"Wired to Care", a recent book by Jump's Dev Patnaik, is the response that came to a young grad student's lips after she heard my answer to her question yesterday on how I was liking being in Finland. Her explanation was that the book talked about small companies that grew around really really wanting to meet and exceed their customer's expectations but facing the challenge of holding on to this quality after growing beyond a particular size. Yes, that can be a problem but the topic on hand was the Finnish bureaucracy.
Let me explain: My answer to her question led me to expound on the biggest difference I've found here in Helsinki compared to living in a few 'hotspots' around the world (San Francisco, Singapore, Bangalore etc) What stands above and beyond any experience I've had elsewhere has been my interactions with the local government or public services. Call it service design, customer or user experience, the fact remains that the Finns have somehow managed to find an answer that works when it comes to leaving the end user feeling on top of the world. Yes, I may digress into hyperbole here but as any of you who have faced the experience of dealing with customer service that's so regimented according to prescripted interactions that if you miss some required paper or information you're instantly incapable of being assisted would recognize, the opposite is bound to be a pleasure. Whether its the bank, the tax authority, the magistrates office for my social security number or even the public transport office to buy a residents monthly pass, my experience was nothing less than wonderful. Why? Because the orientation of the customer facing personnel is "How can we solve this problem?" rather than "what is missing from your required list of paperwork?" This means that from the very beginning when I arrived and didn't have an address, a phone number, a social security number nor was entered in the population registry system, every single customer service person I met went out of their way to adapt, adjust or finesse the process in order to ensure that I could start entering the system, slowly gathering my data requirements one by one, without holding up the chain with that dreaded sentence "Sorry, we can't help you, you dont' have "X" or "Y" form/paper/number etc"
It made me wonder if the system itself was designed in such a way as to a) empower the customer facing individuals in decision making and b) whether "design thinking" was embedded in the Finnish DNA? Its something I hope to uncover while I'm here, as I feel that solving this mystery of exemplary bureaucracy must certainly uncover some secret the rest of us can learn from, particularly for systems design. After all, have you ever heard these kinds of things in your experience?
"This is the magistrates office calling, your social security number is ready for collection, would you like to come this afternoon or would you prefer Monday?"
"No, don't buy the monthly bus pass, you may receive your residency number sooner and you will be able to save 20 euros, take a two week pass instead"
"I'm sorry we miscalculated the tax you had to pay last month so we'll make up for it over the next few months by deducting a lower amount"
You see what I mean?
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