As the field of service design grows in popularity, a cottage industry has mushroomed around deciphering the causes of services failing.

In my research, most of these over-the-counter unsolicited diagnoses don’t define the meaning of failure. I find, for instance, many blaming failure on customer service (vs. customer experiences). But what’s never addressed, is what improving customer service—the people interaction—is intended to achieve.

Those type of engagements are one-offs and don’t necessarily turn customers away for good. I’ve been to plenty of New York City delis where the service stinks, but that doesn’t prevent long lines waiting for a table. I urge skepticism of trite fixes solving problems that are ill-defined, or may not even exist.

Against that backdrop. I’d like to share what has been found to be a failure, what it looks like and how to recognize it.

1. The service fails to meet user needs and expectations: Once users become aware of the service, they have decided not to participate, or worse, they bail before the experience concludes.

2. The service fails to achieve its primary objective: In the world of service designers, product engineers and program managers and the like, failure is a project, program or service that costs too much and, worst of all, doesn’t achieve what was expected.

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