Despite making multiple references to touchpoints in past DBL posts and in presentations, it is a real challenge to find any substantive information about touchpoints. What is their significance in the user experience and what do we know about assessing and improving what happens at the touchpoints across our service operations. Yes, you can find an entry for it in Wikipedia, which is short on details, but beyond that there’s little for those who want to better understand touchpoints.
That’s why I was pleased to discover an actual research article focusing on touchpoints titled “Service Innovation Through Touch-points: Development of an Innovation Toolkit for the First Stages of New Service Development“. It appeared in the International Journal of Design Vol.5, No.2 2011. The focus of the paper is to develop innovation in service design and development by focusing on touchpoints. The author, Simon Clatworthy, developed a toolkit based on a card system as a tangible way for designers to better understand the impact of touchpoints in service experiences, and how to potentially make improvements to those touchpoints. Clatworthy begins with a good definition of the touchpoint:
Touch-points are the points of contact between a service provider and customers. A customer might utilise many different touch-points as part of a use scenario (often called a customer journey). For example, a bank’s touch points include its physical buildings, web-site, physical print-outs, self-service machines,bank-cards, customer assistants, call-centres, telephone assistance etc. Each time a person relates to, or interacts with, a touch-point, they have a service-encounter. This gives an experience and adds something to the person’s relationship with the service and the service provider. The sum of all experiences from touch-point interactions colours their opinion of the service (and the service provider). Touch-points are one of the central aspects of service design. A commonly used definition of service design is “Design for experiences that happen over time and across different touchpoints” (ServiceDesign.org). As this definition shows, touchpoints are often cited as one of the major elements of service design, and the term is often used when describing the differences between products and services. They form the link between the service provider and the customer, and in this way, touch-points are central to the customer experience.
Knowing that touchpoints “are central to the customer experience” suggests that librarians should do more to identify and evaluate the touchpoints that combine to create the library user experience. Do we even know what our library touchpoints are, and if we do, do we know how they work to provide the desired experience – and ultimately how would we assess if they are working to deliver that experience?
Those are questions that drove Clatworthy to conduct this research. His article describes “the method for innovation for touchpoints.” To do this he and his team developed a method involving cards. You may be familiar with web design research that uses a card sorting system to help users identify their preferences for the organization of the site or terminology being tested for the site. In this research, cards were created to represent the touchpoints of an organization. Creating the cards also helped the team to identify and think through the touchpoints that made up the experience. The cards can then be used to identify a “pain point”, a touchpoint where the experience, from the point of view the user, falls flat or is inconsistent with the totality of the experience.
For example, a library pain point could be the directional signage in the book stacks. Up until that time, each experiential touchpoint, from entering the library to searching the catalog to asking for directions at the “ask here” desk, delivered the experience according to design. But when the user got to the stacks location and failed to successfully navigate to the book’s location, the experience failed. We need to identify the pain points and turn them into successful touchpoints. The card exercise could help to more clearly identify which unit or department in the library is responsible for or associated with a unique touchpoint – or when there is overlap.
So what are the key takeways from the reseach:
The first is that service designers focus upon the orchestration of a service in which the choice of individual touch-points and their relation to other touch-points is important. This requires an understanding not only of individual touch-point qualities, but also of their potentials when combined in particular ways. The second relates to the orchestration of touch-points over time. Common to both of these is an understanding of the parts and the whole and the innumerable alternatives that this affords in relation to how a customer might experience.
What is your next step if you want to get in touch with your touchpoints – presumably to understand better where they are and how they can be part of the overall experience design? The first thing may be to start a conversation in your library about touchpoints, and what they mean to the staff who serve at or create these points. Once there is general consensus about the value of studying and improving touchpoints, a more formal process may be called for to map the touchpoints and learn how they interconnect. A customer journey mapping exercise could help staff to identify the library touchpoints – and whether what happens at those touchpoints is adding up to the best experience or if there are various pain points that need attention. Clatworthy’s paper is a good start for better understanding the role of the touchpoint in the library user experience. It would be great to see more research and scholarly communication – or just practical advice – about touchpoints.