Friday, June 30, 2006

Palo Alto, Day One: Take my car, please

I’m in Palo Alto with a client for a couple days, attending “research synthesis” sessions facilitated by IDEO. It’s a fascinating process, though rather Post-It intensive. (Note to self: check potential environmental impact of spike in Post-It production and consumption.)

There’s one thing about this first day that struck me even more than the process, though, and believe it or not, it’s about parking. An aside about Palo Alto: if you want to park for thirty minutes or less, it’s your kind of town. Two hours or less, they’ve got something for you, too. All day? Out of luck.

I circled, looked for a garage, felt my blood begin to simmer – the typical autonomic response of a recovering New Yorker. And then I met the IDEO account representative, and he made my problem go away.

He didn’t tell me about a lot I could drive to, or offer me an IDEO parking space. He didn’t give me advice or information to help me mitigate the issue myself.

He asked for my car keys.

He attached a small tag to my key ring with a map on one side and a blank grid on the other, to note where the car was parked and when. A small team of IDEO employees then monitors how long each car has been in its current space, then goes out and moves them to other legal spots as needed. They then note the location on the card and return it to the front desk. All day long.

And if you do get a ticket, by some strange chance, you mail it in to them and they pay it.

When I was ready to pick up my car, I grabbed my keys, noted the location, and used the map to walk the one and a quarter blocks to where it was parked.

So what, you may say?

Here’s what: service is sometimes about giving the user the tools to manage the situation themselves; sometimes it’s about making the problem just go away. IDEO has figured out that when you’re bringing people in to do creative thinking about a business problem, you’re better off making their petty problems, like parking, just go away.

Of course, part of customer service is providing feedback to improve product design so customers don’t have the problem in the first place. (Translation: build or move to a new office with a parking garage.) But hey, this is Palo Alto. A sliver of land is worth more than you’ll earn in a lifetime. And IDEO already has cool space, tailored to their needs, thank you very much.

More on the process itself next week – we’ll be back for a design workshop.


Anonymous Faz Kamaruddin said...

I run management learning programs in Asia Pac for groups of our managers (and engineers who are managers) and THEIR managers. I'm a one-woman show and on top of onsite coordination, I'm also responsible for designing the programs, together with my external consultants. I've experienced customers who expect me to take care of their problems all the time, and do not welcome my alternative approach of giving them tools to manage the situations themselves. The moment I start thinking that the 'entitlement mentality' is too strong, I'd tense up, feel unappreciated and be angry. I've learned to manage this a little better since then and for 2 years I've been practicing Thai kick-boxing to work off the aggression, BTW.

This post gave me a little boost to remind me again the meaning behind some of the tasks I do. When I bring people together in week-long learning programs, my main responsibility for that week is to make sure they have a good environment to learn. My job, is to make THEIR petty problems go away.

Thanks for this post. I've got my eye on your blog now!

12:33 AM  
Blogger Nick Rice said...

It strikes me as funny that it's always the little things. IDEO is a big company, part of a public company, and instead of solely focusing on quarterly results they live what they preach. They've designed a better experience for their clients. It has nothing to do w/ their work yet it's a great example what makes their work outstanding. Thanks for the story.

9:23 PM  

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