If you care about your customers

This is just a little thing. It’s not even a digital thing.

It’s a real-life thing.

You want your customer to send you something. Payment maybe? Or a returned product? Or a nice, complimentary letter about how customer-focused you are?

And you give them an address that looks like this:

Kingston Technology Europe Limited
Kingston Court
Brooklands Close
Sunbury on Thames
Middlesex, TW16 7EP
United Kingdom

Now, we may know in the rational bit of our heads that there is a ton of redundant information here. Stuff that whether included or omitted will have absolutely no bearing on whether the damn thing arrives where it should. (I just love that “Limited”.)

But being the dutiful, well-trained creatures that we are, we write it all out, don’t we? (I confess, I do.) Cramping letters into the available space, with teacher’s voice in our head telling us that if the package goes astray, and we hadn’t put hyphens in the right place (or worse, omitted them as in the Sunbury example above) then we had only ourselves to blame?

But if you know (or could establish with a little bit of effort) that stuff sent to:

Brooklands Close
TW16 7EP

would get there just as effectively, then why wouldn’t you? Really?

That’s 10 of 16 character strings removed. 63%.

OK, you can keep the UK if you’re really not sure where something will be sent from. But you probably know, don’t you?

A little more thought. It’s the small things. Remember that stuff about “unstructured conversations”? The closer you can get to an easy vernacular, the more people are going to like you. And that’s going to make you more profitable.

Update: later the same day…

Different issue, different company.

“Hi, thanks for calling. Can I have your membership number?”

–erm, sorry, I haven’t got it anywhere to hand.

“Ooh, that’s ok, just give me your postcode, date of birth and first line of your address”

–ok. (and I do)

“Right you are: your membership number is AB123456789. Please can you use that next time you call us?”

–why? it seemed much more straightforward for me just to tell you things I always know, like my date of birth and address.

“Ah well you see, it’s easier for us you see if you tell us your membership number [SHE ACTUALLY SAID THIS] that way we don’t have to go looking up addresses and dates of birth and so on, you see. It’s…quicker.”

–is it? is it really? what you did seemed pretty fast.

“Thank you Mr Clarke. Now, why did you call us?”

–hang on just a moment though. imagine I had called you and given you my membership number, which I’d either had to memorise, write down somewhere, or look up in a big pile of papers under my desk while on the call to you. imagine I’d done that.


–would you need to ask me anything else? I mean, ask me any other information about me? you know, to make sure you were talking to the right person and all that.

“Erm, yes”

–what would you need to ask me?

“Can we just get on with-”

–no, I’m sorry, we can’t. What else would you ask me?

[tetchy voice] “Do you want me to help you or not?”

–c’mon, get it over with

[tiny voice] “Address and date of birth”

–thank you

“You’re welcome”

A little end-of-contract feedback for O2

…after about ten years as a pay-monthly customer.

Things you could have done better

1. When my contract came up for renewal at the end of last year, you might have let me know. Obviously, I’m a grown-up and could have kept track of the date myself, but it would have a) given you an opportunity to transfer me to a nice new lucrative contract, and b) not made me feel five months later that I was still paying top whack for what was now a very uncompetitive contract and a handset at the end of its life.

2. Remember that bollocks about me having to prove to you that I was 18? That.

3. Have a data signal available in London. Even just sometimes. Oh, that massive black hole between Battersea and Croydon? Up to an hour of my working day, every day? That too. (Your competitors don’t have this problem, you know. It’s not an insurmountable engineering problem, honest.)

4. Customer service. When I ask for stuff to be emailed to me, rather than having to grab a pen and write it down–this is not some modern, crazy self-indulgence on my part–it’s how normal people communicate.

5. Insurance. Oh dear. I paid you £7.50 a month for a comprehensive policy, including accidental damage. When my phone stopped working, firstly I had to work out the magic words to say: not, apparently, “it’s stopped working”, in which case you were not prepared to help me, but “it got dropped in water” or “I lost it”, in which case you were. How stupid do you think your customers are? How many conversations are suddenly interrupted at that point by the sound of a flushing loo?

6. Actually, you must think they’re fairly stupid. At the end of nearly three hours of my time spent chasing paperwork that you “needed” for the insurance claim, you then told me about the excess–rather more than the handset was worth. Thanks for that. Another tick in the box.

7. And when I went to my new mobile provider, they said, “check your home insurance policy, you’re probably covered”. And I was. So thanks for taking that rather-more-than-£200 in premiums for something I didn’t need.

