Thursday, 23 October 2014

Better workspaces help drive better customer service

The recent UK Customer Service Institute survey showed that, across all sectors, levels of customer satisfaction have fallen in recent years.  The economic situation is of course playing a part and this is potentially driving some organisations, as the economy recovers, to push for winning new customers at the expense of focusing on serving existing customers.  Consumer expectations are also going upwards, they are more likely to use things like social media to air any discontent and their needs and preferences are rapidly changing.

For organisations addressing this, they will take various measures, some strategic, some tactical.  This should include examining the service design and those touchpoints where business and customer interact.  An often over-looked approach is integrating this with improvements to the working environment of the staff who deliver the service and the experience that customers want.

The key message, we think, is that for your people to deliver great customer service they need to be engaged with the business and they need to be working in an environment that supports their work and enables them to be high performing.

The challenge is in developing a workspace that is designed around and is adaptable to the individual needs of the range of people who work there.  Often the design focuses more on the corporate objectives for the workspace: maximising utilisation of floor space or a top-down belief in what might encourage more collaboration, creativity or innovation from staff.

A user-centered approach to workspace design is a way of getting to understand the individuals from the bottom up.  This will explore the range of tasks and activities they undertake, the different personalities, the different psychology and the variety of needs.

This approach says that they matter as individuals, and they are not just a body at a desk.  It can direct the design to create more personal spaces, allowing people to form relationships with those around them, it can create personal privacy, spaces where sensitive issues can be discussed, etc.

Technology in the workplace is seen as a major enabler to collaborative and effective work.  But to do that it has to be almost invisible in the process and it has to be usable for staff and, where appropriate, for customers.

It’s about getting the environment right.  Most workspaces these days tend to be more open.  Of course this can help collaboration and communication but it is also frequently a source of distraction and disruption.  Part of the solution can be providing a range of different spaces for people to work.  But it also requires that more attention is paid to the acoustics and understanding the impact of speech intelligibility on distraction. Providing good access to daylight and a connection to the outside world is well understood as important for wellbeing and effective work.

It’s about getting the details right.  Simple things like providing a place for coats and personal belongings.  This reflects that people have them with them and want them at work.  So why pretend that they don’t exist for some aesthetic purpose?

It is also about focusing on the wellbeing of the people.  Many organisations do good things to try and promote healthy living: free fruit, gym membership, etc.  But not enough attention is paid to the workspace and how to encourage healthy, dynamic postures and exercise during the day.  For example, sit/stand workstations are still a relatively rare sight in the UK work place.

Investing in good workspace design is a key component in getting staff to better engage with the organisation and have a sense of place and roots in the DNA of the company.  It is about feeling valued, that the organisation sees them as an individual not some interchangeable component; seeing their place in the history of the company and sharing a common purpose.  

It is about projecting the values of the company to all: showing that staff are important suggests that customers will be too.

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Saturday, 4 October 2014

Are virtual holographic assistants of value?

Our local station, Kings Cross, now has one of these holographic assistants reminding people not to take heavy luggage up the escalators but to use the lift instead.

You will note that just to the right, at the bottom of the escalator, is a sign giving the same message. That sign has been there since the station reopened and, we can assume, has not had any impact on people carrying luggage on the escalators and presumably on accident rates.  So they have decided to add to it with this more visible solution.  (this was also picked up by The Guardian)

These holographic assistants have become more common place since we first saw them at Luton Airport a few years ago.

We think the lessons for their use are much clearer now. The main point that they are not a replacement for a real person and should never be used as such.

What they do provide is a different channel to communicate information in a way that can attract attention. In this case, and the same when used to prepare passengers for airport security areas, they deliver information in a way that makes us notice least for a while. This is good in places where static signage is not very noticeable, perhaps because of the complexity of the environment, and is clearly ignored.

The design challenge is probably reflected in the need to regularly vary the way in which this same information is presented as we become desensitised to each approach.

This should include the use of more playful solutions, which we have highlighted a number of times on this blog.  Although designed as a promotion for the Simpsons movie*, you could argue that this was a great way to draw peoples attention to the end of the escalator and improve safety.

* actually it looks like this was never used as an actual advert and the escalators in the movie was created by a street artist in Frankfurt.

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