Empathizing with agents

Indeed, many services are poorly designed because, in their eagerness or anxiety to reduce costs, the service provider pushes some of that effort and pain to the customer and user who are often unaware of this shift in burden and are often unwilling or unprepared to take it on. That’s why many services require the use of automated systems, machines, and software to reduce the interaction costs on their side, including artificial intelligence and software bots.

Bad design results in an unbalanced, unfair, and unsustainable distribution of cost and burden, often propped up by the absence of real competition or the presence of monopolistic conditions in a particular market space. Good design has foresight on the feedback loops, unintended consequences, and unnecessary conflict that ultimate cause disruption and failure.

Good design dictates that making it easy for the user, makes it easy for the agent. Making it easy for the agent, makes it easy for the user. This creates a virtuous cycle that drives down the cost of the interaction between user and agent, to stabilize at a lower level of fixed costs. The variable costs become substantially lower.

Self-service to elf-service

Traditionally, service providers push some of the agent’s burden to users to cut down time and cost, and to scale up capacity in a less expensive way, through the division of labor. Through self-service, agents temporarily delegate some of their responsibility and authority to users who can then help themselves. They are popular with users when they prove to be quicker and less burdensome in more ways than one. But self-service is an oxymoron because you have to do-it-yourself then how is it a service? And when users struggle with self-service they become less enchanted. With bots and assistants such as Alexa on Amazon Echo becoming smarter, trustworthy, and more intelligent, it might be that self-service will no longer be necessary. It will be elf-service with users and agents as elves who understand each other. The question is, does Alexa work for Amazon or its customers? When it comes to services, conflict of interest will always be a design challenge.

It is in the mutual interest of customers and service providers to reduce the overall cost of the transaction. There is value in having fair and simple contracts with sufficient clarity and depth. Regardless of the contract value, the cost of commitment and enforcement should be as low as possible, or as close to zero. Contracts should be cheap to execute.

If there is the need for any installation or set-up, then it should be fast and cheap not just for the enterprise and the agent, but also for customers and users who do not want to bear unexpected costs of making use of a service. Dialog and interaction should not be too painful for users or agents. Depending on when and where capacity engages demand, each side should have the access they need to infrastructure and facilities the other controls. It should be effortless to give and take custody and control of artifacts and resources.

If there are difficulties or problems in using the services, it should be easy for users to get help, assistance, or remedial action. There should not be any undue or unnecessary constraints on usage of the service, and there should be flexibility and tolerance for how demand expresses itself, across users, locations and time periods. Agents should have the responsibility and authority they need to for effective decisions and decisive actions. They should be in a position to properly advise and assist users, to be able to fix problems and errors, and to be able to handle exceptions or any unexpected situations.

People, facilities, and infrastructure should be trustworthy and safe. There should be adequate capacity, continuity, and care to make sure failures and disruptions do not jeopardize the safety and security of assets customers entrust for performance; and providers entrust for affordance. Personalities and fines may deter but they don’t prevent. One side should not place on the other the undue burden of enforcing contractual obligations.

Filed under: thoughts

by

TL;DR I can audit the design of a service to prevent or predict systemic failure, using a proprietary method called 16F I make intractable problems, tractable by reframing them. I then design solutions that won't create problems elsewhere, now or in the future. The solutions are in the form of services. I focus on system-level structures that give meaning and purpose to the design of lower-level constructs such as processes, interfaces, and interactions. I've spent the last 10 years obsessed with the questions: What are services? Why do they fail? Why do they exist? I'm now writing a book. Design is my dogma. Curiosity is my doctrine. Industrial engineering is my discipline. @mxiqbal

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s