Start Your UX Journey By Fixing What’s Broken

I try not to be a badvocate. When it comes to having a good user experience, I realize that any organization where I shop, dine or patronize can have a bad day. If as consumers we are generally enthusiastic about the quality of an experience over time, and we demonstrate that with our loyalty, we can overlook a misstep.

Where we’re less tolerant is with something that’s just plain broke. Like the self-service terminal in my supermarket that is supposed to print a coupon that’s customized to my shopping habits. It’s a great idea, but if it fails to work then it just diminishes the entire experience. Here’s what surprises me though. It’s so obviously broken that I am puzzled as to why no store employee has taken responsibility for getting it fixed. It must be a case of what Seth Godin calls “It’s not my job.”

Eventually I complained. I’ll see it if makes a difference. The managers are usually good at problem resolution so I expect it will be fixed the next time I am there. But I hope they’ll be asking the same question I have. Why didn’t someone take responsibility? Whose job is it to fix what’s broken – even if it’s the piddling coupon printer? And by “fix” I don’t mean getting out the tools and taking the thing apart to find out what’s wrong. I mean accepting ownership of a problem and taking action to get that problem solved.

When we first started having conversations about the user experience at our library quite a few years ago the first thing I did, to get staff engaged in the discussion, was to provide a group viewing of Godin’s classic “This is Broken” presentation. Not only is it entertaining – who doesn’t laugh out loud during that “It’s Not My Job” segment – but it really makes it crystal clear to all of us how easy it is for everyday operations in our libraries to break and remain broken for all seven of the reasons that Godin shares. It’s a great lead-in to a discussion about what’s broken in our libraries and how it degrades the quality of the user experience.

And it left an impression. Staff decided to organize a “What’s Broken Team”. It led to a list of issues that needed our attention. Some were equipment or furniture related, others targeted patron processes that were just as broken as a restroom toilet that doesn’t flush. Did we fix everything? No. Did we get better at paying attention to stuff that breaks? Yes. It sounds simple enough, but for many library staffs paying attention to what’s broken, and doing something about it, can be the start of a journey on the road to a library that offers, by design, a better user experience.

My hope is that more of us will establish or adhere to some set of “community member quality of life” principles that establish the value of intolerance for broken things – be they water fountains that have no water, photocopiers that don’t give copies, or staff workflows that work for staff but create hassles for community members.

I don’t know if the folks who work at my supermarket have ever watched the Godin video, but my guess is they haven’t – and doing so would be a great learning experience. I just may mention that to the store manager.

Author: StevenB

Steven Bell is currently Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University, and was previously Director of the Library at Philadelphia University. Steven is the author of two regular columns published by Library Journal, From the Bell Tower and Leading From the Library. With John Shank he is co-founder of the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community. Bell and Shank are also authors of the book Academic Librarianship by Design. Bell’s latest book is Crucible Moments: Inspiring Library Leadership. More information is found at his website.

3 thoughts on “Start Your UX Journey By Fixing What’s Broken”

  1. I think the “what’s broken” team idea was a really good one and it sounds like it works well- but because management created the space and expressed the willingness to flatten processes and give up some authority. And that’s not the case in many/most(?) organizations. And there are a couple of cultural considerations that might come in to play with your surprise that staff hadn’t identified the problem- first, can the staff at this store afford to shop there? and if they do, it’s certainly been my experience to see them probably being required to check out via another staff person or manager for loss prevention purposes and to get their discount if they have one. I doubt that they would want to or be able to use the self-checkout, for administrative reasons or possibly because they prefer to be social! however, this is very like the common issue in libraries of “using the staff entrance”- either physically or online, in which we never see the physical layout and welcome of the building or service because we don’t use the same paths as users

  2. Thanks for your comment Richard.

    Just to clarify this self-serve machine is not related to checkout. It’s just a standalone unit that you walk up to and use to update your account, get info, find out about new offers, get coupons, etc. I imagine they are getting more common in markets.

    Good questions though. What might have prevented staff from finding out this printer was broken. I couldn’t have been the only customer frustrated by this problem. Good that you make that point about how staff members become so used to just doing their jobs that they don’t pay attention to the ways in which customers are experiencing the operation. So your point is well taken and makes a case for occasional customer journey reviews.

    It also raises the question of why I didn’t bring this to the attention of staff. I think I just supposed that eventually someone would notice it and fix it. Perhaps this is something else we need to consider about our users – that they may be reluctant or just don’t bother to tell us when things are broken in our libraries. We have suggestion boxes and a web suggestion blog – so it’s not that we aren’t offering ways to report what’s broken. Sometimes they do. I guess that’s something to consider for a future post.

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