Sarah is a designer, CEO and serial idea generator. She co-founded Snook, MyPolice, CycleHack, Dearest Scotland, Alloa Pride and The Matter. She was awarded a Google Fellowship for her work in technology and democratic innovation and named in Good magazine’s 100 extraordinary individuals tackling global issues in creative ways. In 2018 Sarah was named by Nesta and the UK’s mainstream publication the Observer as a New Radical, individuals who are tackling society’s biggest challenges.
Daily, Sarah is the CEO of Snook, an award-winning global design consultancy based in London and Glasgow. Snook are on a mission to design a world that works better for people. In her time as CEO, Sarah has built an impressive client roster who have worked with her to redesign and innovate their services. Snook hold global firms like Tesco and Sodexo on their books to public sector organisations like the Scottish Government, the Cabinet Office and Government Digital Service.
She speaks on global stages around the world from Japan to Oman, and America to Australia. She has taught at leading educational institutions from RMIT to the Glasgow School of art, coaching the next generation of designers and makers. She writes about design, technology and services and her work has been featured in global media outlets and books in the design industry.
Designing for Service Failure
When services work, we rarely notice the design. Good service design should lead to a frictionless joined up user experience, no matter what ‘front door’ you come at it from, that helps someone do the thing they need to do.
When services fail, we see first hand the material that makes them. The cracks in a poor user experience become tangible for the user and often, we have to expertly navigate this ourselves.
Sarah will open up service failure, the affordances and impacts this has on the user experience and explore the ways in which services fail.
She’ll discuss a range of methods designers can use to mitigate this, and include designing for service failure in their design process.
Good start to begin with welcome, I'm Scottish so this means I'm going to have services that piss me off. You're about to get an insight of services that fail for me.
I thought I'd start here dear British airways. I flew out. It was late, I was tired and we were nearly the last passengers off of the flight. After a long wait and visa inspection there were a few bags left. A black suitcase went around and I picked it and left the airport. I opened the case and I find three pairs of socks, two pairs of boxers, a rugby shirt and a tub of Viagra. This is a true story. This is my life.
I realized at this point I had the same bag but the contents were not mine. I went straight out to Google and I called the British number and the U.S. number and was told to call back at normal hours and I tried calling you at 7 a.m. I had a ton of charges and I was routed through many lines. I was given somebody who idea how to solve my problem but I knew exactly what the problem was. I was routed to a website to sign up. As a customer all I wanted to know is to contact the other customer because I had solved the other problem with you and put us in contact with one another. But no, you tell me to take the case back to the airport. I explain I didn't have time. I needed to brush my teeth and then you sent me to what can only be described as the end of the internet.
To get a quicker response I then went onto twitter and I spoke with lots of people including Lola, Jason, Chris and Daniel and I tried to get help from you. You were quite responsive but your whole total sum was to accuse me of theft, of taking somebody else's bag. I tried calling again, I spent ages on the phone. Oh no, the sound is off. Very loud phone. Just because I was really angry. And, I spent a whole two days calling you back and forth just to find out if I can get some compensation to buy some new clothes and get some toothpaste and toiletries. I was trying to solve the problem for you and getting more and more pissed off. I spoke to reception and they said pack the Viagra up, put it in a case and if we manage to do something with it we'll give them the bag but probably won't happen and that I should call the police but this was the look when I did call the police they said this isn't our problem and we have better things to do and via ‑‑ and I get another call saying a very sorry looking man and swapped his case for mine.
In the hidden book of Facebook there was a message that said, hey, we left your bag at the hotel. Had to go to the airport today and wait a few hours to sort it. Our hotel never told us. Hope you enjoy the rest of your time in New York. What are the odds of two people on the same flight having the same bag. Thanks Mr. Like your Viagra but this is an exact case of service failure but also service recovery failure and this is such a huge topic. I'm only going to open up tiny little bits I'm interested in but I hope to learn more about this in the future. We can categorize this failure as a service performance that fails to meet a customer's expectations and complete the outcome they set to do. What is the cost of failure. What does this look like? In crude commercial terms in the U.S. economy companies lose more than 62 billion annually and it's anywhere from 5‑25 times more expensive to acquire a new customer. We can actually keep customers because it's more expensive to acquire them but it's kind of more serious when it get to stuff like this. You might remember the cervical cancer screening stuff about women being turned away and breast cancer screening as well. When services fail they can be way more critical than the commercial terms I'm talking about. We see this on a Daily Mail basis look at headlines like this. Describing things like big IT systems being, you know, the worst and most expensive contracting fiascos in the history of the public sector. So failure is so entrenched in our language that we expect it at every turn and a lot of it where we don't take risk to try new things is because we're trying to manage the risk of failure. One of my favorite examples of exemplifying our mental idea of failure is by an artist who is actually in the year I graduated from and she wrote thank you letters to companies saying thank you for allowing me to stick paper to the wall and the letter she sent to Jess sup's had an immediate response that said to provide a response we need to investigate. They haven't even read the letter. The expected failure.
