Lamy’s attention to detail in customer service

Several years ago my wife bought me a Lamy 2000 fountain pen as a birthday present. It is a design classic created by Gerd Alfred Müller, released in 1966. If you like writing, the Lamy 2000 is a lovely instrument1. It is not cheap either, retailing at around 190 Euros here in Germany. One of my favourite features about it is that the syphon mechanism is almost invisible in the Makrolon barrel. Only if you look carefully do you see the join and when you twist the end the end of the barrel unscrews to draw up ink. I also like the slightly hooded nib holder and the small spring that slips between the nib section and the body barrel, with two tiny protrusions that keep the cap on. All in all it is a great balance between aesthetics, minimalism and functionality.

7330546740 22e416ed1c b

(Image by ludalmg90 on Flickr)

For the past year I have been using a Pelikan 200 as my everyday pen, because I had a problem with my Lamy 2000 not drawing up the ink correctly. Last night I decided to clean my Lamy and take it apart to find out what was wrong. One of the lovely things about the design is that this is all possible to do yourself with no tools. As it happened, the rubber end of the syphon had folded back on itself, which is why it was no longer drawing up ink.

Lamy2000 autopsy

(A Lamy 2000 “autopsy” by user Lamy 2000 on Flickr)

I left everything to soak in warm water in a bowl, tipped out the water and put the pen back together only to discover my terrible error. Every website that talks about taking apart the pen cautions owners not to lose the spring that holds the cap on. It is just sandwiched between the nib holder and the main barrel, so it easily falls out. I have always been careful with this in the past, because it is only small:

Buyreplace fountain2000 ring

(Image from

But I had tipped mine down the plughole like an idiot.

After much swearing and searching—even shining a torch down the plughole to see if it had got caught there—I decided I would have to order a new spring. I headed over to Lamy’s website and filled in their customer support form to see if I could order one directly from them. I was expecting to be directed to my local retailer who would make the order and expecting the usual tedium of having to find one (not hard in Germany though) and waiting for them to order it.

Instead, I had a call this morning from the very friendly Susann Kießling at Lamy customer service. I didn’t quite manage to pick up the call in time, but, when I called the number back, she answered with, “Hallo Herr Polaine,” because she must have recognised the number. An entertaining exchange ensued in which she jokingly asked me why it was always men who completely dismantled their Lamy 2000s to clean them instead of just rinsing the nib. I explained that I was trying to fix it, but felt a little sheepish nonetheless—I imagined her receiving mails every day from hapless men who had wrecked their pens.

She said she would pop a new spring clip along with the syphon head in the post today. I asked how I should pay and she said, “with a smile” to which I laughed and she responded, “so now it is paid for.” Not only that, but she also mailed me to thank me for the enjoyable conversation.

We wrote in our service design book that there is only one kind of personal and it’s to actually be personal. Reading from a script or, worse, hearing a recorded “your call is important to us, please hold” is often worse than being impersonal in the first place. Frau Kießling’s warm and humorous manner, attention to detail and desire to help an idiot customer who took apart his 190 Euro fountain pen and lost a part of it was an example of getting this very right.

This reminded me of the (possibly apocryphal) story of the customer whose Rolls Royce axel/spring broke when driving over the Alps. Rolls Royce supposedly sent out engineers to fix it and when the bill failed to materialise, the owner was informed that his must be mistaken because “Rolls Royces never break down.” I was annoyed with myself for having lost the spring and Frau Kießling not only fixed my problem for free, but also made me see the humour in it and give me a laugh in the process.

Frau Kießling could have told me it would cost 30 Euros to replace and I would have paid it, slightly begrudgingly knowing it probably cost Lamy much less than that. But I would have paid it anyway, because my pen would be useless without it. Rather than use this as a way to blackmail me out of more money Lamy did the opposite. For little cost to Lamy beyond hiring a pleasant and smart customer service representative, the cost of the spring and the price of a stamp, they’ve now got a customer who will sing their praises.

The moral of the story here is how much details matter. I feel more confident that Lamy pay attention to details in their products because I see their attention to detail in their customer service. I also see the attention to detail in the customer service as a reflection of their manufacturing quality. The values reinforce each other. Companies who believe they don’t have to bother to care for their customers once they have got their money miss out on the true profit of building lifelong relationships with them.

Design Research Techniques

Design Research Techniques is an "online repository is a necessarily unfinished and evolving resource for Participatory Design Techniques. These techniques help evolve a project lifecycle through participation of multiple stakeholders including potential users or audiences, partners or internal teams."

Thanks to my colleague Axel for finding this resource. It is, indeed, unfinished, but quite a good source of design research methods (which is one of the courses I teach at HSLU).

