Discipline makes Daring possible.

How to really annoy your customers

How to really annoy your customers

Here’s why keeping your service consistent across channels matters.   Yesterday I drove down to our nearest Screwfix trade counter, to collect stuff we needed to start laying the floor.   I’d ordered these things online a few days earlier and chosen to collect rather than have it delivered.   I’d dutifully waited for the SMS messages that would notify me it had arrived at my chosen store and was ready to collect.  But when I turned up, the store was ‘temporarily closed’.

After navigating the labyrinth of phone messages designed to prevent you ever speaking to human being, after 10 minutes, I got through to someone, I explained my predicament.   They consulted their manager.

“That store closed a few days ago.  It should be open again soon.”

“The website said it was open.”

“If you google it, it says it says it’s temporarily closed.”

“Why on earth would I google it, when I’ve already ordered and paid for everything on the main website?  Why would I google it when I know where the store is, and I’ve received 2 separate SMS messages telling me that my order is ready for collection?”


We got it sorted after a bit of nudging.  The person on the other end of the phone found me the next nearest Screwfix that had what I wanted in stock, and cancelled my order.   But a slick and easy service was totally undermined by a lack of consistency.

And, I suspect, by a failure of delegation.





Good Services principle number 9: A good service is consistent.

I like this principle particularly, because consistent doesn’t mean uniform.

Your services are obviously going to be different if they take place over different channels or formats, or if you have different levels of offering.   A one-to-one consultancy isn’t going to be the same as a do-it-yourself option, but your service should live up to your Promise of Value across channels, across time, across customer types and across all individual customer journeys.   There should be no gaps – something that takes extra care if your organisational structure is non-orthogonal to your processes.

The great thing about consistency is that it allows for the kind of variation that uniformity would stifle.   The kind of variation that allows you people to over-deliver on your Promise and delight individual clients – even when things go wrong.   As you design the services that enable your business to deliver though others, remember to empower that ability to vary in your team.  Not only will it make for more delight and flexibility, it will be the means by which you discover new needs and desires in your client base.

‘Consistency’ is the perfect word here because it describes how your service should feel.

That’s what keeps it human.



‘Streamlining’ was very fashionable back in the 1930s and 40s.  Originally pure engineering, the purpose was to reduce drag over fast moving vehicles such as trains, planes and automobiles.

However, the look quickly got taken up as a badge of modernity, often accentuated with totally unnecessary, usually shiny protuberances, that looked the part, but actually increased friction.  Eventually, ‘streamlining’ got applied to all sorts of things that were never going to move, never mind create drag – record players, light fittings, buildings.

The point is to remember who it’s for.   That’s where Good Services principle no. 8 comes in: “A good service requires as few steps as possible to complete.”  For the user.   If you deliver through other people, they are effectively the user.

What does “as few steps as possible” really mean?   For me, this:

  • Each step is a meaningful move in the right direction from the perspective of the client.  This often means that steps are bigger than you’re used to thinking of.   If I want to hire a car, filling a form in isn’t meaningful to me, but choosing a car from those you have available is.
  • Each step is completely self-contained.  There is no possibility of ‘limbo’ (or purgatory).  A step is complete or its not.  That way, everyone knows exactly where you are in the overall process.
  • You couldn’t add another step to the process without muddying it.
  • You couldn’t remove any step from the process without breaking it.

Streamlining a process into as few steps as possible isn’t necessarily about speed either.  The process itself may take a long time.   Individual steps may take a long time, or there may be long gaps between them:

The service, or process, should be as simple as possible, but no simpler, and possible to deliver with minimal interaction from you, or anyone else in your business.

Of course, achieving this might mean re-organising your business.   But it will be worth it.

Tell me what’s happening

Tell me what’s happening

I’ve been ordering a lot online lately.  Not primarily because of Covid, but because we’re kitting out the extension.   I’ve had no problems at all, everyone has been well set up for online sales, and everything has worked exactly as I expected.

Until this last week.

Last Monday, I ordered some coir matting.   Ordering was more or less straightforward (once I’d understood the pricing), and I received confirmation by email, setting my expectation for when I might hear more about how my order was progressing.   So far, so good.

A few days later, I haven’t heard anything.   I call the number in the email.  It rings and rings.  “It’s late, maybe they’ve left for the day. I’ll try again tomorrow.”   The next day I call again.   It rings and rings, until finally, the call is cut off.  I try again.  Again, no answer.   “It’s Saturday, maybe lockdown has meant they can’t be there as usual.  I’ll try again on Monday.”