8. Calling me to sell me other services, like broadband, no matter how often I asked you not to.

9. Junk-texting me. Ever.

10. Stopping one of your really useful services–the ability to buy an overseas data bundle–meaning the only option was a usurious £3/MB and NOT MENTIONING on your website that the option didn’t exist any more. Resulting in your customers going around and around the site in circles for an age, trying in frustration to find where you’d hidden it.

Things you did well

Nothing, really.

Preaching to the unconverted

I’ve been getting this blogging thing all wrong. Three years of grinding out thoughts about public services and technology, generally pointed towards an audience already versed in the issues, have all been for nothing.

I’ve been missing the real audience. The one that truly needs to understand more about this stuff.

A spirited discussion on Tuesday with a doughty advocate for public transparency convinced me that I need a change of approach.

Our debate arose from his astonishment that it wasn’t possible for “government” to say at any one time how many people it employed. Despite this being an “obvious” factual issue in his eyes, no amount of requests seemed to be able to produce a meaningful answer.

My response “well, it’s not really a meaningful question” – didn’t go down too well. Even having navigated the complexities of what “being employed” might mean, with all its colour and texture of vacant posts, secondments, part-funded posts, long-term absentees and part-timers, I felt there were still problems with the concept of such a broad question.

If asked by an economist with a specialism in operational research or organisational productivity, I could possibly, possibly see some sort of tangible purpose to a question, but more likely a version targeted at a more specific organisation or sector than just “all of government”. Possibly.

I know this is heresy: information should be free, yadayadayada, and the motivation of the questioner unimportant. But open your mind just for a moment to the possibility that context may have some value, in light of what came next in our debate.

The moment when I realised I’d got all my public service technology blogging pointing in completely the wrong direction was when my interlocutor said “you technical guys – you can sort all this out – surely the systems know how many people are on each payroll? Just add them up every night. You could if you wanted to.”

Here was an acclaimed expert in transparency of information, someone who’d spent much of his professional life pursuing the dark corners of government’s secrecy and intransigence. And he thought that a few lines of code and a dictat to “just f-ing report it daily” would meet this requirement.

(A spurious requirement, I’d say, as the journalist asking the question would be likely to write the same story whatever the actual number they got in response to their question. Any Big Number would do the job – and hey, if no meaningful answer came forth, that would be an even better story. “How stupid are they! They don’t even know…” Win, whichever way you look at it.)

I blame the Daily Mail, of course (shorthand for any form of lazy, populist, press). As with most difficult public policy issues, from asylum seekers to disability claimants to identity, there’s always an easy, quick answer that will get heads nodding in the pub and taxi.

But which is almost always utterly, hopelessly, WRONG. Who wouldn’t like an easy answer to a hard question? To avoid any deeper thinking about the subject. Or acknowledgement of history, personal responsibility or sense of others? To gloss past the difficulties that arise when something that looks (from a huge distance) a tiny bit like a simple, familiar, backyard activity is attempted on a scale of tens of millions of people and transactions.

So here’s the plan: a post, or small series of posts, called “The Daily Mail Reader’s Guide to Public Services Technology”.

Taking some of the favourite old chestnuts (Why can’t they count X? Surely if everyone just had one ID number? Why so many different systems essentially doing the same job?) and really, anything else that begins with: “I don’t see why they can’t just…”

And writing them up in language that DM folk may identify with. Analogies from golf clubs, caravan parks, tea shops. You get the drift.

I’ll make a start, but do please add your suggestions here for topics that you’d like to see given the treatment.

Community post hubs

This is not my idea. This is something I heard talked about years ago. Literally, years ago. Can’t remember who, when or where. It’s niggled at me ever since. But there’s no point hanging on to it in the back of my head. Perhaps someone can make it work?

Online commerce has transformed the experience of shopping. But one of the weakest links in the chain is that final stage of sending your purchases to you.

Processes to try and get a parcel through a locked door that has no parcel-shaped hole in it haven’t moved on that much. We’re still reliant on postal rounds, tracking services, cards through doors, agonising decisions to try again or collect from a depot (three strikes and it’s gone forever!), and so on.

There is now a bit of colour in this formerly grey picture, in the form of increased choices of courier company, some of whom now offer more precise delivery times, and even innovations like “get the courier to call me on my mobile using her mobile to come up with a good hiding place or agree which neighbour to call on”. Amazing. You’d almost think we were in, oh, hang on…

But these are all basically variations on an existing model which tries to get stuff through our door when we’re not there. They all waste our time, create huge scope for risk and loss, and cost retailers and logistics companies dearly as they pay to shuttle parcels through many pairs of hands, across many more locations than they need to.