Square Cash

Screen Shot 2013 10 20 at 16 11 07

I’m fascinated by Square’s new service, Square Cash, that allows you to send someone cash simply by sending them an e-mail and cc’ing Square’s service. Walt Mossberg’s review of the service has been doing the rounds and has most of the details you need to know. Basically, Square doesn’t really act as a money middleman in the way that PayPal does, they act as a transaction messenger, instructing each bank to pay or receive the cash.

From a service design perspective I find this a really interesting example for a number of reasons. Firstly, it tackles a market that is poorly served. PayPal has legendarily poor and hostile customer service but has a near monopoly in the market of small transactions. Amazon and Google both have their competing services, but you need to have an account with these too. While Square does require to enter your banking information once (obviously, you need to receive the funds at some point), it’s not much of an effort. Plus—and this isn’t to be underestimated—Square seem to be pleasant people.

Secondly, the service attempts to remove as many of the barriers to usage as possible and piggybacks on a existing and familiar service and paradigm. Most of us are used to the idea of sending money or a cheque in the mail (well, you’re used to it in the USA—we’ve been doing electronic transfers for free in the rest of the world for ages) and e-mail is a near universal tool for anyone with access to a computer or a mobile phone, the latter of which gives Square Cash real potential to expand.

Finally, the story of the service is well explained, partly because of the two previous points and partly because Square have an appreciation for the power of communicating well. Square is Apple to PayPal’s Microsoft in the aesthetics department.

Square really, really need to expand beyond the USA and Canada if they really want to grow. PayPal is active worldwide and this first mover advantage means they can continue to offer a crappy service and hold people’s money hostage as they see fit. Financial regulations around the world differ enormously and this often prevents financial services expanding, but there is a real opportunity to de-clutter and simplify this industry. Banks should have done this years ago, but they are still struggling to make decent online banking websites, so we can probably forget about them.

The slightly puzzling part of this is how and why they are offering the service for free. I can see that Square can use it as a way to expand their market and try and break PayPal’s dominance, which only exists because everyone else uses PayPal, despite its awfulness. I can also see that their might be relatively minimal costs, as Square don’t actually process the transactions. On the other hand, it must cost them something and I would really like to see this take off and not suffer from them not being able to find a revenue model for it. I’m sure Square have thought about all of this, so it will be interesting to see how they continue.

Interaction 14 Student Design Challenge

Now in its fifth year, the IxDA Student Design Challenge will run during the Interaction14 conference in Amsterdam, February 4-8, 2014. I’m happy to be on the selection jury again, though sadly I can’t make the conference itself due to a clash with our MA final presentation. (I’m particularly sad because it’s in Amsterdam, which is comparatively close to me and I was going to teach a service design workshop, but such is life).

The Chairs of the jury are Dianna Miller, Innovation Catalyst, Fidelity Investments and previous student competitor, Izac Ross, Interaction Designer, Cooper. The rest of the jury are:

  • Miles Begin, Director of Design, Enterprise Growth, American Express
  • Peter Boersma, Interaction Design Director at Blast Radius
  • MJ Broadbent, Principal, MJ Broadbent Design
  • Susan Dybbs, Managing Director of Interaction Design, Cooper
  • Ana Domb Krauskopf, Director, School of Interaction Design
  • Penny Hagen, Design Strategist, Smallfire/ UX Director DAN Auckland
  • John Payne, Principal, Moment
  • Andy Polaine, Interaction & Service Designer, Lecturer, Writer, Researcher
  • David Sherwin, Interaction Design Director, frog
  • Samantha Soma, GE Design & Experience Studio
  • Sudhindra V., Creative Director – Experience Design, SapientNi

Student design challenge records for life 666x412

This year the Student Design Challenge is in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who have chosen the Student Design Challenge to complement the foundation’s Records for Life contest that launched this month.

The Information for Life challenge will be to design ways to improve how, where, and when the child health record is distributed, accessed and used in order to make it a more effective tool for health information and education throughout early childhood.

I’ll be interested to see what the students come up with. It’s a challenge not only to develop the idea, but also to ensure the idea isn’t just based on naïve designer platitudes about poverty and health. There’s a reason why this is a wicked problem and not just a design problem.

Please spread the word and and, if you are student, think about entering. It’s a great opportunity to get feedback from the panel and to put your work in front of a lot of people. Prizes for the Student Challenge have always been good and this year include:

  • Travel to Amsterdam
  • Accommodation in Amsterdam
  • Complimentary student registration at the conference
  • Registration for a dynamic master class, held before the conference, to address these design challenges
  • Additional prizes will awarded on site

For more details, go and check the Student Challenge website and the PDF of the brief. You can follow the competition on Twitter under @ixdaSDC.