3 working principles for memorable service

07.30.22

written near an electric fire with a cup of puer to hermanos, the morning after a brain dump first draft. caveat: minimally edited currently.


one way to test for what makes something memorable is listen to what stories are told asking what makes them worth remembering for that person? this piece is an end of the week reflection exploring familiarity, informality, and context as possible design principles for Practice doing just that.

three design principles with ideas for application

1. be familiar enough to know what's top of mind for our customer.

why: familiarity is fuel for trust and drives connection, like a well worn shoe that hugs the heel versus digs into it. a customer's needs and priorities consistenly change. familiarity is based on feedback for staying in the loop.

story: at the most extreme end, one friend traveling through turkey shared a story where strong familiarity within a culture set up a manual buy now pay later set up. it was three degrees removed from the moment and brokered by his friend's grandmother without her knowing nor agreeing to the setup.

it happened as he took his final taxi ride back to the istanbul airport. before returning to the bay area, he was joined by his friend who had been touring him around. he had been intentional to spend all of his lira before getting ready to depart to avoid a final currency exchange.

they arrived in the taxi and started headed off towards the airport. this moment would stop the car in any major u.s. city: realizing one has no way to pay for the service-no wallet, no cash, and no phone enabled digital card. rather than stop the car and walk out to find cash to pay, his friend surprised him with what she did next.

she told the driver confidently the situation they were in. the driver's next question was not demanding "how do you plan on paying me?" putting the obligation on them, but instead was "where are you from?"

he was so confused by this response unsure where it would go.

she explained the region outside instanbul, and the driver lit up. he said he loves the main city grocer as they have his favorite dried fruits. he then asked if she knew the shop owner. she said yes as her grandmother is good friends with him and shares a story of when the store was first opening.

the driver propsed a way to pay later by asking if he could get the money from the grocer and have her grandmother pay it next time she visits. she said that would work and she would pay back her grandmother.

this deal depends on an strong level of trust between everyone involved, where everyone is comfortable enough to make decisions on other's behalf. it also stems from a strong trust between each relationship already established, including driver and grocer, grocer and grandmother, his friend and her grandmother, as well as the driver being okay with taking the inconvenience of brokering the transaction and receiving money later.

the opposite end of this interaction with no familiarty is an amazon delivery driver in the bay area who had the wrong address for a neighbor's package. as the package was received, my friend called back out to them they had the wrong house to no response. he yelled again they began to think if it was worth going back as they had started their car. and he yelled a third time to acknowledge the package belonged across the street.

the driver had no idea which first names lived where in the neighborhood, it seemed as though they were on a strict metric driven time table where leaving the wrong package may have been worth the complaint quota in order to get a head start of the next delivery, and also seemed very distant from the care and delight in making a great experience.

how can we invite more trust in the community and in service like the taxi driver, his friend, and their grandmother, and avoid instances of the single drop off delivery?

applied in practice: host weekly check in conversations to see how customers are doing and hear what is top of mind for them to build trust in exchanging both information and feedback to better our service.

2. include enough informality for exceptions where there is room for personal preferences.

why: formality of service kills any humanness in potential connection or exchange.

story: this same traveling friend shared how there was reverse culture shock his first week back in the bay. he was on 17th and went up to a bus at a 30 second long stop light and knocked on the door. he expected to be let in. instead, the bus driver became enraged. he treated him a distraction and obstacle in the road motioned him off.

only in instanbul was he allowed to hop on the bus in whichever stop light made sense. only in instanbul would the driver make an informal exception to the route for added pick up at his convenience and their slight inconvenince.

there was an informal agreement with cars and busses that passengers at intersections, could hop onto a bus that wasn't moving at any time.

in the bay, everything is so formal. the agreement is to be at the bus stop on time, or miss your ride. it is convenient for scheduling and order, while keeping the riders safe in not roaming the streets, but it also inconveniences the customer.

they cannot meet a bus where they are at. while making the street more orderly and keeping the bus more organized and efficient, it also dehumanizes part of the experience. humans do not inherently run like clocks and time tables, as can frequently be late.

applied in practice: inspired by Cal Newport's story of drop in office hours to relinquish control of formal scheduling, making a regular drop in time for customers to drop in and call us normal, and not feel like work. for team, that may be drop in lunch conversations to build informal conversations remotely.

3. develop enough context for personalized decision making.

why: have enough awareness and understanding of a situation to make decisions on behalf of the customer that would suprise them in delight, like a great friend who knows your coffee order.

story: i was headed to a build session for burning man, and noticed two informal rules to kickstart any session (especially morning sessions). one, get the music going as soon as possible as a backdrop to create a vibe. two, bring a gift of nourishment, mostly caffeine and usually hearty plant based protein snacks.

realizing, i did not know any one's preference, i had to ask to confirm if what i thinking was what people wanted. if they didn't want it, what i schlepped there, i would have to schlep back. i also don't drink coffee so it's a strange thing to have coming back.

that made me think of levels of understanding context for situations.

level 1: thinking about another person and thinking coffee would be appreciated

level 2: know what coffee preferences that person (or group) has and make it available.

level 3: understand if they even want coffee or not and then help make decisions without asking to surprise and delight them. there was one person who was doing no caffeine on fridays and the weekend to help wind down from a full week.

with more context, it was a deeper understanding beyond cream or sugar, and it would have been nice ot grab them a decaf as a nostalgic hit of their morning ritual without the caffeine.

applied in practice: follow any extra media-news, social media, newsletter updates-routinely to understand what's happening for a founder, fund or coach. this could also expand by discussing with other people on the team in each company to seek on the ground perspective for certain scenarios.

what could be missing from these three ideas: chip and dan heath have a great book called the power of moments (summary attached), which covers the ingredients that go into making truly memorable experiences, and their framework include:

  1. great onboarding and offboarding experiences
  2. give customers something to talk about with something that goes against expectations by breaking the script
  3. design peak experiences, both high and low

this framework aligns with the psychological framework for how memorable stories are remember, and the above principles seem to potentially nestle into them. creating familiarity in onboarding and offboarding can build strong culture or seed relationships in the community. informality and making exceptions can give a customer something to talk about as it breaks the expected script. context can help drive what peak experience is desired or would be appreciated.


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made with 🖤 in sf.