When third-party service design falls flat

People purchase additional bundled insurance products expecting the same quality of service as they receive from the provider of the original product. When these additional services are fulfilled by a third-party, care should be taken to design a seamless service. There is nothing worse than when third-party service design falls flat.

On Monday morning I was driving to work and heard the dreaded “ping” of my car telling me a tyre had lost pressure. After pulling over at the side of the road, it was quite clear that I did indeed have a puncture. Thankfully, I quickly remembered that a blown tyre no longer resulted in a £350 garage bill, due to my current lease including tyre cover. Tyre cover was one of the main reasons behind my recent choice to lease a car rather than buying one outright. ‘High performance’ cars are a guilty pleasure of mine, but their tyres tend to be of the larger and more expensive ‘run flat’ variety. The reason for my initial horror at seeing the ‘flat tyre’ icon appear was that my previous car and the British roads had collaborated to make a pretty sizeable a dent in my savings on several occasions. 

British roads are in a state of poor repair and don’t play well with big alloys and run flat tyres. 

In business terms, ‘tyre care’ is a service that gives the consumer access to a large company’s risk-offsetting infrastructure to absorb the inevitable costs that arise through normal use. In consumer terms ‘tyre care’ equates to “I give Arval money, and they give me tyres when I need them”. Like with any service, it has no intrinsic value until it is used. After calling the phone number provided and selecting the appropriate options for tyre replacement, I was informed by a recorded message that I could visit any ATS Euromaster branch, where they would be pre-authorised to carry out the work. This differed from my past approach of visiting my local BMW dealer, who always had the tyres in stock, and usually at a more competitive price than independent garages. However, as long as I would receive the tyres, I was happy to comply with this new procedure, so booked the car in at my local ATS for 9 am the following morning. Typically, people judge a service against two criteria. The first is the ‘experience’ of using a service, which is usually defined by interactions with people (e.g. in a call centre, or face to face) or digital channels such as a website or app. The second is whether the service delivers the expected outcome, in this case ‘new tyres, quickly’. 

On Tuesday, I woke up and after my customary shower, cereal bar and double espresso I drove the car slowly to ATS. After the initial inspection, the mechanic confirmed that the tyre was indeed flat and called their supplier to order an appropriate replacement. He then politely explained they would be unable to get it until Thursday. Given that the terms of the lease promised a quick resolution, I picked up the phone and called the Arval support number. After selecting the tyres option again, I spent some time on hold and was put through to what I assumed was the Arval contact centre. After explaining my predicament, I was subsequently placed on hold, cut off, called back, was placed on hold again and then told that I needed to speak directly to Arval. I was somewhat puzzled by this and ascertained that in fact the call centre was also operated by ATS. I was then finally transferred to Arval, who responded by putting me on hold while they called ATS. 20 minutes later, they called the ATS branch back (rather than me) and confirmed that I could take the car to Kwikfit instead, where the tyre was currently available. 

Your customer should never be in a position where they have to mediate relationships with third parties. Here, the service design had clearly failed. 

Fast forward a few minutes and I was sat in Kwikfit, booking the car in. The mechanic there explained that they would have to contact ATS for authorisation to replace the tyre, once they confirmed that it was punctured, which would take around 20 minutes. Once the initial inspection had been carried out, the mechanic spent a further 20 minutes on hold to the ATS call centre, who had no record of the previous conversation, and told him to call Arval. Surprisingly, Arval then had to call ATS to authorise the change. Eventually, three hours after my original appointment, I drove off with a new tyre. How could we have improved this experience? Let’s approach this from the perspective of interaction design, where we define several states for each screen, including:

  • Ideal State – How the interface behaves when it’s most useful to the user
  • Empty State – Essentially the on-boarding journey that guides the user through the steps necessary to realise the application’s potential
  • Error State – What happens when things go wrong to help the user recover
  • Partial State – The state between Empty and Ideal
  • Loading State – How the application behaves when it is loading

The primary issue in my tyre experience was that the service was missing a ‘tyre unavailable error state’. When the tyre was unavailable, the service collapsed, and the journey to resolution was poor. However, the negative experience could also be attributed to a lack of forward planning. The service has been designed on the assumption that the garage must confirm that the tyre does indeed need replacing. This was evidenced by the fact both garages insisted on checking this prior to sourcing the tyre. This is equivalent to designing an experience on the assumption of user guilt, like your typical self-service checkout, which is designed with loss prevention in mind, rather than great service. Given that ATS was supplied with information on the type of tyre needed, and there was one less than two miles away, they could have easily sourced it prior to the appointment, without involving the service user. Assuming that the issue couldn’t have been prevented in advance, one of the main problems was the lack of understanding on the parts of Arval and ATS as to who had ultimate responsibility. 

The constant handoffs, hold music and discussion between the two parties, often mediated by the service user or the third party garage, was a clear indication that the service hadn’t been designed holistically. A key failing here was that the ATS contact centre staff felt they lacked the authority to make decisions on behalf of Arval. Proper service design means the service would delegate the appropriate level of authority to each party involved in the service delivery, empowering them to make autonomous decisions about how to proceed. In conclusion, outsourcing services to third parties can substantially affect perceptions of your brand. Design the service from the perspective of the user and allocate responsibility and authority appropriately. Where possible, leverage any available technology to ensure that the process is logistically smooth. Finally, stress test the services by prototyping and testing them on real customers to ensure that you’ve made adequate provision for when things go wrong.

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