There were all these framed letters and gifts given by different companies but she had to write back and said I've experienced no problems with you, I was writing to say thank you for the excellent service. We expect failure at every point and Francis mentioned the project we've done it's ten years ago now but where we opened up a feedback tool which the police thought was a bad idea and it was really risky because they were scared of being seen as a failure but 50% of the responses were positive. They were actually thank you. So we need to not be scared of failure. I will only pick a few of my favorites but you'll see a shot at my sad life. Services fail when the brand promise and your expectations don't match the experience that you're given. I don't know if anyone's heard of OFO,. It's basically one of the doc list bike schemes. It's a bike hide and seek.
But the promises that I can go if you remember the title, go anywhere you want to go on two wheels like literally, not anywhere but I'm thinking London in a kind of broad remit of where I can go. But the first time I can use it I got deducted ‑‑ I don't even know what the points were for going outside of the allotted area so the service failed me because my expectation was I could at least get on a 20 minute cycle but I'm not even allowed and let's not even talk about the UI as a failure and the bikes as well when you're a service provider and you're selling this experience. When you're not learning from how your service is actually working in real life you're sort of failing. I'm giving away a big GDPR thing. I live here if you want to find me and hang out. Someone just said, oh, don't stalk me, that's weird. But this was me looking for an OFO bike three days consecutively and you can see the bike's not moved and I was determined to find that bike and I was late for meetings like spending 40 minutes trying to find the effing bike and then I looked across my flight and it was here. And somebody kept it. Kept it hidden from me. So this idea of freedom, the brand expectation I can use it doesn't match up and that's a service failure for me so we have to look closely at where brands are. Wanting to rent a car on the day. Wheels when you want them. So I want them now, in the next hour, but signing up the APIs and the governance behind this isn't able to fix my license so three days later I get my Zipcar card. We need to set expectations across the service design and that brand development shouldn't exert the design and we need to bring the principles into what we are delivering. Another reason why services fail is when there are dead ends. Like you I want to pay my council tax, give the council and local government some money. This is a text message I got from my local provider and it was saying, go here online or call and the reason I wanted to call is because it told them that I actually was due like a lot of money. So I gave them a call.
>> Please check the number and try again.
>> So, we didn't get anywhere and then it went back to the letter and I said, right, I need to find a way to go online. It's telling me all the different ways I need to pay so I tried again.
>> Thank you for calling the (speaker far from mic).
>> I'm sure you're all feeling the pain but when you go online you can't pay online. So we end up in these loops of inherently not being able to do anything. It's a really basic principle. It's quite fun to pull these things apart. Make sure there's no dead ends. Make sure you don't send customers to dead ends and make sure you use live scenarios to do it.
I see a lot of organizations we work with who do quality assurance but only tested the digital component of it.
Services also fail when we're exposed to those behind them. If you're caught in a power out energy companies get the brunt of that. We go to our own touchpoint that we understand but actually you got to get to the people, the grid providers, so the top is explaining to people if there is a power out don't call your energy provider, call the grid so as customers we shouldn't really have to know who is actually powering stuff because it's kind of hidden from us to keep it quite simple and one of the examples I've been using recently. I don't know if anyone's use this had product. I fainted the first, it's sad, send a prick of your blood, it's actually a squeeze which is why I fainted to this service and they'll kind of like test you to see if you've got, like, diabetes, like high cholesterol, any vitamin deficiency and two weeks later I got an e‑mail that said how to decrease your bad cholesterol and I haven't even had any results yet.
I was like oh my God I'm going to die from eating, like, lard. I don't eat lard. But I'm going to die and I went straight onto connect with them. I think it was a sad and this online chat was like you can chat to us at any time but it was actually saying we'll be back on Monday. What thrive are trying to do is I'm trying to hire as a service, so it takes away me having to go, not have to go to doctor but takes away the Monday to Friday because I feel what I'm trying to hire is an everyday service I can use in my time but what it's doing is masking the fact that it works with an infrastructure that is based on a Monday to Friday model and they fail you these services and they try to mask a kind of model that we're used to. What happened anyway if anyone from thrive is in the room. I hope you used your own product is actually it goes to spam so that's just a little help for you and you can find your results but even in the instructions it's clear you have to take your test Monday to Friday and it gets to them on time so they can test it. We really need to be careful about giving people like myself like a service user freedom to use a service at any point but actually not really having that freedom. Similar for Dart Charge. Don't know if anyone's been charged by Dart Charge. They didn't tell me I needed to pay to use the bridge. I and then I got a really long letter.
