service vigilante

I recently found myself stuck on an overground train to central London (for those of you who live in London I realise that this is not a unique experience, but bear with me).

The train had been stationary for a while and was overcrowded, and the automated message repeating an apology every few minutes was only adding to the annoyance of the passengers.

After a while the driver interrupted:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your driver speaking. I’m very sorry for the delay to your journey this morning. Rather than make you listen to another recorded message, I should tell you the real reason why we’re stopped. There’s a signalling problem further up the line at Canon Street, and because this is the busiest time of the day, there’s a backlog, but as soon as I find anything else out I’ll let you know but we should be moving in the next 5 minutes.

“Again, my apologies – I know it’s monday morning and I know you’d all prefer not to start your week this way, but we’re doing everything we can if you will bear with me.”

By taking the initiative he eased people’s concerns and created empathy by explaining a wider systemic problem whilst identifying himself as a human, empathic part of the service. He even relieved the tension later by joking with passengers.

In this situation, which is not uncommon, this member of front line staff appeared to understand how his customers felt far better than the company, and was ideally positioned to deliver a solution. He knew that it’s frustrating to not know what’s going on and that the company’s provision to limit the damage to the experience in this situation was inadequate and impersonal.

So often the ease of working from the top-down means that organisations deprive themselves of true insights into their user’s experiences and the invaluable day-to-day qualitative observations of their staff.

Co-creation harnesses the power of these front-line insights and experiences, and designs with users and people throughout an organisation to develop solutions that are effective, desirable and sustainable. It may even help get trains running on time in London…