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Depicting service design scenarios

What’s the best illustration style for storyboards?

2015-02-17 00.55.48
Tools of the storyboard trade.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with how to depict service design scenarios, so that I can online-test them. I started by writing each scenario from the perspective of the customer, as well as the employee, then drew rough draft story boards for each:

Scenario 1, customer perspective:

Concept 1aWhenever she’s at Target, Ann checks to see if the Cascadian Farm Cinnamon Raisin Granola is on sale. Whenever it is, she buys one or two boxes. It’s her favorite cereal, but she feels that at the regular price it’s too expensive for her to justify as an everyday purchase.

This afternoon, Ann is at Target browsing for clothing. She’s looking at a rack of tights and socks when a Target employee walks by. He stops and says to Ann, “Hey there – just wanted to let you know that we are having a sale on Cascadian Farm stuff, like cereal and granola bars!”

Ann is happy to hear this, and when she’s done looking at clothing, she goes over to the grocery section to get a box of the cereal.

Scenario 1, employee perspective:

Concept 1b

Jay is an employee at Target. Today he is tidying up the displays in the clothing department. He carries with him a mobile device that was given to him by the Target manager – the device has information that he can give to customers to help them have a better shopping experience.

He glances at the mobile device as he walks by the socks display. It shows that a customer who is currently browsing the socks display is a big fan and frequent buyer of Cascadian Farm Cinnamon Raisin Granola, but only when it is on sale. It prompts him to mention the current sale to her.

Jay says to the customer, “Hey there – just wanted to let you know that we are having a sale on Cascadian Farm stuff, like cereal and granola bars!” The customer smiles back.

What I’m struggling with is refining the drawings for my online test. I don’t want to make them too “finished” or “polished,” because to do so would not invite criticism as readily, and I want honest criticism of my concepts. (Furthermore, I want to de-emphasize the aesthetics here, and instead focus people’s attention on the service concepts.)

My first attempt at a more refined storyboard is all wrong:

Scan Storyboard-01
Scenario 1, customer perspective

Scan Storyboard_Artboard 2
Scenario 1, employee perspective

I think they’re too busy and don’t fully emphasize the service.

What direction should I go in?

**Update: A classmate suggested a gray background to increase the attention on the characters:

1 c_Scn 1 c

Service concept directions

I’ve decided to go in a new direction, focusing less strictly on travel and airports, and focusing more strictly on in-person interactions. (So, I won’t be pursuing those airline app newsfeed concepts. Instead, I’ve converted them into services that a human service agent can provide, instead of a mobile app.)

With my advisers’ help, I’ve decided to work along these categories:

  1. Category 1: Employee gives customer information about something new or valuable related to the store (i.e., new information relevant to customer’s interests, new products, information that previously was not relevant to customer, but now is)
  2. Category 2: Employee helps customer make a better choice
    1. This includes avoiding customer mistakes
  3. Category 3: Acknowledgement and recovery from service breakdowns
  4. Category 4: Recognizing the customer’s loyalty
    1. This includes quantified self-y stuff, thanking the customer, showing familiarity/recognition
  5. Category 5: Service orientation data collection & provision. (New data enters the system via the human channel)

Preliminary concepts

After the poster review session, where faculty, students, and guests commented on our work thus far, I’ve decided to focus my concepts more strictly on service interaction designs that use customer data.

In the meantime, while I work on my more focused concepts, I thought I’d post some of my earliest concepts here.

concept 1
Feeling a lack of control while at the airport came up in many interviews. Gate agents especially noted this, on behalf of their customers.

concept 5

concept 2

concept 4

concept 3

What’s my elevator pitch?

I've been presenting my ideas as storyboards like these. But is it the best way to communicate service designs?
I’ve been presenting my ideas as storyboards like these. But is it the best way to communicate service designs?

For the past two weeks, I’ve been working on the way I communicate what I’ve done and where I’m going on this thesis. (I’m thinking about this now because on Friday, there will be a research expo where faculty give feedback on students’ work so far.)

It’s not easy to sum up several months’ of work, including the interesting false starts and abandoned concepts, into a quick spiel. Even just naming the concept space (personalizing in-person customer-employee interactions using technology and customer data) is a mouthful. And, it doesn’t cover the target audience (frequent air travelers) or why it’s a problem worth solving (improving customer experience as well as giving employees the tools to do their jobs better–and therefore increasing employees’ job satisfaction). On top of all that, I have a real desire to convey that my as-yet-undefined design concepts will be applicable to other contexts, from retail to government services or even medical provider interactions.

