Chris Smith and Damian Kernahan's images side-by-side on a laptop screen, showing them together in Chris Smith Show Interview on 2GB.

2GB Chris Smith Show Interview Damian Kernahan 07 Mar 2019

Prototyping services in Australia

Chris Smith:
When a new product comes onto the market, whether it's a car, a mobile phone, some fitness gear, furniture, it goes without saying that it would have gone through some extensive testing. Products are given all sorts of tests like being dropped, crashed, torn, split, just to make sure they're up to standard. But, have you ever given any thought to what the testing process is for services?

Australians I think have a high standard when it comes to services, whether it's a bank, public transport, booking a holiday. We expect our experience to be easy and simple. Well, that just doesn't happen by chance. Most people probably wouldn't know this, and I certainly didn't, but there are businesses which specialise in what's called service design.

Prototyping a new transport ecosystem for Sydney Metro


For example, a huge test recently took place on the Sydney Metro where 150 people were bused up to a prototype train station to see what would happen when it was flooded with people. Real transport staff were there. People went through the gates with tickets. Some had prams. They had to go down the lifts all to test and ensure that the process was smooth and the metro was being built to what it was required to do in times of heavy traffic.

Damian Kernahan is the founder of Proto Partners, a Service Design Consultancy. I picked up his story in Money Magazine. I thought it was fascinating. Damian, thank you very much for your time.

Damian Kernahan:
Hi, Chris. How are you?

Chris Smith:
Very well. In the case of Sydney Metro, obviously the trains and tracks are checked and tested, but this is more about delivering customers good service, right?

Creating a surprisingly easy end-to-end journey for Sydney's growing popluation

Damian Kernahan:
Yeah, absolutely. It's a 24 billion dollar project, but the majority of that money goes into the product, and the tunnelling, and all the infrastructure. What Sydney Metro did on top of that, which hasn't been done a lot before, is ask, "How do we actually make this surprisingly easy from start to finish for customers?" Most of the time I think when they design these types of things they ask, "Well, how do I actually get from my house to my work, or where I need to go to?" The research we did, we went out and talked to people out in the Northwest, was yeah, that's all really interesting. I currently drive my car, which is really convenient and gets me to where I want to go. But, I might catch the Metro too, but if I can't get home then I won't catch it at all. So we actually needed to design from what we started calling from door-to door- to door (to the destination and back home again) so and that was a big breakthrough for Sydney Metro.

Chris Smith:
It wouldn't be an inexpensive exercise.

Damian Kernahan:
Listen, compared the 24 billion dollars it certainly is.

Chris Smith:
Good response. But, it is fascinating. How new is this kind of work?

The evolution of service design innovation

Damian Kernahan:
Well, it's quietly evolved over the last 20 years. In the UK and Europe they've actually been doing this since 1990s. We started 10 years ago when we came across it. My wife and I, we started the business, and we've been working on it ever since.

Chris Smith:
What are some of the more common types of businesses that you do service design for?

Damian Kernahan:
Typically, and the earlier adopters are the people who have picked it up first are the banks, and the telcos. Someone like Qantas has been doing this for quite some time, so if you think about catching a plane now compared to what it was like 15 years ago, it so much easier to check in and get on the plane. When you see concierges, or people in banks now welcoming you.

You never saw that 15 years ago, but you see that now because what they're trying to do is direct you to the most efficient, or most effective person in the bank to actually help you as quickly as possible. That's all the result of listening to customers who are saying, "I walk into a bank. I stand in line. I see people behind counters, but I'm not going anywhere."

Chris Smith:
Would you do a lot of research before you start advising these companies what they should be doing?

Damian Kernahan:
If we take the bank example, we go out and spend time in banks. We'll interview people coming out of them. If people are testing an online service we'll go to their home and we'll watch them go online. We'll watch them try and log in, or get their bank balance, or get their superannuation balance.

Chris Smith:
Yeah. Sometimes when I'm on those online sites I get so confused about where I need to go next. I want someone like you looking over my shoulder.

The gap between customer service and customer experience

Damian Kernahan:
It's amazing. The reason we started this is we saw the research, a large consultancy did when they interviewed 350 CEOs. The CEOs said, "We reckon we deliver superior service about 80% of the time." They then went and asked the same customers of those companies what do you think? They said, "About 8%." You can see this yawning gap between the companies think they're doing a great job. But, when you go out and talk to people you realise there's a way to go.

Chris Smith:
It's interesting. It's like the boss of any company, they tend to have a rose coloured glass view of how their company is performing.

Damian Kernahan:
Absolutely. They're busy going to meetings and doing all their tough stuff. Business and organisations are very complex now with all the digital ways we can contact companies. What we do is we go out and we just spend time with customers and we walk through the journey they go on step-by-step, inch-by-inch, and ask, "What's working for you, and what isn't?" And then we work out how we can fix it.

Chris Smith:
Would you agree that customer service in Australia is still well behind equivalent nations around the world?

Damian Kernahan:
Yeah, absolutely. There was an OECD study done a few years ago, which is one of the reasons we saw it, and I think we're ranking number seven. This combined with other study made us realise we've got to do something here.

Chris Smith:
Yeah. What's wrong with us?

Damian Kernahan:
Well, I don't know if it’s what's wrong with us, but I think what we're doing now is comparing services not within banks, or within health insurers, or airlines, we're comparing it to the last thing we did. If we use an Uber app and we see when the car is coming, and we know exactly where we're going, what time, and we pay really simply, then when we use the next online application in another category we ask, "Why isn't it that simple? Why can't these guys do what those guys are doing?" Therefore, every time it happens and improves the bar goes up, and up, and up.

Testing Sydney Harbour Bridge

Chris Smith:
While you're still there, Damian, here we were talking about Sydney Metro, the massive project that it is, and what needs to be done to ensure that it works efficiently. Ian from Rose Bay just phoned in. Ian, tell me your equivalent story.

Ian:
Well, the equivalent story is that my late father told me, that when they opened the Sydney Harbour bridge the day before, or the day before that, they got 100,000 school children to walk across the bridge.

Chris Smith:
To test it?

Ian:
Yes, to test it.

Chris Smith:
There you go. It was operating in the 30s, Damian.

Damian Kernahan:
Yeah well, except that they spent 10 years building it, or whatever it was.

Chris Smith:
That's right.

Damian Kernahan:
The difference here is before they actually went and built a real station they tested it, which is great. It's great progress.

Chris Smith:
Great stuff. Damian, all the best. Thank you very much for your time this afternoon.

Damian Kernahan:
Thanks, Chris.

Listen to the full Chris Smith Show from Thursday 7th March on 2GB

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