Service design without service designers


I do my laundry at the laundrette just around the corner from where I live. It is expensive, it is uncomfortable and it does not really wash my clothes very well. But it is a great place for people watching and if you don’t have the patience to just sit and stare into the machine you get some spare time to call your friends or read a book. You also get to know a lot of the local business owners as you run from shop to shop to break notes from the ATM into change to use at the laundrette as the 1960’s design does only accept coins…

The other day I had the terrible experience of loading a machine with clothes, detergent and money – and it did not start! So I patiently emptied the machine for clothes, put up one of the ‘out of order’-signs and wrote one of the notes prepared for ‘the staff’ in case something goes wrong and expected my money to be lost, as the laundrette seems to be a pretty autonomous place untouched by human hands. I actually expected there just be a dustbin behind the letterbox to deliver your complaints.

But I was proved wrong when this letter arrived in the mail just three days later:

“Thank you for your enquiry. We apologise for the inconvenience you have experienced and hereby compensate your loss.

Kind regards,
The Laundrette”

– personally signed and with a cheque showing the amount I had lost in the defective machine enclosed.

Why is this good service design? The machine should obviously just work but even more obvious they do not always. The people running the laundrette know this, they know that the interface of the machines is so simple that a 5-year old could operate it (though I have watched quite a few men in their 40s having a hard time faced with the four different programs to chose among) and they know that if an error should occur there is never staff around to help people solve it instantly. Thus the only way is to apologise and compensate as quickly as possible based on the assumption that it was a system fail (which, as I found out later, it was not…).

They have simply spent a couple of minutes projecting themselves in my place: I get annoyed but I realise that the people running the laundrette are real human beings who care about me and compensate me without further negotiation. As a matter of fact I feel more attached to my laundrette after this experience. If people did this simple exercise more often (and had proper manners) a lot of the work of service designers would be redundant.

Apart from that laundrettes are a really good example of product service systems as a means of minimising the number of products by maximising the use efficiency hence promoting a sustainable life style.

By Jesper Pagh • October 29, 2009
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Design is all around

Jesper Pagh

I am a designer devoted to sustainability, technology, experiences and human behavior.