Things I’m learning…


So I’ve been France for about a month or so, and it’s been (and continues to be) an education.  I didn’t imagine that life in an alpine village would bring much insight into for my professional life in social housing, but it’s doing just that.  In spades.  But here’s just one aspect for now.

Design. Or poor design more like, can really influence how a citizen experiences a service, and how they feel about a place.  I have passable French language skills – enough for me to have a chat to people, and use most French websites.  I’ve even started using the phone a bit, but that is harder, as you don’t have the benefit of hand signals, mime or sketching.

Last week in IKEA, I was totally befuddled by the ordering/paying/collecting process.  I ordered & paid for some items that needed to be retrieved from a staff-only stock area.  I was handed a receipt and pointed in the direction of customer services to collect it.  On approaching customer services, there’s a nice big “take a ticket” sign & dispenser, and over the top of each customer service desk an electronic display with number of the ticket for service.  I take a ticket, I wait on the comfy chairs, use the free wifi, and after a few minutes, get to the desk.  Ah, says the woman at the counter, you don’t need a ticket just to collect something, your go over there…. Pointing to the left.  To the left, was another set of screens, which showed which items (& reference numbers, matching those on my receipt) had been retrieved.  Once I understood what I had to do, it worked a dream.  When I took a closer look at my IKEA receipt – it did even say “you don’t need to take a customer service ticket, just go straight to the collection point”.  But of course, I didn’t read that bit fully, I did the Pavlovian thing of taking a ticket.  Clearly it’s an experience IKEA know about, as they print it on every collection receipt.  But I can’t help thinking it would be easier to re-site the signage so customers could see easily, the two different services.

Not being a native French speaker makes lots of simple things a bit harder.  And I’m beginning to experience what lots of our Housing Association customers who don’t have good English experience.  Simple day to day transactions take longer, and are laden with a degree of anxiety that I’ll get something wrong and look an idiot. Or worse, make an expensive mistake.  Now I don’t have a regular salary like I used to, I’m much more conscious about outgoings.  Every time an official looking letter arrives, I can feel pangs of anxiety lest I’ve messed something up.  I can only imagine how some of the sectors official notices are recieved – especially the ones with legal jargon.

I’m not suggesting we should translate everything for customers.  It’s certainly improving my French by having to use it day to day.  But I think we should be looking at our service design through many different lenses – and one of those is “how does this work for someone with limited English”.  If we can make things more intuitive, more visual, less reliant on reading detailed written material, we’re actually making it easier for everyone.

But on to today’s challenge.  I have a Carrefour supermarket loyalty card, and I have a voucher to get €4 off my shopping. I present the voucher and the card at the checkout.  No money is knocked off my shopping bill, but another voucher with a security PIN in given to me, and apparently i need to do something at the customer services counter.  I wonder if I’ll need to take a ticket…

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