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Don’t improve services, kill ‘em!

Blog: Strategic Structures

Photo by Dana Vollenweider

It could be only in my bubble, but my ears now ache from louder and louder service improvement talk. Ever better ways to map customer journeys, to analyse touch-points, and to improve user experience. I get it. It’s all good, or at least the intention is. But I can’t help thinking how much it resembles the process improvement hype. It lasted until some remembered Drucker’s words that “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”, and embraced Lean. Others embraced Lean on other grounds. In fact, it wasn’t much more than just zooming out. The focus changed from processes to the whole business and improvement included getting rid of unnecessary processes.

That’s understandable, you may say. Processes generate costs. Getting rid of processes cuts costs. Services, on the other hand, generate revenue. No obvious reason to get rid of them but plenty of reasons to come up with new services and improve the current ones.

And yet there are so many services I don’t want to have a better experience with. I want to have no experience at all. Take a thousand-year-old service, shoe repair. The best experience with it is not to have one. If my shoes need repair, the only thing I value is to have them repaired, possibly overnight and without me attending to it.

Now governments are coming up with various service improvements. First getting them online, then showing care of the taxpayer online experience. But no matter how convenient it is to fill in a tax declaration, I don’t want to touch it. I have a life to live. And I also don’t want to spend any time paying my taxes. Even if it’s just a few clicks on my mobile. Taxes should be automatically calculated and paid, without any participation from my side apart from concent and option for monitoring. On that path, there are issues of trust, business models and technologies. But addressing them takes a different kind of thinking.

The word service has gravity. It attracts in the same way whatever is labelled as such. And the same way of thinking about all services guides their design. But how to think differently?

We can start with a service classification. There are a 100 already but let me suggest one more. Service classification 101 has only three types: Repair, Compliance and Preference. A better way of calling them would be As-I-had-it, For-I-have-to, As-I-want-it.

There is nothing to specify for a repair. The specification is the state before being broken and that is known. In fact, the producer knows it way better than me. If my car is not working, my only experience with its repair should be “will be ready to drive on <date>” on my car app, that goes back to “ready to drive” on the said date. That’s it.

If there is something I have to do, I don’t need to learn it if I’m not involved in changing it. That doesn’t include only paying taxes and making registrations. It also includes utilities. You may object to calling it Compliance. But how many people do you know who negotiated different conditions with their water and gas suppliers? The experience with any administration of such services should disappear. See how much is consumed and get the money. Don’t bother me at all.

The third type would depend on changing preferences and only there, in selecting what I want and how I want it from what is available, is the area of improving user experience. For the other two types, it should be only a temporary measure, until the trust, the business model and technologies allow to have zero user experience with them.

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