Friday, August 19, 2005

Not User-focused: An Example from the Royal Mail

What happens when you are not at home for a delivery provides a good non-programming example about what it means not to be user focused.

One day soon I'll write and article on being user-focused, which is something that a few programmers and software companies do really well, and as a result they do well, and a lot of programmers do badly. However, this week I came across a really good non-programming example which I thought I'd share.

There are three classic symptoms of not being user focused:
  1. It is possible to get the job done.
  2. The way that would make it simplest for the user to get the job done does not happen, and often the user is made to feel stupid or awkward for wanting it done this way.
  3. The job is done in a manner which seems most convenient for the people doing the job.

I think this story illustrates all three.

The other day I ordered a firewire card for my laptop, as the built in one has died. Normally I get parcels delivered to work, but the udiggit would only deliver to the credit card address, so I had to get it sent to my home. Unfortunately, they sent it Royal Mail Recorded Delivery.

A brief aside for those of you not in the UK. The Royal Mail are the UK's postal service. Recorded Delivery means it normally arrives within 24 hours and has to be signed for. And this is where the problems start.

I am usually at work during weekdays, so I am not at home to sign for items. When the Royal Mail make an attempt to deliver a recorded delivery item the delivery does not happen. The item is taken back to the sorting office, and they will keep it for 1 week. A note is left with four options for how to get the item.

  1. Go to the sorting office itself and collect it during the sorting office opening hours.
  2. Get the letter redelivered to your home address.
  3. Get the letter sent to another local address for free.
  4. Get it sent to a local post office for you to collect.

This seems very reasonable at first glance but it completely fails to meet user needs. I would guess that most failed deliveries happen because the person and their cohabitants are all out at school or work during the day when the attempted delivery happens.

  • If you have a normal fulltime job getting it redelivered to your house (option 2) is no good as there is no guarantee on delivery time.
  • If you do not work in the local area, option 3 is no good, where are you supposed to get it delivered?
  • The local post office opening hours are basically office hours, so option 4 does not help.
  • The sorting office opening hours are weekdays 9am until 5.30pm, and Saturday 8 until 12. That information is from memory, because in another example of not being very user-friendly, I cannot find it using their website or google. So for the typical person who fails to have something delivered, they are left with a four hour window on Saturday or the delivery fails.

A user focused approach would think "Why has this not been delivered?" Then realise the answer was because the person was usually busy during the day. And then maybe offer some of the following options as well as or instead of the ones above:

  1. An evening redelivery to a local address or your address.
  2. One or two days a week, open the sorting office counter from 1pm-9pm. No extra staff time is required, in fact it might offer some staff a choice of working hours they would value.
  3. Allow an option to pay to redeliver to a non-local address.
  4. Allow a letter to be sent to the sorting office to authorise a non-signed delivery, with the signature on the letter counting as the signature.

So the three symptoms were met:

  1. It was possible for me to get the item
  2. It was not easy or convenient for me
  3. It was made very easy and convenient for the post office
Interestingly, this isn't an example of not being customer focused. I was not directly the customer, udiggit were. I was a user. As such I have no monetary power to change things except indirectly, by not shopping with people who use special delivery, and insist on delivering to my home address. This is very similar to the software example, where the people choosing to buy the software, often the IT department, are different from the people who use it.

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