What Kind Of Message Does Your Process Send To Your Customers?

One thing I find about being a BA is that I can’t switch the analysis off.  I am forever analysing situations and interactions, well outside of the “day job”. I suspect many of us have this trait, and it may well be at least mildly irritating to those around us. 🙂

I recently went into “analysis mode” having checked into a hotel, exhausted after running a workshop.  I went to put my clothes in the wardrobe, and I noticed two all-too-common minor irritations that regular travels will recognise:

  1. There were fewer hangers than I needed
  2. The hangers were of the “anti-theft” type, where the hanging loop is permanently attached to the rail
Picture of coat hangers with anti-theft 'loop'

Unfortunately, these particular hangers were old and worn, meaning that they didn’t fit well and whenever weight was applied to them (e.g. by adding a shirt) they fell to the ground.  As I sighed looking at a wardrobe full of crumpled shirts now neatly scrunched into a pile on the very bottom of the wardrobe, I couldn’t help wonder why hotels use these weird hangers.  Even a few ten pence wire coat-hangers would be better than this nonsense….

What’s The Actual Risk? And What Message Does It Send?

My assumption has always been that hotels use these hangers to prevent theft of coat-hangers. This initially sounds logical, until we place it under a bit more scrutiny.  I am not sure that “coat-hanger theft” is a major problem in other industries and certainly I don’t hear about criminals stockpiling coat-hangers to use as illicit currency. I have no idea what the coat-hangers actually cost, but I am sure it is a minor amount compared with, say, the TV (which could also be easily stolen, if someone was really determined). In fact, the cost is probably less than the batteries in the TV remote, but you don’t see hotels welding those to the wall.

So, I am left wondering whether the perceived risk actually exists, and if it does, whether it’s probability is appropriately high to warrant the actions hotels have taken. Or are these precautions in place because “that’s what people in the industry have always done”.  If that is the case, it’s ripe for challenging and a candidate for improvement.  Even if it really is a risk the hotel wants to protect against, why not just place a sign saying “We hope you enjoy using our hangers, if you’d like to take one home we’ll add £x to your bill”. Perhaps that might be a friendlier solution.

After all, “anti-theft coat-hangers” send an implicit message to the customer: “we don’t trust you”. Like a bank that chains its pens to the counter (whilst also simultaneously asking you to trust it with your hard earned money) it shows an implied power imbalance and sets the tone for the relationship and the dialogue that follows.  There might be very good reasons for these precautions in some situations (clearly a hire car company will want to vet its customers before letting them drive an asset worth tens of thousands of pounds), but it’s important that we scrutinise these checks and balances and symbols of distrust to ensure they are proportionate.

What This Means For Business Analysis

You might not work in a hotel, and you probably don’t work in situations that involve coat-hangers, but you probably are involved in defining and improving processes and journeys.  When designing processes and journeys, we ought to think beyond efficiency and effectiveness, and also think about the message that the various steps, checks and balances send.  Are we being too restrictive? Are we able to cater for the variety that exists? How will a customer, user or stakeholder feel when they are presented with a particular part of the process? Does this process align with our values and our value proposition?

It is all too easy to lose these wider, macro-level concerns when we are focussing on the detail.  However, this is an area where business analysis helps a great deal. Working with our stakeholders to zoom out as well as zoom in will ensure we co-create service journeys that customers actually enjoy.  And it’ll avoid those “anti-theft coat-hanger” moments.  🙂


What are your views? Please add a comment below, and let’s keep the conversation flowing!

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About the author:

Adrian Reed

Adrian Reed is Principal Consultant at Blackmetric Business Solutions, an organisation that offers Business Analysis consulting and training solutions. Adrian is a keen advocate of the analysis profession, and is constantly looking for ways of promoting the value that good analysis can bring.

To find out more about the training and consulting services offered at Blackmetric, please visit www.blackmetric.com

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James Robertson

I believe that the problem here is that the people who design and equip hotel rooms do not stay in hotels. If hotel rooms were designed by frequent travellers, they would be quite different. The coat hangers would not be as you have described. There would be walk-n shores instead of baths that you have to step high to get into to have a shower and then stand on the slippery enamel bath. There would not be as much furniture in the room. I have been in several hundred hotel rooms, I have never sat in the oversized armchair they always provide. It is okay for parking clothing items until needed, but far too big for that task. The desk lamps would be bright enough to work by.. . I will stop before I become tedious.

