The next sentence is the most uninspiring opening line you will ever read – which is why I have put this one in front of it.
This morning on my way to work I got some money out of a cash machine.
I have no idea how many times I have done that before – a couple of thousand on roughest of rough guesses. This time was just like all those other times. With almost perfect consistency, I use cash machines to get cash. The same amount. And no, I don’t want a receipt, thank you.
So why, if my answers are always the same, do I always get asked the same questions? A small frustrated tweet went out to the world:
Life would be better if the first question cash machines asked after checking PIN was “The usual?”
The unexpected response, from Ruth Kennedy (who in turn had got it from Amanda Gore) was the extraordinary news that such a cash machine might exist, with a link to a fantastic design project by Ideo for a Spanish bank, BBVA, where
The question was not how to further automate the teller, but rather how to humanize the machine…
It’s what happens when you build an ATM from user up rather than components down.
Watch the video on the project site for an explanation of what’s different, though in one sense the answer is much less interesting than the way of exploring the question. For a public strategist, I think there are two important points to think about.
The first is that even services which are mundane to the point of invisibility can be radically improved, if only assumptions about how it has always been done before are jettisoned and if there is a relentless focus on helping customers get done the things they want to get done. It also requires – though this is less immediately obvious from the BBVA case study – a willingness to change things deep in the structure as well as in what is commonly understood to be the user interface. The problem with today’s cash machines is not just that they haven’t been designed to ask me whether I want the same service as last time; it is also that they and the network of which they are nodes are not designed to remember what that service was in the first place.
The second may appear to contradict the first. It is that change can be disconcerting to customers even if it is a change which quickly becomes second nature. I wrote earlier this year about the fact that however obvious self-service supermarkets and station ticket barriers may appear to us now, there was a time when they were new and disconcerting. So it is as important to understand the obstacles and inhibitors from a customer’s perspective as it is to understand the improvements they seek and will value.
We have no shortage of user interfaces where the underlying design has changed as little for as long as the basic cash machine, where quite literally we ask the question we have always asked and where the opportunities should be so much greater than for a cash machine because the underlying service the process supports is so much more complicated.
And if this is how they do business, I might just want to move my account to BBVA.