There’s another approach. Bring the parcels to a place in a community where they can be looked after and picked up. And that place is not a Post Office.

Now I’ll be one of the first to come out in support of local Post Offices: they provide a valuable community function far above and beyond their “commercial” aspect. But to expect one to be open when I get off the train at 9pm is, even in my wildest imagination, unrealistic. But the petrol station is open. The off-licence is open. The pub is open.

So all it takes is for a community to have a handful of local postal delivery hubs. If I choose that option for my delivery (and I think choice would be a good way to ease it in, and genuinely illustrate the demand that I think is there) then I simply get an SMS, email, phone call (or even card through the door) to tell me that it’s been dropped off. Let’s avoid the card through the door, hey—you don’t even have to come to my door! If there’s a choice of hubs in my community, my parcel will be at the one geographically nearest to me, and I’ll be told which one.

I take some ID, and get my parcel. I might even get to speak to some people in my community at the same time. Who knows? That’s it, really.

Ok, let’s have the criticisms:

You’re destroying the postal service, Paul. Taking away huge chunks of business that will wreck their working patterns. Nothing will be the same again. Once you start disrupting parcel services like this, the old and the vulnerable will inevitably lose their “to the door” option.

Well, there may be changes, yes: it will save a lot of time on rounds, and at collection offices. Maybe there will have to be a rethink about resources and ways of working. But it’s commerce that’s changing: if all consumers are having to bend to fit a model that was built for other times, that’s not really sustainable either. Done right, I figure there’s enough revenue and value within the overall system to maintain a universal delivery option. But trying it out won’t break anything: it will only improve services (hopefully) and produce better information (certainly).

People will be so confused. These hubs will come and go. They’ll get a text message or something and not know where to go.

Some fair points. But don’t miss the point that it’s opt-in, and those likely to do so will also be likely to know their community well enough to find a pub or a late-night convenience store. I’m working on the basis that people will choose this when the hub is less than ten minutes gentle walk from their door. Those that can’t, or don’t want to, walk can stick with the existing process.

The hub might be shut.

True: this is a real issue. Staff go sick, power fails, crap happens. There’ll have to be some declaration of availability by the hub. You know, like their normal opening hours… But if you know you’re always out when parcels arrive, and the best chance you’ve got of retrieving your parcel is the 0830-1300 time slot on a Saturday at the sorting office in the nearest town, are you seriously suggesting that this can’t be improved on? No solution is perfect. None. All have flaws and risks. That’s life. But things could be better than they are now with a little creative thinking.

People in shops and pubs have jobs already. They’re busy. They have no time to do this. And they’ll be at greater risk: robbery, fraud, liability for missing goods, trip hazards…

Sure. If those risks are too great for them, they won’t apply to be a hub. But did I mention the money? This isn’t charity. This is community-enabled, not community-funded. Being a hub brings in a very real income. A per-parcel handling charge that might allow for extra staff, security, CCTV, insurance, more insurance… You get the point. Money eases all risks to some extent. So does an increase in the number of hubs. Micro-hubs every couple of streets would mean there was no great treasure trove in one place, to be raided. Yes, the risk profile changes, but it’s still measurable, and manageable.

Where would the money come from?

A combination of purchasers paying a (small) levy for the convenience, and a levy paid by delivery companies, justified by the savings they’d make in other areas: like answering all those angry phone calls, doing all those extra miles in their vans, and so on. It could lead to whole new businesses: people who know they’re always at home, using their home as the hub, really bringing business within the community. Revenue sources tend to bring opportunities like that.

Could the hubs do more than just receive? What about posting? Or other services?

I’d suggest not in the first instance. That might come later, but it raises a whole load of other issues, particularly about handling money. Let’s not fall down that old trap of trying to enhance features before we’ve even tried to see if something basic works, hey? The “not handling money” bit is important. Parcels requiring additional charges on collection wouldn’t go down this route. This would be a straight “show ID and get parcel” service—but that’s the vast majority by volume, anyway, isn’t it?

A pub is not an appropriate place to keep parcels.