It said dear Sarah, the Secretary of State has received notification of the traffic control center about the witness statement.
I thought, oh my God, that you made against PCN so I started freaking out like who the hell is the Secretary of State? Like I don't know. So kind of like a funny point around that one is don't force your users to become experts of your systems. Think about what your user needs to know about your systems and what they don't and be agnostic of your organizational structures. When we design services we have to be agnostic of those structures. I'm going to say content design, that's enough so another reason that services fail is when, and this is quite a big one I think when there is no flex in the system and that actually kind of stems from a lot of engineering models but we often get this. Oh. I run a business. It's really boring.
>> (Speaker far from mic).
>> Sorry a bit drum and bass to keep it GDPR.
>> And your code. Sorry, I can't match those details. Please say or key your account number again. Are you feeling the pain?
>> Okay. On the back of your card, please say or key in your digital security code now.
>> Don't have my card on me.
>> Was that 5518?
>> Sorry. Please say or key in the three digit security code?
>> I don't have my card on me. I just want to ask you a question.
>> Sorry I am having difficulty. Would you like to speak to an advisor?
>> Please hold an advisor. Customer feedback is really important to us. Take part in a short automation survey.
>> It's already starting.
>> No. Definitely not.
>> Anyway, sorry, it's just like, I have a Dropbox full of those. I'm really sad. There's no flex in the system there to get what I want and that's a bit of a kind of great example in terms of showing up on Bank of Scotland's phone line but as we get more serious we need to have flex in the system in order to meet people's wants and needs. I'm not going to talk much of our work today but one of the projects we've been working on is supporting the home ‑‑ a system design of homelessness and West Sussex and we've been talking about not talking about user needs because they don't really allow for any flexibility and this hit us hard when we heard the stories coming back but one of the providers was saying was some of the things is I need help with all of it. I thought that was a poignant thing of what we were doing and building relational services that we understand and want. And I come back to these components. When we design services. Much more about care of the welfare system or health. And how what we need to do when we are thinking about the delivery which is mostly done through frontline staff at that point of care is helping them understand what they can flex. And there's two I think this is they really need to know is what are the risks, I've been very clear about what the risks are that they need to manage and what are the outcomes they need to achieve and given the autonomy in order to achieve these and what that looks like in practice is a really great ‑‑ if you have not heard, a design called the Wigan deal which is part of Wigan Council and they're doing some phenomenal work in the way they commission and design services.
One of the things they changed is looking at elderly man with dementia who spent everyday being collected by mini bus and being sent to a center he hated and they took his cost down from 2,000 pounds to 20 pounds a month by taking him to a taxi and taking him to the local rugby club and that typifies a different approach and we actually manage those risks and outcomes. And that looks a little bit like this. The risk for staff is you can't travel alone but we'll get him in a taxi so that's 20 quid. You can spend up to 2 grand. You can use anytime of day and the outcome we want is for him to be active and build a network around him. We talk about services and make sure we reduce failure. There's lots of studies but frontline employees really do play a crucial role in service delivery and recovery. Because they have an understanding of the constraints due to what the budget is and being close observers. We need to invest in that flex. For when stuff does fail we can make that happen and there's been kind of a lot on the internet recently about are we more relational services, are we more transactional services and how do we design for that? We need to design both relational and transactional services. What I mean by that is there is the autonomy and flex in the front facing conversation and relationship between people delivering and cocreating and receiving services with people.
So services fail. When customers can't solve their own problem. You might have been privy to one of these. You get to the train station, it's out of service. But what you do as a customer is you're able to solve the problem yourself. We're quite robust as human beings in being able to redesign things ourself. My dad lives at number eight and I've been buzzing number five for years pissing him off so much. As humans we resolve stuff ourself. I have enjoyed for a while and this may not continue but in the early days we were good at explaining problems. So when I double paid at Marks & Spencer for Prosecco they were able to explain why that happened so I could fix the problem myself.
