Better Service with Fewer Choices

In the 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, author Barry Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can help reduce anxiety; that too much choice can be overwhelming.

Marc Fonteijn from 31Volts has taken that fundamental idea and applied it to service design. In Creating a Better Service Experience by Providing Less Choice, he introduces the idea of “functionally overlapping touchpoints.” These occur whenever there’s more than one way for a customer to perform a task, such as paying for a ticket at a kiosk or paying for it on the train:

Providing the right number of functionally overlapping touchpoints is a key element to creating usable services. Before you know it you’re adding complexity to your service instead of creating value. Always ask yourself the question: does this touchpoint really add value? Can we make our service simpler and thus more usable by removing touchpoints?

Marc’s article explores the tension between supporting the needs of new users and streamlining the encounter for expert users. The tradeoff is that in general, more functionally equivalent touchpoints provide more choice and freedom, while fewer overlaps provide more guidance and safety.

There’s an axiom in software design that you have to be very careful about adding a new feature to a product because no matter what it is, some vocal minority will embrace that feature and you’ll never, ever be able to remove it.

I’ve been questioning recently whether that same calculus applies to service design. Can you remove functionally overlapping touchpoints without encountering opposition?

  1. Amtrak provides kiosks, buy online and buy on the train. I usually buy online, but when somebody was buying the ticket on the train, I happened to overhear the price, and I had paid more for the ticket, though I bought online. I thought I should get it for less since I bought online, so I asked the ticket collector and he told me that I did the right thing, and that the lower price for the other person was because he had booked his tickets over the phone early, but was only paying now. So there was an additional touch point I wasn’t aware of. I think with multiple touch points, it is important to communicate the options clearly, as I was a bit annoyed that I was paying more. Actually, buying online has overlapping touch points, as I had to use the kiosk to print my tickets. If I hadn’t happened to hear the price, I would have been blissfully unaware, so maybe a kind of progressive disclosure, where people can choose their preferred option, with the opportunity to become more aware only if they choose to, might be the solution.

  2. Alex

    Cities have this problem, and they probably have it worse than any of us small-time service designers.

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