On Monday, I call again.  Again, no answer.  Twice.  Three times.   I send an email.  No reply – not even an automated response.

Now I’m beginning to mildly panic.   “What if they aren’t a real business?  Should I cancel the order?  How will I get my money back?  Should I be ringing my credit card company?”

I look them up on Companies House and Endole.   All seems OK.  “But what if they’ve gone bust?  Or can’t fulfill orders because of lockdown?”  

I try the head office number on the website.   A young lady answers.  “I’ll have to give you another number, we don’t handle online sales.”  It is of course, the number I’ve been calling.  I explain the situation – including my fears.  She laughs, “Of course we’re real!  But we’re not as big a company as we look online.   We’ve been really busy and it’s been a struggle to keep up.   I’ll get a message over to the warehouse and get them to call you.” 

Sure enough, an email arrives shortly afterwards – “Your order’s on the lorry, and should be with you tomorrow.  Let us know if it hasn’t arrived by Wednesday.”

And sure enough, it arrived this morning.  Phew!

There are a couple of simple things even a small business can do to prevent this kind of misunderstanding, even if you’re taken by surprise by a surge in demand:

First, immediately, have a message on the warehouse phone that lets people know they have come through to the right place.

Include in your message that if there is no answer it’s because you’re busy.   Genuinely busy.  Explain why.  If you can’t have more than 5 people in at a time, let people know.   If you’re short-staffed, let people know, and let them know what you’re doing about it.   People are very understanding if you are honest with them.

Second, as soon as you possibly can, make sure the phone gets answered by a real person.

Transfer the warehouse phone to the shop, or use a pay as you go phone answering service.  Even if they can’t track the order, they can at least take a message, answer frequently asked questions, and reassure your clients that the business is real, and their money is in safe hands.   Messages can be dealt with asynchronously, perhaps at the end of the day when the warehouse has more time.

These two simple, cheap and relatively easy actions will also reduce the number of incoming calls (e.g. my 7 calls would go down to 1), removing the incentive for harried warehouse people to ignore the phone.

The ultimate aim is of course, to make the communication of what’s happening with my order a side-effect of the fulfillment, but don’t wait until that’s in place – if you don’t tell me, your remote client, the real story, I’ll make up my own, and it might be wild.

Online, communicating what’s happening to an order is as important is actually fulfilling it.

Constructive interference

Constructive interference

We don’t know what we don’t know.   Neither do we know what our clients and colleagues don’t know.   And we often take for granted the things we do know.

So, a useful thing to do every day might be to ask:

“What do I take for granted that I know, that the people I serve don’t or may not know?   

How could I best share that?

It’s a ripple in a pond, but who knows where it might end up?



My friend Harry Morrison is an actor.  He’s recently started writing short, packed posts on what it’s really like to work in theatre, and guess what?  It’s hard work.

I particularly liked this from today’s post:

“Even the best stand-ups have notebooks packed with all their best ‘spontaneous’ off-the-cuff quips.   Their skill is in waiting for the perfect time to use them.”

There are 2 things here that a relevant for designing effective business processes:

  • If you haven’t rehearsed the likely scenarios, you’ll never spot that ‘perfect time’.
  • The biggest impact comes from realising that the unlikely scenario you’re currently in is actually ‘the perfect time’.

Process, preparation, and practice (aka ‘doing the work’, aka discipline) is what makes spontaneous creativity possible.

What’s on the inside doesn’t matter

What’s on the inside doesn’t matter

Good Services principle no. 7: “A good service is agnostic to organisational structures”.

In other words, the way you organise your company’s resources to deliver on your Promise of Value should essentially, be invisible and irrelevant to your customers and clients.

What if you took it further, so that your team and your clients saw the same service, one from the inside, one from the outside?  What if you then made those services the basis for your organisational structure?

That would make life easier for everyone, wouldn’t it?

Assume no prior knowledge

Assume no prior knowledge

Here’s another simple solution to the confusion I experienced the other day – don’t assume I know what all you suppliers know, and include the unit of measurement with the price.

Nicely leading in to principle no. 6: “A good service requires no prior knowledge to use”.

In this mini-series of blogs, I’m working through the principles outlined in this brilliant book by Lou Downe “Good Services” as a way of exploring how Service Design principles might apply to services that are delivered through people, rather than through online systems.

