Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Risk and Responsibility in Self-Service

A cabbie asked @jkuramot to enter his destination into the GPS. @dahowlett suggests this is because he didn't speak good English. @jkuramot confirms that the driver didn't speak English very well but adds that "this was his go-to move".

The reason we are talking about this fragment of service design is that it is unusual in this context: we normally expect the driver to enter the destination into his navigation device. But the normal procedure is prone to error; the passenger may not speak clearly, the driver may not understand correctly, there may be a lot of background noise: the passenger arrives at the wrong destination and it's the driver's fault.

However, if the passenger enters the destination directly into the navigation device, then any error is the passenger's fault. Many service providers in other areas now follow this pattern; shifting responsibility onto the customer may help to reduce administration costs, but more importantly reduces the service provider's liability. But if the customer is not able to perform these tasks easily and accurately, this kind of shift adds more to the cost and risk for the customer than it reduces for the supplier, and therefore diminishes total value. See my review of The Support Economy.

Asking the customer to do the work makes an assumption about the customer's capability. I don't know Jake personally, but he looks from his photo and his Twitter profile like someone who would know how to operate this kind of device. The driver may have had the same impression; it is conceivable that he would have treated Jake's grandmother differently. Whereas if the device (belonging to the driver) is unusual and difficult to use, we would always insist that the driver should operate it. Self-service only works if the interface design offers a reasonable level of usability.

The other difference between the passenger and the driver is the question of which is more familiar with the destination. When I get a cab home from the airport, obviously I know my address better than the driver does. But when I arrive in a strange city, I expect the cab drivers to be more familiar with the hotels than I am: if I get the name of the hotel slightly wrong, the driver should ask if I really meant something else, rather than drive for an hour to a hotel in the next city whose name exactly matches what I said.

By the way, Google has been correcting our searches for a long time now, but has now chosen to issue a series of advertisements in which this correction (and the collection of vast amounts of data to make this correction possible) is highlighted as a service enhancement feature. See my note Towards a VPEC-T analysis of Google. This kind of service enhancement is unavailable if the driver takes himself out of the loop, and regards his job as merely enacting a specification agreed between the customer and an electronic device.


Jake said...

This was in Denver, and my destination was a suburb. So, it was probably one he didn't know by experience. The GPS was a standard Garmin, so yeah, I could work it, and no, most of my immediate family probably couldn't.

Your point is the one that struck me, i.e. it's become a very self-service world. Although in this case, what's the value-add of the driver? Shouldn't I get a discount, since he only provided the driving skills and car?

And a self-service world doesn't work equally well for everyone, e.g. those who can't work a GPS dependably.

It could have been economic too. My destination was in a flat fare zone, and I suppose since it was far from the airport, he wanted to make the run quickly, not wasting time translating my words into the GPS.

All-in-all an odd experience.

Richard Veryard said...

Jake wants a discount, to reflect a reduction in the cost to the supplier (deskilling, derisking) and a reduction in the value he gets.

That may be fair in some cases, but the overall economic impact is worrying. If service providers are squeezed (by "ninja shopping") to provide ever-cheaper services, then the value-adding services may become economically unsustainable. Look at old fashioned travel agents, who struggle to maintain a viable value-adding service that is clearly better than buying the tickets direct from the airline.

Jake said...

I'm essentially renting the car. If a traditional cab costs x when the driver navigates on his own, then shouldn't this model cost less than x given that I'm taking on some of the cost?

This isn't a new phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination. Travel agents are a good example. Given how much time and effort it takes to find the best fare online, they do offer clear value, time.

They may have a marketing problem, but the value is there.

Mega-stores like Borders, Tower, Circuit City, Blockbuster once squeezed small shops on price. Then the internet squeezed them on price, and many small shops have been reborn, presenting new value.

People don't always value price over time or other value-adds.