*eye roll in an upwards direction*

Oh, one last feature. Well, more of a non-feature, really. This approach is NOT going to fall down the hole of trying to be too clever with technology. Big databases of registered hubs, clever algorithms to find the nearest open at a particular time, lots of hyperlocal information that all has to be kept up to date, integration with online retailers so maps and hub addresses pop up in real-time as you check out in your cart, choice, choice, choice, choice? Forget it. FORGET IT. Have we learnt nothing? Keep this simple. If I ask for a community hub delivery, I’ll get one. It will be local. If it’s not, it won’t be offered. The absolute minimum technology required is a simple relationship between delivery postcode and hub postcodes. That requires a bit of work, sure. It may even be possible to delegate some of that work to the Royal Mail to coordinate (for a cut, of course). But please no great processes for submitting and managing complex data on some godalmighty database in the sky, or trying to offer too much detail to consumers. The interfacing and data maintenance issues will kill things before they’ve got off the ground. Clear?

So, here’s a practical, Big-Society-style-community-empowered idea. It puts customers and communities first. It needs the sort of robust and open approach to risk we all nod and say we’d like to see. It also needs a hefty great supplier, I’d say—an Amazon or similar—to try it out as an option.

Who’s up for it?

Dear O2

I actually feel sorry for you. No, really, I do. The Gods of Fail looked down this morning and smote you hard with the Cudgels of Crap Customer Management. So hard, it seems, that you were stunned into silence for several hours.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, was it? You’ve had to do something you didn’t really want to do, probably–implementing a Voluntary Code protecting minors from The Evil Internet.

A piece of utterly repressive, responsibility-dodging bollocks, I grant you. But you squared up (like all the other operators have/will) and got on with it.

You came up with a smart little scheme to make it pretty easy for people to do the necessary: to prove to your satisfaction (or that of your Regulator) that you weren’t going to let any sweatybody images fall upon the eyeballs of hormonal teens via your networks. Oh no, not you.

You did some sharp thinking about the dangers of using any of the data you already held on your customers–like how long they’d been with you, whether they had a credit card, or the date of birth they might have given you as part of credit-checking. Oh no, not you. That might lead to nasty discussions about Data Protection and all sorts of horrid.

And anyway, you had a sneaking feeling that some of your customers might well have signed up as adults, and then given the phones to their children. This might be something to do with the fact that you, like all the major mobile operators, have missed a blindingly obvious business opportunity to run “parent pays, child plays” contracts. Y’know, making it easy to do something like run a managed bill that we pay monthly, giving the kids some privacy of the numbers they call, not letting them blow their allowance (sorry) and all that sort of sensible stuff. But that’s another rant.

So they might have done this workaround, and there may be some phones in the horny hands of kids, and you won’t know which ones they are.

So your first blinding bit of genius is to assume that everyone, absolutely everyone, is under 18. Until they prove otherwise to you. Great move.

Your second masterstroke (actually, it is quite a good one) is to realise that this might be a slight pain in the arse for some of your customers. So you cook up a little sweetener. If they pay a pound on a credit card, showing the transaction up on Daddy’s bill if it’s a naughty one, you’ll refund £2.50 against the next bill for the account holder. You’re giving money away! You’re buying out the pain of the change. This is brilliant. Textbook stuff.

Next bit of genius. TELL NOBODY ABOUT THIS. Why trouble them with the pain of change in advance? They’ll only worry. Just imagine their delight when they try to visit a website (in my case, one that could not have been more innocent) and up pops a little surprise. A page run by someone called “Bango” asking for money before one can continue. You did this because that’s Bango’s core business, not yours, running this sort of administration. More genius at work. (Bango. Seriously. What. Were. You. Thinking.)

And as people started to question, and moan, and give you feedback (I posted the screenshot above about 9am–soon after you must have switched on, or extended, the block) you sensibly kept quiet, not wanting to add to the confusion.

I went into your shop at about 11 to find that your (non)communication strategy was actually multi-channel. Amazing! The assistant had no idea why all these people were asking her the same thing. She maintained that O2 would never, ever request credit card details like this. It was bound to be a hoax. I really, carefully, asked her if she’d had any sort of advance notice from O2 that this was going to happen. That today might be a bit of a “special day” in terms of unexpected–and wholly avoidable–contact. Nope. Not a word. She even insisted that something like this would have to have been on their internal systems. And nothing was. I showed her the live Twitter search on “O2”. Unimpressed. She doesn’t “do Twitter”.