My thinking is that if you think of your people as users, you can design your operational processes as services that enable your users to deliver the business promise on your behalf. And if you follow the design principles for good services, you’ll build a scalable and resilient operation.

Back then, to principle no. 6.   As Lou puts it: “There is no service that will be used just by people who have used it before.”

When someone new joins your business they don’t know what you know.  They don’t know how you work, even if they have years of experience in the same field.  That means that they will automatically follow their own assumptions about how things work, and default to doing things the way they know.   If you have deliberately made yourself exactly the same as every one of your competitors, this is fine, but I happen to think that’s unlikely.

So the question is, how do you address this?  Here are some ideas:

  • Make as much as possible as self-explanatory as possible – like having a flat plate on the ‘push’ side of a door.
  • Give people a map, that shows the destinations and the different routes for getting there, and a compass for in case they get lost.  Or, if you prefer a different analogy, a score to follow.
  • Train people in your way of doing things.   Base your training on a familiar model, like learning to drive, or to fly a plane, and let them master the basics in a simulator first.  Teach all the likely scenarios, not just what happens to occur during their first week with you.
  • Build resources that will help newbies to learn (and oldies to remember) for themselves – explainer videos, detailed instructions, useful techniques, tricks and tips.  Make sure your map or score includes pointers to these, but isn’t cluttered up with them.
  • Include meta-services “What to do if you don’t know what to do“, “Where to look for answers.” that give people a way in.
  • Follow all the principles of good Product and Service Design.

In other words, “Design your company, or it will be designed for you.”

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

As it happens, I didn’t have to wait long for a lovely illustration for yesterday’s principle: “a good service works in a way that’s familiar..

Last night, we made the final decision on the flooring for our new extension.   A metre of coconut matting in front of the big outside doors, with the bamboo flooring starting after that and flowing through to the library.

I went online to shop around for the matting.  It came in 2 widths, lots of colours (black of course!) and could be cut to size.   Everywhere I looked it seemed to be around the same reasonable price of £18 – £20, yet every time I entered my desired dimensions, the price jumped to anywhere between £125 to £450.  What was going on?   I couldn’t work it out.  So I asked a chat line.

This morning the answer came “The price is £18 for 0.25 metres – how much do you need?”.


I was expecting to buy this flooring the way I buy every other kind of flooring – by the square metre.

I can sort of see where this convention came from (many people only need .25 or .5 of a metre for a doormat), and why with online shopping, every seller adopted it.

But I bet nobody has thought through what effect it has on sales.   First, it feels like you are doing something wrong, then it feels a little bit like a rip-off, because the price you see is nowhere near the price you actually pay.  I nearly gave up on the idea altogether.

The answer is simple.   Make it work like everything else, then let me know how it’s different.  In this case, that I can buy less than a metre if I need to.



The trick to building a business that can scale profitably and last longer than you, is to stop managing people and empower them to manage themselves.

You can support the transition from supervision to responsible autonomy with a framework that works like handrails – supportive, available when you need them, but not overly constricting.    I call this framework your ‘Customer Experience Score’.

Another way to think of it, that might be useful for you, is as a set of services that your team use to deliver on what the business does.   In this mini-series of blogs, I’m working through the principles outlined in this brilliant book by Lou Downe “Good Services” as a way of exploring this idea.

Principle number 5 makes a lot of sense: “a good service works in a way that’s familiar.”


What exactly does ‘familiar’ mean?    The way we’ve always done it?   The way everyone else does it?  The way a 70-year-old expects it to happen?  The way an 8-year-old expects it to happen?

I think in the end, the answer is that however you deliver it, (and there may well be more than one way) it should always feel like it is being delivered by your business. even if – especially if- it also reminds them of something else.  Buying from a physical shop is a familiar experience, but Apple has it’s own way of delivering that.   Buying online is familiar, but as you’d expect Apple very much has it’s own way of doing that too.

Every service your users run for the people you serve should be recognisably similar to the way your business does everything.  In other words it should be congruent with your business’s unique Promise of Value.  That doesn’t just reinforce the Promise for customers and clients, it reinforces it for your team too.   They’ll be able to tell you when something jars before your customers do.

By all means make your services rhyme with what’s already out there.  But the real trick is to build familiarity with your unique way of doing things, so your business becomes an old friend people turn to instinctively.

The right kind of familiarity breeds connection.