research – 5 outcomes it delivers

So what’s research? Research can be defined simply as the search for knowledge. It is a systematic investigation into anything in order to establish facts, answer a question and reach new conclusions.

While scientific research provides information to explain the natural world around us, that is ‘what exists’, design research is concerned with ‘what could be’ in the future. Design research tries to break the mindset and paradigms that have shaped the past. It challenges, provokes and disrupts the status quo. It does this by using visual imagery – sketches, maps, photos, storyboards, models and prototypes to explain concepts, stimulate discussion and collaboration, inspire new directions and engage emotions. Design research draws on knowledge that is transdisciplinary and contextual, relying on a range of methodologies in order to derive insights in topic areas as diverse as users, markets, materials, processes, history, culture, nature and so on. Design research is often applied throughout the entire development process as an extension of a designer’s natural inquisitiveness.

As designers, we are always striving to place people at the heart of our designs. To achieve this, we naturally tend to focus our research activity on trying to understand the unmet needs, wants, desires and dreams of the people we are designing for. We want to know what makes them tick. What motivates them to do the things they do? How and why do they do the things they do? What challenges do they face in their daily lives? For designers, it is design research that provides the context for any solution – the who, why, where when and what. By doing design research you are laying the foundations for a successful outcome and delighted users.

Here are 5 outcomes in particular that design research can deliver to your business. Each outcome is discussed with the following mini case study as an example. A car manufacturing company wants to design a new car specifically aimed at mothers with young children as they believe this may be a new market opportunity. No-one in the project team has young kids themselves.

1. Problem validation

Often designers are given a problem to solve in the form of a brief. Designers use research to interrogate the problem to determine whether it is in fact the real problem or merely a symptom of a larger and/or different problem. To create innovative and engaging experiences, products and services, you need ensure that you are solving the right problem for the right people at the right time. Validating the problem and articulating it in such a way as to be directive but not prescriptive will set up your project for success.

For our car company, they need to understand if mothers as a user group have needs that are not being met by current cars in the market. If they do, what are those needs? And if a new car could meet those needs, would they consider buying that vehicle at what price point? By observing mothers using a variety of cars and speaking with them about their experiences the team discovers several unmet needs e.g. they need extra boot space to fit the pram, nappy bag and the weekly grocery shopping. They often need places to put children’s drink bottles, baby wipes and other commonly used items within easy reach without them rolling around the car. Still need to be able to park in normal spaces in busy shopping centres.

2. Understanding your customer through empathy

Design research is great for developing a deep understanding of your customer or end user, their needs, wants, desires, rituals, painpoints, work arounds and idiosyncrasies. Using techniques such as observation, interviewing, shadowing and physically putting yourself in your users’ shoes, it is possible to truly immerse yourself in their world and empathise with the person you are designing for. This strips away personal biases and assumptions (which are the result of your own personal experiences and values) and replaces them with a greater appreciation for what the user is experiencing, their actual needs and wants. This type of ethnographic research is especially important when you are designing for people very different from your own experiences e.g. hospital patient, the elderly, children, aid workers in remote areas.

For our car company, they need to understand what a mother is going through as she juggles schedules, temper tantrums, unwieldy prams, shopping bags and so on. By ‘walking in her shoes’, observing her and talking to her openly and honestly without agenda the team discovers that trying to open the car boot in a busy shopping centre carpark when you are holding a toddler’s hand in one hand and bags of shopping in the other is very challenging. They also discover that trying to buckle kids into their car seats requires a gymnast’s flexibility when the car door can only open 2 feet because of the car parked right next door.

3. Reveal deep customer insights

A critical part of design research is analysing and synthesising the information collected, looking for patterns and trends, and telling stories about your customer with the aim of distilling insights into why your customer does the things they do and how their experience could be improved. Opportunities for insights often lie at the margins of potential user groups and the junctions between pieces of information. For example, in the mismatch between how a customer says they do something and what they actually do when you observe them completing the activity. Recognising that what may appear to be a somewhat strange action or work around is their way of coping with a world that is at times confusing, complex and contradictory. Design research helps you to identify patterns and trends which may ultimately lead to deep customer insights that provide opportunities for true innovation. Such insights can only occur with a deep understanding of your customer, their experience and their real needs.

For our car company, they observed that mother’s often got their car keys from their handbags long before they arrived at the car, holding them awkwardly together with shopping bags and children’s hands. Many mothers when interviewed omitted this step from their accounts of what they do. The insight was that mother’s need hands-free access to open the boot.

4. Test assumptions

Research weeds out fact from opinion, heresay and assumption. By speaking with potential users and observing their actions you see their approach, hear their thoughts and reasons firsthand, rather than second or thirdhand. Design research can reveal knowledge gaps and potential opportunities e.g. new markets, new technology, new materials, new processes for further investigation.

