Showing your organisational underpants: A case study in failure

So I was having a highly enjoyable time in Brussels at the weekend with some good friends when I experienced a quite catastrophic failure of a service from a major high street bank. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into a ranty blog post. I was just so stunned by the immense failure of the service that I felt the need to document it because it is a lovely example of a number of well intentioned decisions that together culminate in a quite unbelievable customer experience.

“Something is wrong with my debit card…”
I wandered down to reception of my hotel on Sunday morning in order to pay for breakfast in the main hall. I found myself light on cash so decided to pay with my debit card. Three failed attempts to pay later I swapped to a credit card which was duly accepted first time. This led me to believe it was a problem with my debit card. However I put it down to a dodgy card machine or dirty card and carried on with my day by jumping onto the Eurostar back to the UK.

At London St Pancras train station I wandered over to buy a tube ticket and again tried to use the debit card. When this transaction was cancelled I became concerned. Having borrowed £10 off my friend for the ticket we hopped on the tube to Paddington.

“Lets call Card Enquiries…”
At Paddington train station I decided to call the Card Enquiries hotline. Im paraphrasing the interaction but basically my conversation with the automated machine went like this:

Automated system: Please provide bank card details
Me: Done
Automated system: Please provide date of birth
Me: Done
Automated system: Please provide 2nd and 8th digits of telephone security number you set up 7 years ago.
Me: um..what?
Automated system: You have 20 seconds to comply…

Before the system got too ED-209 on me, I found myself being transferred to a a very nice human being who started to walk me though a series of further security questions. This in itself did not concern or irritate me as being a bank that holds my money I was welcoming of a high level of security. However, as the reason for my problems became clearer I became more incredulous.

“Its a benefit Mr Fisher”
The nice human on the phone (after the 5 minute security pad down) explained that my debit card had been cancelled because they were upgrading me to a new “Super Duper Card” (ok I admit that its not called that and I shouldn’t work in financial branding but stick with me). The “Super Duper Card” was a perk because of my loyalty to the bank with “lots of cool new features”. The rest of the conversation went like this:

Me: That all sounds great but I didn’t ask for this “Super Duper Card” and now I have no money
Nice human from bank: I know you didn’t ask for it Mr Fisher but we did write to you and tell that this was happening
Me: when?
Nice human from bank: January
Me: Come again?

Yes thats right. Five months previously they had written to me to announce the “Super Duper Card” via post. I had had no correspondence since.

Nice human from bank: We posted a letter on January 11th explaining the “Super Duper Card”. Can you not remember?
Me: No I’m afraid I can’t. Im as surprised as you are to be honest (sarcasm gets you no where)
Nice human from bank: Well we have posted your new Super Duper Card to you on the 15th May thats why your other one has been cancelled
Me: I haven’t received any new cards in the post…

So who has my bank card?
By this point I was starting to get concerned. Where was this new mystery bank card? Perhaps a worse question was who has my new bank card?

I hung up on “nice human from bank” and got on my train. On the train I rang my wife and asked her two things:

  1. Was there any unopened letters lying around the house?
  2. Could I borrow some money?

Turns out there were no unopened letters and her interest rates were 7%. The day was getting worse.

I called the card enquiries number again and having dispatched the ED-209 style automated voice service in quick order got through to “Nice human from bank #2”. I started to make more headway into the mystery:

Nice human from bank #2: It turns out Mr Fisher that your new Super Duper Card was posted on the 15th May but because of security restrictions we sent it to your local branch instead of your home.
Me: What security restrictions?
Nice human from bank #2: You changed address in the last three months which means we can’t send any new bank cards…
Me You mean the new bank card I didn’t ask for?
Nice human from bank #2: Yes thats the one. Anyway we can’t send you any bank cards to your home for the first three months.
Me: Was anyone going to tell me that I had a new Super Duper Card waiting at my local branch for the last weeks?
Nice human from bank #2: Um no. Its a fully automated system. I don’t why you haven’t been contacted.

I thanked “Nice human from bank #2” and hung up. I have tried to add some humour to this experience but quite honestly lets think about it in a little more detail.

On reflection…
What a devastatingly bad customer experience.

This colossal muck up occurs across four channels (post, contact centre, online banking and high street store), began five months previously and ultimately impacted the customer with a series of very negative consequences.

What was obviously meant to be a nice thing (a customer upgrade to the Super Duper Card) has been so poorly implemented that the consequences for me (the customer) are as follows:

  • Ive spent almost 30 minutes on the phone getting transferred between places with no resolution;
  • Ive been left in a foreign country with no money;
  • I have to leave work at lunchtime to walk to my local branch to collect my new card that I didn’t order. Incidentally when I got to the branch my telephone number was written on the envelope but no-one had seen fit to ring it.
  • Throughout all of this was the concern of who might have my bank card…

Showing your organisational underpants
I think what surprises me the most is not how bad the experience was but how relaxed I acted! I should have been livid and ranty!

