Service Experience Innovation: Claiming Property Insurance


This past winter in New England was the coldest and snowiest I had ever experienced. My poor old house felt the same and when the pipes burst and flooded the kitchen and family room I had to take measures to repair the damage and get her ready for the summer. What I faced in order to claim my insurance coverage and receive payment was a much bleaker experience than the winter that preceded it. As a designer of product and service experiences I am keenly aware of the products and services I interact with on a daily basis. I celebrate the great experiences and am dismayed and disappointed with the ones that fail. The process of claiming property insurance to cover the repairs of a mortgaged house must be the single worst service experience of my life. There is an opportunity to make what is already a difficult time less painful by acting in a way that displays empathy for the customer and all that they are going through to renovate their home.

Without going into the details of my experience with my insurance company and mortgage provider let me instead highlight some of the potential attributes of great service experiences that were terribly missing from mine.

Transparency: Don’t make a process a mystery. Be clear about the steps required and help your customer understand those steps.

Consistency: Don’t change the process along the way. Don’t introduce new rules that suggest you don’t want to complete the originally understood process.

Communication: Keep your customer in the loop. Linked to transparency, don’t be afraid to explain what is happening and providing regular updates that can help keep your customer confident that he is doing all he needs to do and you are doing all you can to keep the process going.

Speed: Communicate progress and demonstrate that you are making all efforts to complete the service cycle in a speedy fashion. If there are factors that are delaying you let the customer know that you are doing your best to accelerate the service delivery.

Information: Make sure that all documents required to complete the process are clear and unequivocal and easy to understand. Make it easy to complete and supply documentation and once received be quick to reassure your customer that the documentation is correct and received.

Trust: Don’t treat every customer as if they are a felon trying to work an insurance scam. If your customer is credit-worthy, hasn’t made 20 insurance claims in the previous 5 years, has never been convicted of a crime, has paid every bill you ever sent them… begin by giving them the benefit of the doubt. As intermediaries check the insured’s claim and verify the truth of it increase your display of trust and accelerate the process.

Ease: It is obvious but in this case it is not redundant to shout it out loud… make it easier than it is.

The process through the property insurance claim service experience is a nightmare of hurdles and pitfalls all working to make it hard to receive what is rightfully yours. You’ve paid for insurance throughout your life and now you deserve to receive the benefit of your responsible behavior!

I am sure that there is an opportunity to innovate this service experience to remove all of the issues that currently make it so painful. However, my cynical side says that the insurance and lending industry does not believe that there is profit to be had in improving the process. On optimistic days I believe that someone is going to come along and bring the customer experience revolution to the industry, rocking the boats and ships of old-school companies, and bring a fresh, communicative, transparent, easy and painless quality to the experience. If you are an insurance or mortgage company executive reading this (yeah, right!) then get in touch… I think I can help you with this!

Survey Madness! Is there a better way to demonstrate that you care?


One of the tenets of great Customer Experience is to listen to your customers.

As more and more businesses recognize that they need to pay greater attention to the quality of the customer experience one of the inevitable tools in the CX quiver is the customer survey. The survey demonstrates that the brand is listening to its customers and keen to gather their feedback to improve the services they provide. The only problem these days is that every other brand that a consumer interacts with is seeking to capture the Voice of that Consumer and the poor consumer is suffering from survey overload. I know this because I am one of those consumers.

Service Safari @ Continuum


The Continuum service design team ended our year with a series of short Service Safaris where we set out in small teams, pith helmets in hand, to immerse ourselves as customers in a range of what we perceived to be interesting service businesses. Apart from treating ourselves at the end of the year, the Safaris were intended to inspire by exposing us in a personal way to the qualities of great services.

Our teams investigated a diverse range of services including an innovative new barbershop concept, a tarot reading, a restaurant reservation service, a digitally enhanced private taxi service, and a sneaker customization service. I was part of a four-person team that indulged in the latest of barbershop care. It was a tough assignment but the four of us were up to the challenge of straight-razor shaves, massaging shampoos, layered and buzz cuts, hot face towels, and shoulder massages.

Service Design Thinking and the Innovation of Financial Services, Part 1


Recent turmoil in the financial services industry has lead many consumers to question how they manage their financial lives, both now and for the long-term.  The global recession has compounded the sense of unease consumers feel about entrusting financial services providers with managing and safeguarding the financial fruit of their labors. Trust is at an all-time low.

Trends emerging show consumers are looking for alternative ways to manage their finances, whether through new tools or completely new institutions. In addition, consumers are practicing a frugality that is inspired by a fear of loss of long-term hard-earned assets, leading to a more risk-averse society than has existed for the last decade or so. A recent article in the Boston Globe (10/16/2011 “Gen Y asks: ‘Why should I have faith in the stock market’”) reveals that Generation Y, those born between 1981 and 1995, are displaying a conservative investment profile more akin to someone in their late 50’s considering retirement than someone in their youth with more than 30 years of investing to level out their buy and hold approach.

When is a persona a reliable persona?


One of the most useful of tools of human-centered design are personas. They are a wonderful form of synthesis upon completion of primary user research. They become a lens through which design and business teams can define users; understand their goals, needs, behaviors, and motivations; and remain objective when determining the features that may satisfy those needs.

However, I would almost guarantee that from one design agency to the next you would be hard-pressed to find a consistent definition of personas, why they are useful, how to create them, who should create them, and how to use personas during the design and marketing of new products, services, communications, and well…just about anything that can be designed for people! And because agencies present personas in different ways to the marketplace, businesses are also often unclear on what qualifies a persona to be a truly reliable and quality persona. Arriving at reliability and quality is a question of degree. The degree of insight and information the design team has at their disposal, the means in which it was obtained, and the skill at surfacing the important dimensions of the persona are critical to building confidence that teams can indeed make important design and business decisions that they can stand by.

The questions of degree in the creation process look something like this…

This is (enter design specialism) design thinking!


At a recent  Amsterdam Service Design Talk hosted by Geke and the STBY folks we had a very interesting conversation about the recently released book “This is Service Design Thinking”. The book was crowdsourced and co-authored by 23 design professionals from around the globe. Authors Mark Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider were the orchestrators of this admirable effort from their base in Austria. The book’s web site ( does a nice job describing the purpose of the book:

“ ‘This is Service Design Thinking.’ illustrates the young multi-disciplinary approach of designing services. Both layout and content are far beyond a mere textbook on a viral buzzword. The book itself is based on a Design Thinking process, including the knowledge and passion of the Service Design community and related fields.

User-centricity and co-creation are not only content, but the initial position for the conception of this book. It is designed for beginners to get an outline of Service Design Thinking, for advanced readers to discover a variety of methods & tools and case studies as examples for its applications, and for professionals to use this book during lectures and workshops.”

Speaking of viral buzzwords one of the topics discussed was the title of the book. I confess that when I first saw it I thought, “Wait! It doesn’t just hop on one current bandwagon in the marketing of design but two; service design and design thinking!” My impression was that it was adding confusion to two issues that were already seeking a firm identity in the current design services discourse. “What’s next?” I cried,  “Graphic design thinking?” “Interior design thinking?” “Textile design thinking” And then I thought… “Well, why not?!”