Taps and gaps – on the perception of service reliability

There is a lot of washing up to do here. We have made Pumpkin Pie and Carrot Cake. I’m avoiding the work by writing this blog.

One thing I do know is that when I do choose to start washing up, water will come out of the tap.

Contrast that to my perception of avoiding the washing up by taking a bus to the countryside. It’s a beautiful autumn Sunday here. I know the bus service will be irregular as it’s the weekend and I know I don’t know the bus timetables.

I know I will not go out and try to take a bus.

I have been doing some usability work in Leeds on buses and loneliness lately. The journeys not taken, the friends not met and the places not visited are key interest.

What people come back to is the building up of micro-concerns (will the bus be there, will service still be running on my return) that stop a person leaving their home at all.

The person’s perception of gaps is a huge factor in their belief in service reliability.

Water is seamless. I turn the tap. Water runs.

Buses have gaps. I turn up. I wait (or not).

As a Service Design problem, it is about supporting the perception of the gap. In these austerity times, it is unlikely you will be able to create a bus network without intermittency.

Can you intervene and provide more information at the right time?

Do you know how your service users think of the moments your service is not there?

Do you support personal agency in your service users for when your service fails?

Do you help them recognise their power and independence when you do not deliver?

“Good design is invisible” is often said. It is interesting because it is about how the user stops perceiving the designer’s intent – the designer is however, still there. I’d add this:

Good service design is when you are not there.

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