Instead having worked in UX for a while, all I ended up seeing throughout was a logical decision taken by some well meaning individual at the bank during the design phase:

Someone thought it would be nice to give me a Super Duper card with lots of perks.

Someone thought they would write via post to tell me this five months before it actually happens.

Someone thought telephone banking needs a really obscure random number that a customer only uses every 7 years.

Someone thought that having moved house they shouldn’t send me anything to that address for three months

Someone thought they should cancel cards without checking with the customer first.

Everyone didn’t see the bigger picture. The customer paid the price.

Thanks for reading!

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Candidate Moves in Design Thinking

It has been estimated that there are more positions in chess than there are atoms in our solar system. However, at any given time a player is only allowed to make a single move. A single move to enable them to navigate the minefield of complexity in front of them. How does a chess player do this? What implications can this have for design?

When scouring the 64 squares in front of them a chess player is not evaluating every possible move available to them, this would be insane. Instead, good chess players rely upon the principle of candidate moves.

Candidate moves are a collection of moves (usually around 3 or 4) that the chess player has determined to have a suitable level of merit to require a further focus of their attention.

A chess diagram showing a 2D image of a chess position with arrows drawn on to show piece movement

Your move, which path do you choose?

In his excellent book “How to choose a chess move”, Andrew Soltis notes that by move 20 of a chess game a player on average has 38 legal options available to them. Soltis goes on to demonstrate how a good chess player is able to reduce this large decision tree through the application of a method called candidate cues:

  • Tactics: Immediate threats on the board (both offensive and defensive) that must be dealt with;
  • General Principles: Sound principles of play, based on experience, will often indicate to a player a possible good move, for example protecting your king;
  • Positional Desirability: If no tactics present themselves then the strategic positioning of your forces for the long term can throw light onto a potential move;
  • Consistency: If previously you have been engaged in a specific plan then it makes sense to continue down that road (unless your latest assessment has identified a flaw in your plan)
  • Problem Pieces: If nothing else the player may survey their forces and realise that they have a “problem child” that must be improved or removed.

Thus through the application of rules, pattern recognition and experience, a chess player is able to control and harness an incredibly complex environment and determine a course of action.

Candidate Design Moves
Sound familiar? We may not identify such an obvious framework for tackling design problems but certainly the above principles are used daily by me and my colleagues for shortlisting potential design solutions.

In the current movement towards lean methods of working, designers will consistently find themselves under tighter timescales with development teams demanding “the answer” sooner rather than later.

Fast sketching, ideation and co-creation workshops are all popular and invaluable tools for iterating quickly and pushing forward design thinking around a particular topic. I’m sure many of us can relate to the idea of developing large amounts of design ideas in a short space of time with the intention of throwing away 80-90% of them.

Failing to candidate
What I find interesting about the candidate moves concept is how noticeable it is when it is not adopted. I have lost count of the number of chess games I have lost through the immediate impulse move. When looking back in hindsight, I nearly always can attribute the loss to a point in time when I say the immortal words:

I never considered anything else

The great Russian chess players often refer to this as the “programmed move”. How applicable is this flaw to our early design discussions, particularly when we consider the work context of a minimal viable product and a wall of half drawn sketches?

How often, through the need for expediency, are we drawn to the obvious candidate? The one that deals with all of the short term immediate problems but has some positional long term flaw? The move that worked in the last game so why shouldn’t it work in this one?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a strong advocate for lean design working methods but my question would be this:

  • On your last project how many true candidate moves did you really consider?

Admittedly your design team could just “fail fast and pivot” but in my opinion, a strong set of candidates can allow you to spot potential pivots before they happen.

A strong candidate set
In a chess game, a strong set of candidate moves will often present a player with a range of paths. The risky move with high reward. The unknown move that has never been tried and leads to an uncertain result. The quiet move leading to strategic positioning. Any or all of these moves could be good.

The same is true of our early design discussions. Im not advocating the risky solution over the tried and tested. What I am advocating is the identification of a number of potential design directions and a fair assessment of each.

Every time I have seen a successful product launch it usually had a broad set of potential candidate moves early on in the product design phase.

In my opinion we all become become better designers when we avoid the “obvious choice” and consider all the paths available to us. Embrace your candidate moves and become better at what you do.

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed what you read then please do share it, I’m always appreciative of the support.  You can also follow me on Twitter here.