Of course, business analysts design business solutions, and developers deliver solutions, that they themselves do not use day in and day out. Things might be different if they did.

The point of all this is that things work better if they are built by someone who either uses them, has enough imagination to produce the perfect user experience, or understands the users and the usage so well that the final product is close to perfect.

In the meantime, I suggest that each time you check into a hotel, you ask the check-in person to have housekeeping send extra coat hangers to your room. You haven’t seen the room yet but you know there are not enough hangers.

James

Nick Dunlavey

I have had some interesting variants on that. My recent hotel in Boston had a bible in the minibar. A recent hotel in Boston gave me the three main holy books – a Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Marriott worldwide resorts catalogue.

Adrian Reed

Thanks James. I completely agree–nothing beats being a service-user (or at least speaking to an empathising & understanding a service-user).

As you say, so often it seems like hotels are designed by people who run hotels, not people who stay in hotels…

Brian Simpson

Great blog post Adrian – I think hotels are still trying to fix a problem that probably hasn’t been a problem for decades (honestly, who needs to steal coat hangers?).

I think (hope) banks have caught up with the idea that chaining a pen to a counter is no longer relevant. In fact most large banks are turning their spaces into much more socially engaging and interactive spaces. I’ve just come from the Lloyds Flagship Branch in Manchester where there’s an artisan coffee shop on the ground floor and a business lounge upstairs that anyone can use to work from. Across the room there was a space being used to deliver a public workshop. A much different message to 30 years ago when bank cashiers worked behind screens.

Many places, however, still play out the power dynamic you’ve mentioned using hostile design. Hotels just scream “we don’t trust you” and are using modern tech to continue to deliver that message. RFID tokens sewn into towels, anyone?

Adrian Reed

Thanks Brian, I’m glad you like the article! You are right of course, that banks have changed–although I rarely visit a bank branch these days. I do find the different ways banks have adapted really interesting. Mine seems to have gone through the “automate as much as possible” but also “use every interaction at the counter to cross-sell and up-sell”. The experience differs a lot between banks, maybe that is becoming the differentiator now?

I’ve tried a number of banks, but stick with my main (current account) largely because the online service is really good.

In fact, perhaps banking is a really good case study for an industry that has radically changed on so many levels….

Interesting! Thanks for the comment Brian. Hope you’re keeping well!

Mar Lewing

There is, as you allude to Adrian, a socialal problem here that is frequently shown up on all interactions.
How many of us have ticked boxes on web journeys to lie about having read the terms and conditions etc. These are placed there, mostly, to comply with regulations created by Regulators that are there to protect the consumer. However the outcome is that the only way of complying with them is to provide volumous documents that companies are obliged to ‘ensure’ that the customer has read. There are two ways to do this, add them to the web page and make the customer read them (when they probably either already understand, do not understand, do not care or some combination, or create a huge document that is linked to that you need to confirm that you have read (when everyone knows that you didn’t).
This then gets in the way of the quick, easy and clear journey that the web developer initially demoed and intended.

The customer is then massively inconvenienced by the processes that only exist because someone wants to ‘protect’ them.

The coat-hanger thing (to get back to the point) probably exists because at some point in the past people did ‘accidentally take cost hangers home’ and this left rooms without any and customers complained. The solution was to make them difficult to remove from the room, thus meaning that they were there for the next person. Someone created an answer that met the brief (forgetting the customer) and this became standard solution to the problem.

The solution then becomes so widespread that it is the only answer and no-one dare stop doing it for fear of being “out of step with the market” or “It is what customers expect”.

And round we go again.

Adrian Reed

Thanks Mark, for the comment, and I hadn’t thought of linking this to the “T&C checkbox” pattern, but that’s really useful and interesting.

I saw a presentation at #BA2019 where someone had counted the number of words in T&Cs and some (major) sites had 15,000 or 20,000 words… No surprise that nobody reads them!

Thanks again Mark, hope you’re keeping well.

Chris C

1) Get some quality wooden hangers. 2) Get them branded with your company logo.
Now if someone pinches them at least you’ll be getting free advertising.

Judy Alter

I am always “BA” on just like you and I totally agree with you. I don’t travel quite as much as you do and normally don’t take a lot of dress clothes but yes I prefer a regular hanger.

Huub Ritzema

I think it’s a trade off… I try to bring my own hanger with me and take as many shampoo, coffee and tea, complimentary tooth brushes (well, eh.. did you ever try brushing your teeth with those…. ?) home as I can.

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