How to Design Better Customer Experience by Acting

by Omar Aysha, May 15, 2012

Has designing your business service been entertaining?  I was introduced to a quick, fun and effective method during Sarah Drummond’s service design workshop at the Cairo Culture Shift event.

Sarah is co-founder of Snook, a Scottish service design agency. She started her entrepreneurial life when she won a Social Innovation Camp startup competition in 2009, with a feedback tool between public and police, called MyPolice. The success of the tool led to government agencies asking Sarah to redesign their services to better serve their customers. She refocuses service on the customer, as more often than not the customer’s experience is the last thing on an organisation’s mind.

Many of us have heard of being customer-centric before, and designing a user experience that delights.  This holds true whether your service is delivered through a mobile app, or face to face.  Yet traditional methods of service design can be long-winded. We’ve all seen the complicated flow-charts, mind-maps, customer surveys, and guesswork that can be involved. Sarah’s method was different.

The workshop was more like an improvisational acting class; there wasn’t a paper or pen in sight.  Role-play was the name of the game.  Get people to act as the customers, the employees, and even the objects they use.  In this instance we were told to act out the scene in an Egyptian driver licensing office.  One person became the desk, one the government employee, and everyone else wanted to get their license done and rushed the desk together. No one can deny that this is a familiar scene in Egypt. Of course none of the customers were happy.  So Sarah told everyone to re-design the experience, not to discuss the changes, just act them out so that others could get the drift. 

The group went through around a dozen iterations, the service evolving every time, until they all reached a system that appeared to please all.  One person was a ticket machine, every customer got a number, and waited their turn.  When their turn came they went to the desk and spent a short time filling in the “paperwork”.  Perfect ... until one customer went to the desk but only spent a second there.  When asked why she was so quick, she said it was because she’d “bribed” the employee to rush her application through!  So another re-design was in order, one that took bribery out of the equation.

This simple role-playing exercise was fun, effective, and surprisingly efficient.  The team had achieved in 30 minutes what an expensive business process analyst might have taken 2 months to do. It also engaged whole the team, so everyone bought into the final service. 

Literally put yourself into your customer’s experience, and you’re bound to design a service that your customer will be happy to use, and recommend. And a consistently happy and growing customer base means a bright future for your company.

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Omar Aysha is a former video-game developer, turned IT entrepreneur, turned writer, who now has a few media projects in development.