Mentalism for service delivery?

I hope I have left enough time between the broadcast of Series 3 of Sherlock, but just in case you are waiting to binge view, the following contains mild spoilers. (You do know he isn’t dead though, right? Otherwise Series 3 would be called Watson).

Sherlock Series 3 involves Sherlock returning from his overseas sojourn and finding Watson about to marry Mary. Sherlock is chosen to be Best Man. During the preparations, Sherlock uses his skills to vet the guests, confronting an ex-boyfriend who still holds a flame for Mary and using his powers of perception and deduction to discern which guests don’t actually like her based on their RSVP:

[scrippet] MARY (handing him an RSVP card) John’s cousin. Top table?

SHERLOCK (looking at the card) Hmm. Hates you. Can’t even bear to think about you.

MARY (looking up at him) Seriously?

SHERLOCK Second class post, cheap card … (he sniffs it and grimaces) …bought at a petrol station. Look at the stamp: three attempts at licking. She’s obviously unconsciously retaining saliva. [/scrippet]

Later, Mary’s bridesmaid Janine uses Sherlock to check out potential men at the reception:

[scrippet] SHERLOCK If that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for the man over there in blue is your best bet. Recently divorced doctor with a ginger cat, a barn conversion and a history of erectile dysfunction. [/scrippet] After watching Sherlock, I went on a bit of a mind wander through YouTube clips of the illusionist/mentalist Derren Brown (who has a cameo in Episode 1 of Season 3) playing tricks with people’s minds. Here he is reading car salesmen’s minds:

We talk a lot in human-centred and service design research about walking in the shoes of users/customers and looking for the differences between what people say and what they do; looking for needs rather than wants. But what would happen if we received service from someone who quite literally knew what we wanted or were thinking better than we knew ourselves? Could this kind of predictive ability provide the perfect service experience, much like the wine waiter who knows just the moment to fill the glass and when to retreat?

In some senses it would be wonderful—every need perfectly anticipated and satisfied before we even asked for it. But at what point would we reach the uncanny valley and the whole thing would become creepy? Getting it completely wrong, like Microsoft’s Clippy would be downright annoying, but what would be the sweet spot between just slightly wrong and too right?

I don’t know if training people delivering services in mentalism skills is going to be the way of the future, but technologies like Google Glass may well provide that kind of background information and feed it to service providers. The effects might be just as uncanny, but at least the advantage of mentalism is that you don’t look like a glasshole.

Update: After hearing about the death of writer, actor and director, Harold Ramis, I watched the film Groundhog Day again. It has similar themes and now I know the answer to some of my questions. Being able to predict people’s needs can be either creepy or wonderful—it all depends on your intentions.

Thanks to Ariane Devere’s transcriptions for the above Sherlock dialogue.

Swiss Design Network coordinator job

The Swiss Design Network (I am the HSLU Board Member) is looking for a coordinator to support the head office located at Bern University of the Arts BUA. You can read all this on the PDF description but here are the key details:

Relevant skills/experience:

  • experience in cultural, project and event management
  • research background in cultural and/or social studies
  • ability to work independently
  • networking experience
  • excellent communication skills in English and German
  • excellent skills in the managing of web platform, CMS and social media
  • interest in design as cultural phenomenon
  • located in Switzerland with a valid work permit

It’s a part-time position, so it would suit someone doing a PhD or not in a full-time post. It’s a good opportunity to connect with the design research world in Switzerland and beyond. Please pass it on to any friends, colleagues and ex-students you might think interested.

(The SDN site appears to be down at the moment. All the more reason we need a coordinator with skills in managing a web platform)

Services that fix services and the inverse experience umbrella

I often use air travel as the archetypal example of a multi-channel service that unfolds over time. Modern air travel consists of lots of minor annoyances that aggregate to a massive pain in the arse. When analysed individually, each of these annoyances can be dismissed as something not so bad that customers should be willing to put up, but it is the totally of the experience than counts.

Airport security is an area that is particularly awful and that people are resigned to. Much as the economy trumps social or environmental concerns, security trumps any kind of care for paying passengers’ experiences. That is unless you go through Sweden’s Göteborg Landvetter Airport, in which case security feels like an IKEA showroom.

I was intrigued to hear about Global Entry on John August’s Scriptnotes podcast as Craig Mazin’s One Cool Thing. By now it is common knowledge that the TSA is a disaster and swamp of scandals. Entering the U.S. feels like Kafka’s The Trial—a miserable, disorienting experience of being barked at by half-witted officials. Global Entry is a program that pre-approves people and offers them this service:

At airports, program participants proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingertips on the scanner for fingerprint verification, and make a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit.

In other words, exactly the smooth, hassle (and being hassled) free experience it should already be. It’s a paid-for service to fix another one that doesn’t work and an admission that the normal system is simply broken. At the moment it’s only or U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, Dutch citizens (oddly—why only the Dutch from Europe?), South Korean citizens and Mexican nationals.

Aboalarm, a German app and service that I’ve written about before does something similar, allowing people to easily remember to quit their phone and utility contracts and even helping them send a signed fax to the customer service centres. It works seamlessly, but should be what customers are offering their customers to do instead of deliberately making it hard for them to leave. There is always a market opportunity for services that fix other poor services.

The Inverse Experience Umbrella

A price umbrella is where an expensive product, such as the iPhone, leaves room in a market for a competitor to offer something cheaper. That competitor can eventually grown and start taking the market share of the company that originally created the umbrella.

Something similar can happen with customer experiences. Services that have awful touchpoints that become the norm leave a kind of inverse experience umbrella in which a competitor just needs to take a touchpoint experience that is universally accepted as being poor, but that is also the standard expectation, and turn it around to be a positive experience. It is precisely because the expectations are so low in the first place and that customers are resigned to it that the positive experience carries such weight.

Staying with the airline theme, one of the most recent examples of turning a universally ignored touchpoint was Virgin America’s Safety Video. The assumption of competitors appears to be that nobody ever pays attention to them, so why bother spending much money on them? The twist of deciding not to film it inside an aircraft cabin freed them up to create something that not only does not get ignored, but even got a glowing review in The New Yorker.

The challenge is to meet the expectations that have been set by the video across all the other touchpoints. One commenter on the New Yorker article wrote, “After watching the video I spent the rest of my flight searching in vain for something on Virgin’s in-flight entertainment programming that was half as much fun.”