really? honestly?

The unstructured conversation

The old service dilemma – do a good job or do a cheap job. We often try to pretend that both are achievable. But they’re not.

Ask a group of consumers what service they’d like, and – without giving a hoot about cost – the inevitable answers come: “make it more about me” – “talk to me like a human being”. And, crucially, “take on my problems as your own, and come back to me when they’re sorted”.

The closer one gets as a service provider to offering this latter state of bliss, the less structured the interaction becomes. If I make you fill in some really complex forms, and offer very limited ways of capturing your information, it’s a pretty good sign that I’ve thought a bit more about me (and my costs), and less about you.

Here’s a couple of little giveaways:

– postcodes. Put in SW1A0AA, or sw1 A0aa, and watch things fall over. Why? Coz you have to put in a space (computer says ‘no’)… Well, of course you don’t really, it’s just the system we put in was a bit cheaper and didn’t allow for all the possible combinations of upper/lower case, with/without spaces, so you just structure it the way we ask you to. It’s not about you, after all…

– credit card numbers. Four blocks of numbers, separated by spaces? Oh. No you don’t. Coz you realise after tapping most of your number in that you’ve hit some kind of wall. We didn’t build it to allow spaces, coz, erm, we just didn’t. Start again. We like things structured here. Our way.

If your service providers haven’t thought the little things through, what makes you think they’re going to be great on the big stuff. And you can tell all this just from the application forms…

The unstructured conversation is the one we’re all asking for: freeform depositing of issues, returning later (as to the laundrette) to pick up the cleaned and ironed outputs. The “service wash” of consumer service, if you like. You really can’t be that surprised that it’s going to cost more, can you? And because of that, you’re not going to see so much of it. But treasure it when you do, and let the people know…


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Floppy logic


See this?

It’s the old favourite. Those stupid, stupid people who just don’t get it.

Well, sorry dear journalist. I know you get a big giggle every year out of this story: the crazy things people call 999 for (stuck toaster, broken hairbrush, and this year, rabbit-not-sold-like-I-was-expecting).

But, really, you patronising tosser.

Don’t you see that perhaps this is a real emergency? The person that called 999 over this – did they think “oh, I fancy a bit of a laugh today, and diverting responders from real emergencies, here goes…”?

No, they did not. They thought: “I am down to my last twenty quid, but I love my rabbits. I bought this one in good faith, and it turns out to have ears I wasn’t expecting. I have been robbed. I have been fiddled. I want the PPOOLLIICCEE!!!!”.

If you get the same sort of error message time and time again (in this case, the recurrence of silly news stories about daft 999 calls) this either tells you that there’s an unlikely coincidence of recurring random events. Or it tells you that there is something systemically wrong.

The fact that we read every year about 999 misuse could mean that people are just recurrently thick. And they never learn. But hey, let’s keep printing variations on the story until they do…

Or it could perhaps mean that the public don’t have channels available to them that actually meet their needs. Places to turn when things go very badly wrong. Whatever the scale of that wrongness.

Have a think about that next time you titter at “neighbour knocks down my birdbath, so I called 999”, coming to your newspaper about this time next year.

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