Tabatha the Service Design Goddess

Business owners, service delivery managers, business analysts and user experience consultants could learn a lot from tacky reality TV shows like ‘Tabatha’s Salon Takeover’.

Photo Credit: Mitch Haaseth, Bravo
Photo Credit: Mitch Haaseth, Bravo

The straight-talking Ozzie, Tabatha Coffey lends her sound advice and styling expertise to help make over America one salon at a time in this new series (Friday’s, 9.30pm on TV3).

In the vein of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, Tabatha cleans up failing businesses with a keen eye for the customer experience and broken business processes.

Her formula is simple…

  • For a day she observes the business.
  • She then sends in some mystery customers to gauge their experience.
  • She feeds her observations back to the business owners and staff.
  • She then fixes the broken parts of the business process (in last Fridays show, a phone-book sized staff instruction manual was painfully shredded).
  • Next she hones in on the staff through up-skilling, and gives those who are failing a chance to learn and improve.

What I also like is that she allows staff to have more freedom over how they work, so long as the business benefits and the customer experience is improved.

Later she returns to check if her action plan has worked. She checks the financial performance of the business, staff morale and customer satisfaction.

As a viewer we are enraptured by the sharp-shooting and frank honesty of Tabatha’s whirlwind analysis. It’s all so obvious! We baulk at the abject stupidity of the business owners (usually in tears after Tabatha’s biting analysis), and at the amazing ignorance of the staff who treat their customers as if they are an annoyance and/or a chance to experiment with scissors and hair dye.

But some of us shouldn’t feel so smug at watching these poor people be frazzled and fried in public.

The fact is that when you’re working inside a business the flaws are not always obvious. Personally, I experience poor customer service all the time from car parks, coffee houses, banks, government agencies, clothing retailers and so on.

Of course we are only human, I don’t expect perfection, but it only takes two or three consistently bad experiences in a row for me to switch providers.

Over the course of several years the accumulated lost value of my custom could be costing these businesses hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of dollars of lost revenue. And assuming some other customers have also walked, multiply that to add up as the reason why too many businesses are only just surviving.

It usually takes someone with fresh eyes to sort out where and why a business is falling short on the customer experience. In the IT industry these people are often known as ‘user experience’ experts. But unfortunately they are often restricted to a narrow view of the business – its online interactions with customers.

Service Design‘ is the “design for experiences that reach people through many different touch-points, and that happen over time”. It takes in the big picture and is where I believe all service-based businesses need to align their thinking.

The redesign of a service may involve re-organising the back-office activities performed by the service provider (e.g. how phone calls from customers are processed internally) and the redesign of interfaces and interactions that customers use to interact with the business (e.g. a website or in person).

Typically, just like Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, the work is based upon deep insights gathered by shadowing service users. This technique produces more accurate insights in to the usability of a service than remote surveys because what people say they do is frequently different to what they actually do.

Concepts and ideas are captured in sketches and service prototypes – methods similar to those already used by business analysts and user experience consultants. The strong visual approach, combined with rapid prototyping and testing of services and interfaces, delivers real value in today’s competitive markets.

So if you’re a business owner, service delivery manager, business analyst or user experience consultant I suggest you take a deep breath and start watching a few episodes of Tabatha’s Salon Takeover and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Imagine if this was your own workplace – what would they find?

We could all learn what good service is really about and get on the path to improving your customer experience, your staff happiness index and bottom line.

2 responses to “Tabatha the Service Design Goddess”

  1. Luke Avatar

    A service design company based in London.

  2. Nick Bowmast Avatar

    Spot on Zef.
    With Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, he’s dealing in an industry well known to understand the fact that people are paying for the experience as much as they are for the actual food.

    Companies who offer a service, but no physical product do need to pay attention to every interaction with their customers as these combine to create the experience, a key differentiator today.

    In NZ it’s the travel industry which has the most scope to add value here; airlines, accommodation, rental cars, tourist attractions all stand to gain from ‘joining up’ their on and offline channels to provide world class visitor experiences.