Updated: May 7
by Ulises Pabon
Way back, before the internet days, my brother decided to take a locksmith course through mail. He received all the tools and equipment, completed all the lessons, and received his locksmith certificate. His first “job” was installing a lock on the door of a beaten-up shack we had on our back yard – a straightforward task for any locksmith. Drilling the hole for the knob turned into a nightmare. By the time he finished getting it right, the door looked like a slice of Swiss cheese! He covered up the mistakenly drilled holes with “dummy” knobs, turning our shack into Fort Knox.
We still get a good laugh from that memory. Decades later, a friend of mine – an accomplished carpenter – shared with me his words of wisdom: “measure twice, cut once.” I knew exactly what he was talking about.
Most work cultures encourage and applaud rapid problem resolution. Short product lifecycles and the accelerated pace of change punish hesitation and demand quick results. In the process, we easily fall prey to “cutting first, measuring second”.
Nowhere is this more evident than in creating and designing customer experiences. In our line of work, when facilitating service design sessions, we find that participants typically walk into the session with their mind set on what needs to be done. The team wants to rush into “brainstorming” solutions and rarely pauses enough to observe and understand the situation at hand. As a result, ordinary solutions prevail and the actual customer experience is compromised. No wonder why “knock-your-socks-off” service is so rare.
Part of the problem is our interpretation of what design is all about. In the conventional view, the designer envisions an end product, designs it, and it gets built. Once the design drawings or specifications are complete, the design process ends and what remains is execution. The problem with this view is that it disregards the participative and iterative nature of service experiences.
Service design is more akin to designing apps or on-line games. The prevailing design paradigm in these fields is that design is never done. Apps that don’t get updated as technology and user preferences evolve don’t survive in the app ecosystem. And on-line game designers are, in essence, the stewards of the environment they created, as customers take over the creation of the characters and behaviors that define the game experience.
Another contributor to jumping to solutions is our tendency to “satisfice”. The term was coined by economics Noble Laureate Herbert Simon, who combined the terms “satisfy” and “suffice” to describe our tendency to stop the problem solving or design process once we arrive to a solution that satisfies our minimum requirements.
This was the exact policy Carly Fiorina emphasized during her presidency at Hewlett Packard with her “good enough” corporate mandate. Her well-intended objective was to instill a results-oriented culture into what she saw as endless and fruitless meetings and discussions. The problem with such a policy is that it cuts short the creative process. Of course, all extremes are bad; and at the end of the day, delivering results is what counts. But if you short-change divergent thinking, you will find yourself prematurely converging on the standard and ordinary.
The biggest challenge I’ve found when working with service design teams has been their unwillingness or inability to pause and observe. You cannot design an extraordinary service experience if you don’t fully immerse yourself in your customer’s context and psychology. You don’t get that studying spreadsheets, customer surveys or Power Point presentations.
In service design thinking, “measure twice, cut once” translates into “observe first, design second”. Observation, like any other skill, can be developed. A good start is to engage in “service safaris” – going out “in the wild” and experiencing examples of good and bad service offerings. Customer shadowing or building customer journey maps also helps. All these practices help assemble a platform of insights that feed the design process and move you closer to delivering extraordinary service experiences to customers.