This article is co-authored by Amjid Rasool, Head of Service Design at Tesco Bank, and Paul-Jervis Heath, Founder of Modern Human.



In 2017, we embarked on a redesign of how the bank handled complaints. From the work we identified what we believe are five important aspects underpinning successful service design.

The first of these is the need to consider both the internal and external perspective. From the very beginning we were clear that while the ultimate goal was to improve the Customer Experience, to do so we had to examine and understand the colleague experience. We wanted to turn more customers who had complaints into strong advocates, but this could only be done if the issues, concerns, and pressures colleagues faced when dealing with complaints were understood. Complaints and indeed any service must be seen from both sides.

In our work, customer service representatives were interviewed about their day-to-day experiences, in parallel to listening to various complaints and the customers involved in them. From the two sets of interviews and perspectives, connections could be identified on where improvements could be made.

A key approach is to actively involve front-line colleagues in service design and avoid simply imposing solutions on them. To do this, we brought together customer service representatives in a series of workshops, where together we explored and developed changes to process, systems and culture.

The second aspect is being aware of the importance of psychology. This is true of any customer interaction, but it is striking how much neuropsychology is at play during a complaint. It is a stressful situation for both customers and complaint handlers. Stress invokes an autonomic physiological response: the body releases adrenaline and cortisol.

This creates a fight or flight response in which problem-solving capability and lateral thinking, the very things key to successfully handling a complaint, become severely restricted. Having two people whose logical reasoning is potentially impaired and who are under significant cognitive load is not conducive to successfully resolving it. Therefore, reducing the cognitive load is one of the key priorities. An important step is a focus on simplifying processes and systems to enable more effective customer conversations.

Third is the need to draw on a wide range of expertise across an organisation. While we were focused on the work of customer service representatives, it was crucial to involve wider colleagues and functions that directly or indirectly support them.

We created a pop-up design studio in the contact centre and brought together a multidisciplinary team from across the bank. By utilising a very diverse range of expertise and insights, we were able to identify and address broad areas for improvement, not just those confined to the customer complaint area. These included the experience of the customer; the bank’s systems and processes, the culture, and the physical working environment of the contact centre.

Fourth, any service design should be focussed on the needs and actions of human beings. An analysis of technical processes was important, but the human interactions were key. We followed an ethnographic approach to understand how peoples’ relationships, beliefs and values drove their behaviour and attitudes.

By uncovering the nuances of colleagues and customers’ frustrations and motivations, improvements could be identified and developed. An example in our work was giving customer service representatives the flexibility to independently apply emotional intelligence to the way they handled each complaint to make the experience more personal for customers.

The final aspect is applying an evidence-based approach. Our research produced a huge number of findings and potential solutions. To ensure all the opportunities were analysed and the best ones identified, we embarked on an iterative design process.

This approach enables any new ideas to be piloted and their impact measured. Based on this, ideas could then either be developed further or shelved. As well as being able to test concepts, in our work the pilots enabled us to identify any internal issues or barriers that could impact the successful roll out of the new service. The benefit of this approach is that it means that all developments are based on solid evidence and have been rigorously tested, to inspire trust and confidence in end users.

Service design should be focussed on putting customers at the heart of a service but also empowering staff to take ownership and be fully involved in the process. Ultimately, it is about making a positive human connection to build long lasting relationships with customers. To do this, a blend of ethnographic research, evidence-based approaches, psychology, and engagement, in and outside any organisation is required.  

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