5. Creating fertile ground for innovation

Perhaps the most useful outcome of design research is that it sets the stage for creative problem solving and innovation. Innovation is not a lightbulb moment of genius. It requires deep understanding and the ability to make connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information. Only by having immersed yourself in the design research can you hope to uncover meaningful insights (connections) that are the foundation for innovation and creative problem solving.  Ideas do not form in a vacuum of information but from immersion in and exposure to a wide variety of relevant information.

For our car designers, their problem has become focused around designing a car with improved access to the boot and rear seats. They may look into alternative hands-free ways to open the car boot such as voice activation once the key is within a certain range. Or perhaps they will investigate other ways to configure the side doors so that they slide instead of hinge open or move upwards to enable easier access to children in the back seat.

So as you start your new projects this year full of optimism and excitement, don’t be tempted to skip the design research and dive headlong into solving “the problem”. While design can (and frequently does) proceed without the design research, without it, you will struggle to know what to design for whom and why. The result is likely to be mediocre, rather than delightful and engaging for your customer. So set yourself up for success and use design research.

Once you have done your design research and uncovered your deep customer insights, what do you do with them? In our next blog we look at taking your research insights and using them to develop strategies – for the business and the business model, for completing a project or developing a process and for approaching the design of the solution itself.

Image credit: Participants role playing in a focus group on the topic of ‘medical care’. "Research methods for product design" by Milton and Rodgers (2013).

Read more

8 reasons to use a qualified designer

2_8-reasons“Design thinking” has become the latest management hype and many organisations are busy jumping on the band wagon, believing they can do it all themselves. But design thinking is not a just part of a management “toolkit” that can be rolled out across organisations to a common recipe. Design thinking is grounded in the profession of design. It is a mindset, a people-centric, empathetic approach to problem framing and solution generation supported by an array of specialist tools and techniques.

Qualified designers complete a minimum of 4 years of training that teaches them core design thinking skills, research and design methodologies and tools and how to apply them to address complex challenges while always keeping the needs of the user at the heart of any design. When you partner with a professional designer, your organisation gains the benefit of their training, knowledge and skills to assist you in getting the greatest value out of design for your business. Just as you wouldn’t use a lawyer to complete your company tax return, or an engineer to develop your marketing strategy, you shouldn’t rely on non-design qualified practitioners to implement design strategically within your organisation.

Here are 8 reasons why you should partner with a qualified design professional to help implement and embed design thinking within your business:

  1. Opportunities not problems – Designers are naturally curious, explorative and driven to solve problems. In fact, the more hairy and complex the problem the better! Designer’s view problems as opportunities and our training has honed our skills in understanding, breaking down and re-framing problems to reveal insights and opportunities for solutions. Where many people see barriers, we see possibilities, where many throw up their hands in defeat, we rub our hands with glee!
  2. Unconstrained Vision – Designers have vision and imagine the future with a sense of optimism. We can imagine possibilities that do not yet exist without being hampered by the constraints of what is possible in the here and now. We can envision new experiences, new contexts and new markets that provide opportunities for growth. We can help develop company visions that inspire leadership, unite people and drive real organisational change.
  3. People driven – Designers are empathetic and have been trained to put people at the centre of all that we do. We are trained to change our perspectives, to conduct ethnographic research in order to develop a deeper understanding of our user, and to iteratively test and validate our assumptions with our user. We are the voice of the customer and advocate on their behalf throughout the process to ensure the final solution delights and connects.
  4. Embrace the unknown – Designers are comfortable working with ambiguity. Ultimately we trust that we have the skills, knowledge and tools to develop the best solution. This means that we do not feel compelled to grab hold of the first solution, but will keep exploring and developing, testing and evaluating until we find the best solution. We strive to push the boundaries of what is possible.
  5. Information integrators & insights extractors – Designers are integrators, capable of working with information from many different sources across multiple disciplines in order to extract meaningful insights and make connections others may not see. We have the ability to recognise patterns and emerging trends and draw parallels between seemingly disparate sectors to recognise opportunities and help drive innovation.
  6. Innovative solutions – Designers develop creative solutions to real problems by applying tools, techniques and methodologies to understand and define requirements, explore solutions widely and deeply, evaluate options, test potential solutions, reiterate designs and communicate possibilities.
  7. Collaborative co-creators – Designers are collaborative and thrive in team environments. We strive to bring all stakeholders along on the design journey to develop a common understanding, co-create visions for the future and build ownership of design outcomes.
  8. Visual storytellers – Designers are visual storytellers, communicating their ideas and solutions through visual mediums that resonate and connect with people. Be it a storyboard, process visualisation graphic, digital interface or physical model, the message is communicated in way that inspires and engages the audience leaving them asking for more.

So, if you’re struggling to gain traction for design thinking within your organisation, reach out to a professional designer.  At Scintilla Design we can help you envision your future, design a roadmap to help get you there and embed design thinking principles within your organisation for a more resilient future.

Read more