Eventually something clicked, and I had to haul out my ID–she’d realised this was age verification. I had to produce photo ID. And she had to see it. Yes. Really. At 43. Not funny. Just stupid. And then I was unlocked and away, free to be all dirty again. O2, hanging your High St staff out like that is even less funny. Really, really dumb. Think how she felt when she caught on to what had happened?

And by the afternoon, you’ve had a bit of a rethink about communication and you’ve put up a blog post explaining your side of the story. The date of the post is 3 March. Not yesterday, not last week, not written in time for you to actually communicate it. (In fairness, I see at the time of writing, 7.20pm, that you are actually using it like a blog, taking all comments, and responding reasonably. I’m assuming you hired a social media wizard sometime around lunchtime.)

It could have been so different. A brief “we’re giving away £1.50 for 1 minute of your time” campaign, reaching all your customers, saying that you really wish the world wasn’t so grim that this sort of stuff was necessary, but it was, and here you go, you’ll get the price of a half out of it. A little bit of preparation and a bit more spent on communication, and you’d have turned this into a great piece of well-handled change.

And when people started giving feedback, where were you? The thing is, if you don’t tell people what’s going on, they start making stuff up. Complete horseshit, sometimes. As I suspect you eventually saw, people were telling each other that they’d have to pay £1 EACH TIME they accessed the Internet. That they could bring all sorts of contractual claims against you for breaching terms of service without due process. Horseshit like that is MUCH more exciting than boring old facts. But as you didn’t provide any, off ran the rumours. You should have known this stuff.

Failure when it could easily have been avoided. That’s what makes the whole episode so utterly depressing.

And please can I have my £2.50 service credit?

UPDATE: This carelessly abandoned O2 board paper reveals the depth of thought behind this carefully-crafted scheme…

Observe – feedback – fix

Congratulations Camden Council.

I’m in the process of fighting a case on behalf of #tweetbike about a little parking matter. That’s another story.

But at two stages in the appeal process so far I’ve been pointed to the online appeal process: http://www.camden.gov.uk/pcnobjections. Rather considerate design, one might think, offering a link straight to the objection page. Time-saving. User-centric. All that stuff.

However, if you’d used this link yesterday, you would have been redirected to a top level Penalty Charge Notices page. Which says at the top: “Make a Payment”, closely followed by “How do I avoid a penalty charge notice?” It’s hard to say which of these two are more annoying to someone who is specifically trying not to pay, and is clearly a bit past ‘avoidance’ help. Not a major crime (I suspect the link used to work, but after a bit of rejigging had become misdirected) but enough to cause a fair few people a bit of easily avoidable grrrr.

So I tweeted. Although I know some of the Camden guys, I deliberately didn’t point it at them, to see what would happen.

It got picked up.

And now it’s fixed. In less than 24 hours.

So, if you see something that’s easily fixable, do at least have a go at feeding back. It can work.

The unstructured conversation

The old service dilemma: do a good job or do a cheap job. We often try to pretend that both are achievable. But they’re not.

Ask a group of consumers what service they’d like, and–without giving a hoot about cost–the inevitable answers come: “make it more about me”–“talk to me like a human being”. And, crucially, “take on my problems as if they were your own, and come back to me when they’re sorted”.

The closer one gets as a service provider to offering this latter state of bliss, the less structured the interaction becomes. If I make you fill in some really complex forms, and offer very limited ways of capturing your information, it’s a pretty good sign that I’ve thought a bit more about me (and my costs), and less about you.

Here’s a couple of little giveaways:

  • postcodes. Put in SW1A0AA, or sw1 A0aa, and watch things fall over. Why? Coz you have to put in a space (computer says ‘no’)… Well, of course you don’t really, it’s just the system we put in was a bit cheaper and didn’t allow for all the possible combinations of upper/lower case, with/without spaces, so you just structure it the way we ask you to. It’s not about you, after all…
  • credit card numbers. Four blocks of numbers, separated by spaces? Oh. No you don’t. Coz you realise after tapping most of your number in that you’ve hit some kind of wall. We didn’t build it to allow spaces, coz, erm, we just didn’t. Start again. We like things structured here. Our way.

If your service providers and suppliers haven’t thought the little things through, what makes you think they’re going to be great on the big stuff? And you can tell all this just from the application forms…

The unstructured conversation is the one we’re all asking for: freeform depositing of issues, returning later (as to the laundrette) to pick up the cleaned and ironed outputs. The “service wash” of consumer service, if you like. You really can’t be that surprised that it’s going to cost more, can you? And because of that, you’re not going to see so much of it. But treasure it when you do, and let the people know…

Lift your spirits

There’s a lot to a lift.

