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Germany: a nation of service designers

16. June 2010 – 11:21 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)
Hospital, by boliston on Flickr

Photo by boliston on Flickr

Whilst in hospital here in Hamburg over the weekend, I realised something that should have been obvious: Germans are masters in customer-led service design. If you had asked me last week, I probably would have said that the UK was the originator of the idea that customers and citizens can design their services to suit themselves. Now I’m not so sure…

Take one of the guys I shared a room with: from the moment he arrived, he was checking the bathroom to make sure it was clean (which in his opinion it wasn’t), asking whether he should have a wrist-band and compression stockings. “When will I get to talk to the surgeon?” “How does the television work?” … and so on. As a Brit this comes across as a bit pedantic and annoying. My instinctive reaction was that it would all get sorted in the end, so it’s pointless fussing too much. Incidentally, I only got the compression stockings when I arrived because my (German) fiancée asked the nurse whether I should have some, and did a bit of chasing around to make sure I got everything I needed. In hindsight, there are a few things that I should really have mentioned to the staff.

When I got talking to my room-mate, he was a very nice bloke; so it’s not that he was a grumpy old man who enjoys bothering nurses. He told me that, when he shared a hospital room with people whom he didn’t get on with in the past, he had asked to be moved.

At risk of overgeneralising, we Brits tend to rely on a customer service model, where the service deliverer somehow knows what we want without us having to say; we think it’s a bit rude to complain when something isn’t quite as we would like it. In Germany, it’s up to the customer to say when something isn’t right. And by doing so – as my room-mate did – Germans at times seem to be tailoring services to their individual needs one complaint or question at a time. My room-mate certainly did, and good on him.

Based on my experience (having lived in Germany for two years before moving back to the UK for three years, and now being back in Germany) I think this applies to service-delivery generally, including restaurants, rented accommodation, shops, public transport and even saunas. And, in my opinion, they often have better results and cheaper prices to show for it.

So the question to the German eParticipation scene is this: how can technology help German service-users tailor services to their needs in this very bottom-up manner?

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