It was worth it when I got there.

These days, many things are becoming automated. Presumably, these innovations are intended to:

  • save the cost of employing staff
  • save time
  • give more ‘power’ to the people

But who do they really help? Often, it’s not the customer.

Case study 1

I’ve recently returned from an amazing trip to Greece. I flew out from the new Heathrow Terminal 2, where you now have to print your own bag tag.

However, there was no signage telling people what to do. I saw several people join the snaking line to reach the check-in desks as usual, only to be sent back to the bag tag machines.

Tempers were fraying.

There was a queue of people at each bag tag machine. But it wasn’t going well. There was one member of staff helping one customer while the others fretted and stamped their feet.

When I finally reached a machine to print my own bag tag, the machine screen offered me three options:

But it refused to scan my boarding pass (option one). I tried again. It refused again.

I started from the beginning and picked the second option. The machine refused to scan my passport too.

I looked around for help. The member of staff was busy with someone else. There was a queue growing behind me. Tutting.

I started again and picked option three. I typed in all the details on my boarding pass. It finally printed my bag tag. Hoorah!

Mind you, I then wasn’t sure how to stick the tag round the handle on my luggage, and took it with me to the check-in queue.

And when I got to Athens, the coach was parked on the right, not the left as stated on the instructions I’d been given.

Travel can be stressful enough without these added irritations.

Three simple solutions

The signage needed to tell people what to do. A simple sheet of A4 stuck on on the nearby pillar with Blue-Tak or Sellotape would have done the trick, saying: ‘First, print your own bag tag here. Then check in at the desk’.

The interface on the bag tag machine needed (a) to be clearer (b) to work.

The tag itself should be designed to make it obvious which bit you stick where.

Case study 2

This experience reminded me of the self-service tills at supermarkets. My local Sainsbury’s never recognises my hessian shopping bags (perhaps it knows I bought them in Waitrose). I always need to call a member of staff to ‘authorise’ my bags.

Have you had a similar experience?

Case study 3

I visited a client who’d moved their office reception upstairs. I took them outside and invited them to retrace my steps. Approaching the building from one direction has no signage to tell visitors where they are. There are signs to direct people upstairs, but they are small, home-made and dated. The stairwell is dark with flaking paint – not very welcoming.

The client gives a professional service for what some would call a high fee. But the customer journey doesn’t set the right expectations or fill you with confidence.

Why you need to know this

I heard about a company who changed the job title for their receptionist to ‘First Impressions Executive’. As a result, she didn’t just sit behind a desk. She also went into the car park and picked up litter.

What’s getting in the way of customers purchasing from you?

What can you do to make life easy and welcoming for your customers?

When’s the last time you ‘mystery shopped’ your own product or service?


Vicki Harris · October 26, 2014 at 3:54 pm

I think it’s an architect thing!

At Tate St Ives the architects originally designed the building with no signage at all, so that visitors would get lost in the building and experience their own viewpoints etc. All well and good when you are in a gallery and not in a hurry to get somewhere. Less practical in an airport. At Chichester Theatre last weekend – a disgruntled que would have been less disgruntled by a sign to tell them to wait for an attendant etc. The attendant told me that “we’re currently negotiating for more signage with the architects” …

Perhaps architects need to work with graphic designers to create beautiful signage that compliments their vision but makes the building useful for the users!

    Jackie · October 27, 2014 at 8:38 am

    There are designers who specialise in ‘way finding’ and ‘information design’ – that’s what buildings need. That, and a bit of commonsense!

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