If you fancy yourself as a bit of an analytical thinker, go and get a piece of paper and a pencil. Think of a lift you know. It doesn’t matter whether you love it, hate it, or have no particular feelings and just think of it as a means of changing floors in a building.

Now, for exactly 10 minutes – time yourself – make as many notes as you can about the factors involved in answering these questions:

“What has made this lift like it is?”


“How should this lift be?”.



Turn off the screen. Go on. Really – Turn It Off.
















Anything interesting emerge? Maybe, maybe not. How much did you generate? Anything there about logical behaviour, customer service standards, risk, accessibility, aesthetics, lifespan, safety, efficiency, queuing theory, optimisation, heuristics, geographical location, environmental impact, user health, cost, policy, procurement, politics?

What I love about lifts is that the basic premise is immensely simple and transparent. If you have two floors in a building, a box on a wire can take you between them. With the exception of odd twists such as hydraulic mountings this is essentially all they do. In a sense. But as soon as you start to introduce additional variables: number of floors, number of lifts, uneven distribution of users over time, etc. things can get very complex very quickly. Which makes “what has made this lift like it is?” a pretty interesting exercise in analysis. Finding the story-behind-the-story.

Oh, before going back to the paradigm which will be adopted from here onwards of “a box on a wire” it’s worth briefly remembering the first lift that really caught my attention. My faculty building at university had a splendid creation called a Paternoster. (Pub mythology has it that they’re now illegal. I wouldn’t be surprised.) Every floor of an eight-storey building had two floor-to-ceiling open hatches next to each other. In the two shafts that lay behind them circulated perhaps 20 platforms on a belt stretching the entire height of the building and back again, naturally. At any point in time eight platforms would be ascending, eight descending, and I guess two each at top and bottom going round the wheels in the basement and 9th floor machine room. For the avoidance of doubt, the platforms were on gimbals – should one ever accidentally travel the voids at top and bottom (and who didn’t?) it wasn’t a question of being hurled from floor to ceiling as the ‘virtual lift box’ inverted. Of course there were nods to safety: pivoting boards built into ceiling, floor and lift platform (think of these as the ‘cutting edges’ and you’ll get the picture) which if disturbed would freeze the whole thing and prevent amusing toe-severing scenes on the way to Dr Brady’s lectures. (While I know many who would do the whole 16-floor ’round trip’ just to see what it was like, I don’t know of a single soul who tried to test the safety boards to see if their fingers/toes remained intact.)

Back to ordinary lifts. Think again of a set of lifts you know. Are they designed around the user? First thing in the morning – when everyone’s coming in – do they ‘rest’ on the ground floor, ready to receive their cargo, and returning after they’ve dropped each load off on higher floors? What about the end of the day? Would you expect them to take up resting positions distributed over the higher floors to increase the chances of one being ready and waiting as users arrive? Would you skew this to favour the higher floors? That might help more people to take the stairs… Already it’s possible to see how different objectives might be met by tweaking the way the lifts work.

There’s a nine-floor building in London with what seems like a fairly generous selection of eight lifts. Until you watch their behaviour closely. Then you see that, even if all eight are resting on the ground floor, your request for upward travel will only result in the same one opening and re-opening its doors until it’s full. (It probably knows it’s full via a weight sensor in the floor.) You certainly won’t get another one opening its doors for you until the first has left full. This means that some poor souls will have two or three minutes to endure with the doors opening and closing before finally leaving. And others jab frustratedly at lifts they know are there, but can’t use. What on earth’s going on? Then you remember that this used to be the Department of the Environment. Was it a procurement coup to pick the tender with the lowest energy use? Or is a political point being made by tweaking the lift logic to ‘maximum efficiency’ even if this results in a less-than-delightful user experience?

The mathematicians have some fancy algorithms to optimise the basic logistics of covering ground efficiently. There’s even a branch of queuing theory known as elevator theory. Amongst other things it can be used to design how the magnetic heads that sweep over hard disk drives work. (If you have several heads, and need to collect data from different portions of the disk, then you face very similar planning challenges to moving people to different floors of a building.) But, as we’ve seen, even the purity of logistical efficiency can take second place to health, politics or other objectives.

A closing thought: next time you’re waiting for a lift, or indeed, in a lift, and you don’t quite get the service you want – you might well be getting the service that some else wants you to have. And that goes for pretty much every other customer experience you encounter…