Large stack of files and paper.

Are you making life harder for your customers?

A recent article noted how much time ‘life admin' takes up and how we should reset the balance this year.

That started our team of Service Designers talking about other ‘New Year, New You’ reads that promise to help us achieve more of what we want. So much more happiness and zen, we’re promised, if we “sign up for the latest telco/banking/insurance/superfund with its brand new service/technology/app”.

Of course, Proto’s designers are fascinated by these nirvana scenarios because we see the other side of the customer story. We hear daily how customers have their life admin increased exponentially by poor service design. Organisations that should be making it easier and quicker to ‘get life done’ are often doing the complete opposite.

The responsibility for fixing mistakes or inefficiencies seems to be sliding back on customers.

“These utilities and big companies are very good at making sure they have processes in place that make sure that they don’t lose any money but are very bad at processes that protect the consumer. If they ever overcharge you, they muck you around. Then apparently, that’s your problem to fix.”

- Reader comment, SMH

Customers are judging organisations less warmly on the highs – and increasingly harshly on how it feels ‘when things go wrong’. But do organisations really intend to create such a negative experience?

A lot of organisations (small and large) are moving to build new backend digital platforms. These ensure straight-through processing of customer requests. In other words, organisations want to enable customers to resolve problems themselves.

When it works, its a win/win for the provider and for the customer. As customers, we can access our account 24/7 and complete tasks without fuss. We move on with our lives and our provider has saved the costs of paying a human to undertake the transaction.

It makes perfect sense. Nearly every organisation we speak to is aspiring to this seamless, weightless design. Why shouldn’t they?

Because aspiring to do something isn’t enough.

And - unless your organisation is able to invest millions of dollars and has a large project team at their disposal - such aspiration will drive serious problems.

Without the resource commitment to truly understand and articulate a journey for every episode and variation and experience of customers, straight-through processing is unlikely to be possible ‘when something’s gone wrong’.

“Many of the so-called productivity benefits claimed by both private and government organisations are nothing more than the transfer of their costs to customers. And when an error happens, finding someone to talk to to have it corrected takes up a lot of time. My time.” 

- Reader comment, SMH

The result is a frustrating experience for the customer - and a far more frustrating experience for staff who eventually gets the customer on the line.

Brands have to shoulder a lot of responsibility for adding to our jobs and life admin rather than making it easier and quicker to “get life done”.

So how can you reduce your customers’ life admin?


Here are four areas to discuss within your organisation or team:

  1. What’s the customer problem that requires solving and have you identified the customer truth before you start a project? When you’re considering developments, is the proposed digital experience actually solving a real customer problem?
  2. Can your systems actually support the truth that you believe you’re designing for? Or is it going to take years of investment to arrive there? And what do you do in the meantime to help customers who are still using suboptimal legacy systems and processes?
  4. Have you experienced your organisations' service the way a customer experiences it? Not the way you think it works or the way it should work but how it actually works when a customer engages? Putting on your own customer hat to test out your organisations' service will shed a lot of light.
  5. And truthfully, must every customer journey be digital? When they’re not supported by the digital journey, what’s the safety net for customers? How can they interact with you in a seamless way that doesn’t send them into an endless maze of chatbots, IVRs, long waits for call centre service - or call centre reps who themselves have to navigate systems and processes on the customer’s behalf?

Customers aren’t really looking for Zen. Or miracles. What they do seek are those providers who keep the promises made when customers sign up for their service. And when things go wrong (as they inevitably will), we all want service design that ‘lightens the life admin load’.

If anyone doubts how harshly customers speak, check out the almost 100 comments at the bottom of the SMH article.

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