Thursday, December 4, 2014

Timing should be intentional

This article is intended to make you think about how time can be a design element, or rather how "Timing" should be considered in your service.

One of the things that a designer must do when designing for services (i.e. coffee stands, wedding planning, etc...) is be able to telescope in to the micro level of specific touch-points in that service (i.e. taking your customer's order), but then also be able to telescope out so that they are looking at the big picture (i.e. the user's journey from the time they learn about the service to the time they exit the service). For this article, let's just take a moment to discuss one particular element of this high-level design of a service.

Time is not a new design element. In fact, I feel like I hear about efficiency all the time. When I hear people refer to efficiency, it usually means how long a user takes to get through a task in an interface. Of course at a low level, we "make straight the way" by eliminating clutter, adjusting colors, and many other surface level and structure level activities. At a high level, we can also be deliberate with the concept of efficiency. We can  remove unnecessary steps or automate timely tasks.

If time-in-design was a Fiddler Crab then "Efficiency" would be that giant over-sized, always remembered arm leaving "Timing" as that tiny little, often forgotten arm.

Timing at the coffee shop

I'd like to tell you about how "Timeliness" became a main point of interest in a recent coffee shop visit.

As I walked through the doors of the coffee shop, I was immediately met with a familiar coffee smell, the sound of informal business meetings, and the shuffling of workers cleaning and preparing to deliver their service to the next patron. I walked towards the counter where I normally place my order. I was greeted with a warm "Hello" from the coffee "barista", which I replied "Hello". Two steps further I was again greeted; this time by the cashier who was shuffling around behind the pastry showcase. Again, I said "Hello". 

At this point I feel pretty good. I've been welcomed. I'm comfortable. Just the perfect euphoria needed to enjoy a nice cup of Jo.

I put my order in for a doughnut and my typical * complicated Seattle coffee order of delight * and as expected, without missing a beat, they repeat it back to me.

I'm please at this point to know that they have my order that can sometimes be a hang point for me. It's my fault that my coffee order is complex, but because they are used to this sort of thing, they were able to handle it without making me remember that it's my fault.

I then went ahead and paid my bill. Instead of forcing the receipt into my hand like they do at the deli where I work, they asked me if I want the receipt. Being the Environmentally conscious person that I am (Ok, so I am not environmentally conscious. I would have chucked it in the garbage if they gave it to me). I say 'No'. 

At this point, I've been greeted which made me feel warm, My faults have been accepted which makes me feel normal AND I've been pulled into the "cool kids group" now that I care for the planet! I'm on cloud nine!!!

I head on over to the waiting area. I notice that the barista is someone I don't recognize. I'm sure she'll do fine though at this point. What could go wrong. This coffee shop is a finely tuned engine of Coffee Fantasy. 

While I'm waiting I hear "What's your first name?"...

Screech!!!!! What the...?!

The lady asked me my first name. That's a bit private. I ask her "What do you need that for?" She tells me that they like to remember peoples names who come in regularly. 

I'm thinking that her response was a bit lame. The thing about truth is that it sounds like truth. This was NOT the truth. Maybe she needed it to put on my cup? Maybe she wanted to know so that she could stalk me when she gets off work?! All I know is that I'm thrown off.

At this point, all those other touch-points in the service have been over shadowed by this strangely timed invasive question.

Timing should be intentional

On my way in from work I began to think about something that I had recently read from the book "Service Design - From Insight to Implementation"...

"Relationship time is what is represented in the customer journey. It means that you want to design the experience to be relevant to people who are at different stages in their relationship with the service."

This was exactly what was happening. Thinking back, I believe that asking for someone's name isn't in-and-of-itself a bad thing. With the right timing or the right context it would have been just fine. If, for example she would have waited until she actually recognized me or maybe until it seemed like I recognized her, then she could have said something like "I think I've seen you in here before, what's your name?" I think that would have been fine. Maybe if they would have said at the beginning of taking my coffee order "We want to make sure you get your order... What's a name we can put on the cup?" That would have been fine too. Unfortunately this otherwise nice gesture was simply placed with the wrong timing resulting in a blemished user experience.


When considering the high level of the service, remember that efficiency is still important, but please PLEASE don't forget about timing. With the right timing the touch-points in a service can be superb, but when a nice action is delivered at an inappropriate time, or without the correct context, it becomes an irritation that can nullify all the good that led up to that point. 


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