But the most pertinent example I have of late is Uber and this is just me being silly but anyway. Like many of us, I left my phone in an Uber cab at 2 in the morning. I had a little bit to drink. And I got in touch with someone because I obviously couldn't use my phone. I walked home, told them I lost it. And they sent me some tips saying all we need to do is log into the app and I was like I don't have my phone so that doesn't work. Oh, go on your laptop and do it. But like you most of us have two step authentication set up. You can't get in and it doesn't work and I trolled Uber. And I couldn't work this out why they couldn't get this use case right. They know the number one thing people lose in taxis is phones. So they should understand that failure point and they really should because when you look at their service they have their own support accounts for people that are pissed off and lost stuff. But because I'm a clever human being I came up with my own plan to get my phone back. I remember my partner's phone was tracking me so I could see where my phone was. I was following it around London. This was like 3 a.m. in the morning. I had slightly sobered up, so I'm not proud of this behavior but I decided to go on my bike and chase my phone. And I don't know if this will work but it looked a little bit like this, that's me going quite slow just in the same distance. That's the taxi moving. I cycled until 6:20 a.m. in the morning. For real. That was a bit stupid but then I realized that when ‑‑ when I realized I would be really silly, also the radius of where you can find your phone is quite big but hey, I was looking for a big black car in London. I find that my phone was settled and rested and ran out of battery so so lucky we got that screenshot and used the vehicle checker and went all the way out to Chadwell Health. This is my finding the car very hung over.
Being like bad cop and then we had to knock on doors and I just went total bad cop mode and I said you got my phone. And this guy was like, I think you need to talk to my brother and we got the phone, yay. Found it.
And I solved the problem myself but that whole time Uber had been telling me, I had been calling and calling and they said we can't connect you with the driver. And I said I need to connect with the driver and I don't think if someone will take my phone. So I was trying to solve the problem myself so the thing they always say to organizations is test common failures with users and let them solve problems and find out how they might solve their own issues as well and also test with people who are not like you so we often get a lot of people testing with their friends and mates in a pub but we're really trying hard and I know a lot of the industries as well to try to make design more inclusive. If you're interested in, we just had inclusive recruitment and design, so we're trying to build more inclusive teams that we can test with so finally failure's often defined in relation to expected outcomes and this is quite a biggie I think to finish on is often when we think about how successful a service is, it's actually really defined by outcomes set before you as a designer even get to the table so if you look at things again like in the headlines about work programs failing, things like this we get people into jobs we don't keep them in jobs is that success or is it a failure. It's successful because we got people into work but was it success in the long run and what do we deem as proper outcomes. We have problems with things like this like payment with results that tend to cherry pick and focus on people that are the most vulnerable. And one of the things that we did was look at how you get people in school to make the right decision what touch points are in front of them to make the right decision to go forward in a kind of positive way and in Scotland we kept using this language called getting young people into positive destinations and the first thing I did was sit at a table and say to all the policymakers what do we mean? What do we actually mean by positive destination? Because the policy, if I got a young person into a lifelong career into McDonald's it's a positive destination but a success not a failure.
That comes back ‑‑ I just used a pixelated Daily Mail picture because I don't care about them.
We operate in this space but we're governed by what public policy says. Our services have an impact on public police and the medium discourse both the impact on this and this. We fail because ‑‑ this, this and this interservice design and delivery and we really need to as designers to look up, down, left and right.
And it's not necessarily our job but I think it is actually part of our job. We really need to look at that and I say start with values, debate the outcomes and don't worry if you can't change it all and lastly we fail when we don't accept that failure is inevitable. There's a kind of theoretical concept called normal accidents which basically says everything will go to shit at some point. Don't read the book. That's it. There's always going to be catastrophic potential. When we see people designing for service recovery when they give out quick and easy way to exchange pandemonium but not actually testing the service recovery. We really need to think about actually designing better for these. And a really nice example was for LNDR when my train was delayed when they replaced my sadness with free wi‑fi. They save the day with their service recovery. We have to design the service recovery processes. Service failure isn't really the responsibility of the designer alone.
When we design services, we are all designing so it's not just designers, capital D we are all designing in a system. We are all responsible for it whether you work in policy, finance, everything we all make is for a system that doesn't work for all people.
We need to look up, down, left, right and work with other people and I put this in because I knew I'd fail in my presentation, stop here if you're running out of time but I had some more. Hopefully you enjoyed my rants and moan. It's made you think about actually when services fail and the last thing I really wanted to say on that is sometimes it's really hard to know what good services look like and good service design looks like but if we start actually with what's bad we can reverse it and understand where we need to go. Thanks for listening.