How we saved a client from a $1bn mistake

We recently had cause to look back over two and a half years of projects and reflect on the impact we’ve had as designers, and as a company. Quite a few projects stood out for us, highlighting the positive influence we’ve had on the day-to-day experience of a lot of people, and changing for the better the ways in which organisations provide services to them.

One of our biggest successes – in dollar terms at least – was being able to advise a client not to do something. That advice saved them from a $1bn loss in business. In many respects the tale will be all too familiar: our client brought us in late in the process to validate some details of a design concept – a new service offering – prior to its launch. The offering had been designed in-house, quietly, and ticked all of the boxes in terms of addressing the problem being solved. Stakeholders felt confident of the service’s success; we were providing some minor fine-tuning.

But the more we heard about the offering, and the process by which it came about, the less comfortable we felt. We were able to broaden our testing brief to include the concept of the service itself, as well as the details. That allowed us to ask customers some questions we otherwise wouldn’t… and the answers weren’t good.

Instead of delivering the commercial benefits hoped for, customers were talking about a revolt; of broken trust; of walking out and taking their business elsewhere. When viewed from their perspective, and an understanding of the broader context of their business, the reason soon became clear. And we were able to bring that compelling message back to the decision-makers before a public disaster.

That project didn’t loom large for us beforehand, due to the narrow, tactical focus we’d been given. However, by broadening the perspective and the questions being asked, we averted a major mistake.

We learned a lot from that project, and it has stood us in good stead. And we recognise the fortune we had in a client willing to provide that leeway in how we interpreted our initial brief.

Some of our other highlights:

  • Improved the way the parents of NSW children make decisions about the schools to which their 1.5 million children are sent
  • Eased the ways in which 250,000 members interact with, and make use of their superannuation accounts
  • Increased the understanding one client has of it’s customers – all 5 million of them –  paving the way for future online services to be designed in a more human-centred manner
  • On track to deliver increased annual revenues for a product of $500m
  • Improved the day-to-day work lives of 125,000 staff through a new, service-oriented intranet
  • Enhanced the way in which 100,000 people are helped by a community service organisation
  • Laid the foundations for improvements to the ways in which 8 million Australian households pay their everyday bills
  • Aided in the improvement to the ways 140 properties serve 500,000 guests each year

Our work shouldn’t always be about commercial gains – and as designers we really want to be improving the lives of people – but we’ve seen some really strong commercial successes as well. Hopefully the two go hand-in-hand more often than not, but it isn’t always easy to measure.

We would love to be able to share the full story of some of these projects, but commercial confidence forbids us from doing so, but we would be keen to talk to you about how we can bring similar benefits to your organisation.

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