I broke your toilets and now feel ashamed

Let users signal problems and go through them


There is one principle in Service Design, which many huge companies and software companies understood well. Let users indicate problems. For software companies, like Apple, this means that when their software crashes they should enable the user to report the bug. So that it can be fixed. Another simple example is the public transportation company in Switzerland. In the toilets of their trains you have a panel which explains how to report if a toilet isn’t working anymore. Or you can report if the bathroom needs some cleaning.


Understand this rule is a good first step, but it isn’t enough. In the example of the software, if it crashes I know that it’s good to help Apple fix the issue. But it doesn’t solve my urgent problem! I just lost my document. What can be done for that? You should help your users recover from the problems too. That means you should give them solutions or at least a hint to where to search for a solution.


In the case of the Swiss trains and their toilets, the problems get even more down to earth. In one of my last train trips I used a bathroom, that seemed to work correctly. But sadly the flush was broken. Cool, I can signal the problem to the company so that they know they have to fix it later. But this will happen later. What happens with me now? Should I just leave the room with a toilet which is still full? That isn’t a great welcome for the next user. At least it’s a good signal that the bathroom isn’t working. This kind of awkward situation for the user should be taken into account by service designers. 
In this case indicating the problem to the company isn’t enough. As a user, I would be happy if I could indicate the problem to the next users too before they enter in the toilet. But I can’t do that. Or even better I would be happy to solve the problem myself. But you know what, the train company didn’t think it would be useful to have a toilet brush in a bathroom.


We have seen here two examples, one where when the problem happen it makes you crazy because of the work you lose. And the second because you feel so embarrassed. These are situations which are highly emotional. We could solve them with a bit of smart thinking. And so make your customers happy, or at least less angry and less embarrassed.