Death of the Rectangle, Part Three: Human-to-Human

by Matt Farrar, the founder of Great Fridays, now an EPAM company

Prepare yourself because I am going to continue my ongoing rebellion against the ubiquitous and mobile four-sided paradigm. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the huge impact digital, and in particular mobile has had on our world; far from it, I am a huge advocate. I will, however challenge the obsessive way that brands are so single-minded that they neglect vital customer service interactions and channels.

Human-to-human interaction is often the element of service that creates the most negativity. Think about it, what are the worst service experiences you have encountered as a consumer, as a patient, or a fan? I can guarantee that almost all of them will relate to the way a human reacted to your request or your interaction with them.

As humans we are fairly forgiving when it comes to our interaction with objects. Machines, tools or a computer’s ineffectiveness is often met by a tirade of abuse, and the occasional fist-slam on one’s desk, but rarely does it create the same gut boiling sensation that a rude or incompetent human can.

Humans persevere with poor physical experiences, because they often accept that it is just the way it is. They might even question their own intellect as a factor in the frustrating interaction with said object. Status and competition are never far from humans’ mind when interacting with other humans.

Following detailed instructions in an IKEA furniture pack can be one of the most frustrating back-breaking user experiences on the planet, but we accept it, and laugh with our friends about the torture because we accept it as part of the brand deal. Somewhat obtusely, it becomes a rite of passage we embrace.

The one thing all humans are well-educated about is peer-to-peer interaction. Basically how to be treated well. The phrase goes: ‘Treat those, how you expect to be treated yourself’. It’s another form of karma… ‘what goes around, comes around’.

We instinctively know when a person is not treating us well, we know when they are being dishonest, and when they don’t know what they are doing.We are so well versed in what is right and what is wrong that we will not tolerate poor human interaction in the same way we might with a machine or object equivalent.

Almost all of the poor customer experiences I have encountered to date can be attributed to a human. Train conductors on Virgin First Class carriage who call me ‘mate’ is one such bugbear and fail to deliver the service I expect of the brand.  Call centre staff in a country far from my service-of-origin that treat me as if I have an IQ of 55.

Untrained sales assistants who know less about their own products than I do.  I have a mental black book of all the humans who have frustrated, annoyed, infuriated and lied to me since I was five years old.  It is engraved into my memory. Most importantly, going through these negative human-to-human experiences creates another consequence; I blame the brand as much as I do the human.

The champions of design-led service with obvious examples such as Apple, Target or Starbucks, all know how to create an experience that starts with their people, and is consistent throughout all other customer touch points.It is very unlikely that you will get a poor Human-to-Human interaction in their retail environments or on a voice call. If that did happen, it would be highly shocking.

Forrester calls the recent customer service design revolution; ‘The Age of the Customer’, and we all know that the customer is always right, don’t we? So why do so many brands neglect this fundamental service component? How do brands marry human-to-human service strategy with human-to-digital, or human-to-product strategy?

We should all embrace the human-to-human challenge. As designers, who specialize and empathise with the emotional connections humans have with brands, we should champion this as the single most important service design challenge.

We should prototype human-to-human interactions and test scenarios in the same way we prototype human-to-machine and product interactions. Iterate these interactions, test scenarios and create methodologies to support a company-wide rollout.

And finally beware that as humans we also get equally frustrated when the human interaction is false: ‘Hi, my name is Wendy and I will be your waitress today’. How about ‘Hi, my name is Matt and I will be your customer today’? That may be true, but it sounds just as insincere.

This isn’t an exercise in creating scripts to deliver human-to-human interaction. This is about empathy, values, ethos and meeting expectations. This is about really believing that customers are right and treating them commensurately.

A brand experience is the sum of all parts and all interactions, human, physical, digital – think of every interaction in your service experience.