Designing for Legacy & Trust

by Elizabeth Meehan of coffeenosugar

Before the airline’s recent problems I noticed a reversion of service in airlines, in which Ryanair seemed to be thinking about the customer and other airlines were performing the kind of trickery that Ryanair has been serving up to customers for years. What was going on? I was curious. Were other airlines as desperate as Ryanair once was, or as greedy? Or was this Ryanair pulling the rug from under their competitors, desperate to win back customers they lost? It certainly made me think that while it’s likely to be a cocktail of the above and many other inconceivable manoeuvres, their tactics may have won back customers (even if their latest carry-on destroyed some of that). After everything. After the night that I queued in the already late departure for a flight destined to Glasgow, when they argued that the spinal cushion I was carrying for a cycling injury had to be added as luggage for £35. With some patience I pointed out to them that I needed to sit on it on the plane (this was the point of it) and that obviously storing it or to doing anything else with it other than sitting on it defeated the purpose. But the attendant Ryanair staff repeated the policy about carrying two pieces of hand luggage and made no attempt to consider the situation in front of her. As she continued to regurgitate the script, I recalled a documentary where this tactic, where a company repeats the policy to force the customer to give up, was highlighted. With this to the forefront of my thinking, I told her it wouldn’t be a problem, as long as they could provide me with a seat that would offer enough support for my spine. If they could, I would take the seat and happily put the cushion (and pay for the privilege) in storage. Otherwise I would stand for the entire flight. This seemed to jolt some semblance of action because the girl actually stopped mid-policy sentence and walked away. After a 15 minutes lag (onto the already delayed flight) she came back, walked over to me and nodded without saying the words. It seemed the words were too great a defeat to voice. But what was both fascinating and telling was, that she considered this a defeat in Ryanair terms. So much for customer-centricity. 

For a while, things seemed to have changed. Ryanair were striking back with their “Always Getting Better” campaign to include their ‘Customer Charter’, ‘Family Extra’, ‘My Ryanair’ and were using the phrase ‘customer experience’. At the time Aer Lingus had been charging me to sit on their aircraft (of course Ryanair at that time has had a 27% stake in their affairs, even if that love affair was close to an end). This was a strange-reality I didn’t foresee. That as it may be, did it mean that now (given Ryanair’s attempt at good behaviour) that I’d start to trust them? That I’d forget the past? Not exactly, given the legacy they’d left from the earlier days which meant that ultimately I don’t trust them. That I’ll never trust them. I’m just waiting for the day in the near future that they pull my crutches from under me, literally. Can a fast-food place add pretty cushions and side-salad to their fat saturated dishes and be converted into anything but a fast experience? (this is now being long attempted). Well they can try, but it becomes a whole lot more difficult to practise far away from the brainstorming in the meeting room. And little if anything changes on the ground for the consumer. Easyjet and Aer Lingus may charge me for that seat, but I find myself willing to trust that they need to do it to survive, because I have felt treated fairly by them in the past. If Ryanair is to gain trust, it’ll be the work of the next generation who missed the heart attack-inducing classic Ryanair antics firsthand. Designing for people (by adding value as determined by them)

In the increasingly connected age, it would appear that the greatest challenge for services is to provide simple, usable solutions that maximise engagement and experience, delivered through the right combination of human and digital elements, which add value to their offer. The pace of which, innovation and the fast forwarding of the wider experience economy only adds to these pressures. So much so, that businesses are being forced to navigate this ever changing digital world. What to select and how to use it in a way that engages more and adds value? Value added being key. These are significant questions that businesses must face today to keep ahead.

Last week I stopped by a new café to meet friends. The waiter arrived with a shiny iPad and placed the order on the device, whilst adding detailed notes to it. Before doing so, he gave myself and my group the opportunity to order for ourselves. We opted not to, it seemed like more hassle than it was worth to order our drinks, so he proceeded. Like many places, technology was being used because it was regarded as the latest thing without necessarily serving a purpose or the context. Afterwards as I queued at the grocery store, I pondered what value the device added in the café bar. Novelty perhaps, especially in that location, but was that enough? And given the clientele I’d noticed on that occasion I wasn't sure it added value for them. As I came in line to be served, I made the choice to use the self service, because it did add a value that I have enjoyed since it had been introduced a few years ago; to get in and out of the store speedily.

The episode reminded me of years ago when twitter and Facebook became overnight business tools. Overnight everyone had them (particularly small businesses) and used them without really understanding their different functions, the impact and how they could work for their businesses. The thing was to have them and to be seen to have them, to hang as-it-were on the cutting edge. Today, this isn't enough. These tools must add value for the customer or they detract from the experience. Undoubtedly there are great tools available, but getting the right tools at the right time in a way that has a value to it's users is not a decision that can be made without full view of the user, their needs and what is meaningful for them. Having a deep understanding of the range of digital innovations is not the starting point if businesses want to orchestrate a symphony of service that has real impact, it’s being crystal clear about the value added that relates directly to customer need. Which Service Designers, who design for people, strive for.