There are a lot of questions I’d like to preempt when I talk about my project:

  • Why add more face-to-face time at the airport? It’s a well-oiled machine as-is. My answer to this is that I’m looking to redesign interactions that take place during times of service failure (e.g., flight delay or ticket change). The status quo is that when everything is going fine, passengers barely interact with the human operators at the airport, from TSA to baggage claim, and that’s ok! It’s when something goes wrong that passengers get dissatisfied and employees have to deal with unpredictable situations.
  • How would all this even work? Where does this customer data come from? I’ve done a lot of research on what kind of data is available to airlines, airports, and retail/food service about their customers. The airlines are rather secretive, making it complicated to design for partnerships between organizations. However, I feel confident based off what I’ve learned from the experts I’ve interviewed that the airlines (if not the airPORTs and shops) have a wealth of data about those passengers who belong to the frequent flyer programs, and so with a little additional data collection, these companies could programmatically provide personalized experiences for each passenger just like Amazon and Netflix do for members who log on to their websites and apps.
  • Well then, how would employees use all this data? That’s part of my design challenge that I’ll need to work out by testing preliminary concepts with people who actually work at airports currently (gate agents and flight attendants primarily). I hope to do this in interviews or focus-group-like sessions.
  • Is this a problem worth solving? To answer this question, I’m looking for ways to explain how interpersonal service interactions, perfected in the commercial sphere, could inform the way people consume AND provide services in non-commercial fields as well, such as medical therapy or public sector services. I’m struggling to illustrate that, though, without a well-designed, user-tested scenario to point to as an example.

What I’m realizing is that a 30-second elevator pitch can’t convey every bit of research and planning. I think anyone who devotes a lot of time to a project wants to make sure that their work doesn’t go unnoticed, even those less glamorous tasks like reading reports from the Airports Council International of North America about airport revenue sources and why they’re changing.

Therefore, maybe the real work in writing a pitch is to figure out what aspects can safely be left out.

An experiment in human to human interaction at the airport [NY Times article]

The New York Times’s David Weinberg tried bribing airline employees and fellow customers to give him an upgrade.

On the plane, I could not persuade anyone in a seat with extra legroom to switch places for money. I was surprised; I said I was willing to go as high as $100 and told them I needed to sit close to the front to exit quickly once we landed.

Weinberg offers his own explanation for why his fellow customers were unwilling to engage in this unorthodox social practice:

I also ran my experiment by Tom Bunn, a former airline captain (whose employers included United) and a licensed therapist. … For many people, he said, the act of flying is incredibly stressful. It is not so much because of long security lines and cramped seats, but because of the psychological act of giving up control, of leaving solid ground. Settling into an assigned seat, he said, is part of the process of quieting their anxiety. “So any change they have to face, they would rather not face it,” Mr. Bunn said.

What would it take to make customers feel comfortable engaging in new interaction patterns—with employees, or even with one another, like Weinberg attempted? I hypothesize that if an airline employee, especially a flight attendant, were to initiate an “unusual” social behavior, customers might be more accepting of it than the people David Weinberg met were.

Apparently, these folks don't want to give up control.
Apparently, these folks don’t want to give up control.

Can existing behavioral economics research help me develop concepts?

This afternoon, I came across a recent blog post by the product design “thought leader” Nir Eyal, which succinctly describes why loyalty programs are such an underdeveloped area of customer experience:

Marketing professors, store managers and executives are still not sure how effective these initiatives are. One puzzle is the link between participation and loyalty. It’s not that strong. Millions of Americans are enrolled in at least one loyalty program, but just a fraction of them are dedicated customers. Typically, loyalty programs work only to the extent that they reward customers who are already loyal.

Mr. Eyal then mentions research that shows that when customers think they’ve invested something in a service, they’re likely to stick with it:

[One group of customers] received a card with an offer to “buy eight car washes and get the ninth one free.” The second group of customers received a card with a slightly different offer. They were awarded one free wash for every ten purchases, but they were also gifted two free credits … twice as many people in the second condition completed the stamp card; having earned two credits, the feeling of progress nudged them to return. Nunes and Dreze term this tendency the endowed progress effect…

I feel like a lot of behavioral economics applications for product design focus on apps and digital services. But lately, with my advisers, I’ve been discussing ideas that strictly encompass customer-employee interactions. (If you’ll recall, that was my original research area when I began the thesis project in April.)

What if informing customers of their past interactions with these people (pilots, gate agents, flight attendants, ticketing agents, even baggage handlers) could engender loyalty by giving the customer a sense of investment in the company? What if acknowledging the customer’s past efforts could improve customer satisfaction?

I think behavioral economics research could provide inspiration for designing customer-employee interaction concepts that actually have a chance of providing some benefit to travel companies.

Tim Wu writes about the decline of airline customer experience.

In this week’s New Yorker, Tim Wu writes about how the companies we buy from affect our quality of life in “Why I Left United Airlines”:

The quality of our day-to-day life has come, in large part, to depend on a few companies that are responsible for the service-intensive industries upon which we all rely. I’ve come to think that the ritualized abuse that we, as consumers, have become accustomed to in so many areas of life is a sad indictment of our civilization. So, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, I didn’t actually leave United Airlines: the airline left me.