Six Ways of Prototyping a Customer Service Kiosk

Here's how an design team goes from concept to reality (we needed LEGOs)

Our design challenge was to develop new ways to improve the adoption of mobile money programs in Ghana, and to do it, our design team undertook a rapid process of design, prototyping, and iteration. Here’s how we designed our way to a customer service kiosk in the streets of Kumasi.

1. Sketch and Experiment

If the kiosk concept was to prove valuable to our partner and their low-income customers, we hypothesized that it would need to do a few things well: offer a high level of support and make a visible and permanent presence in communities.

We began with sketches to explore what a prototype might look like—mapping out the prototype’s core features and how to measure its effectiveness. Each member of the team had a go at the kiosk and played around with a number of questions. Does it need to be a kiosk, or can it take on another form? Should the kiosk be targeted to the client's customers, or open to anyone, including competitors’ customers? How could we test for a permanent fixture in the community when we had just 10 days in the field?

2. Make a Mock-up

With our planning time quickly running out, we decided to make an ad hoc physical prototype in the office—setting up a kiosk mock-up nearly on top of our colleagues’ desks in the San Francisco studio! Push together a table, a foam core board, a dry-erase stand, a few chairs, and then with a little imagination, we had our kiosk space. Stepping behind the table, one team member suddenly transformed into a customer service specialist, with another designer playing the role of a savvy consumer. Then we traded places: I stood in the kiosk, and a colleague walked by, suspiciously eyeing both the table and me, interrupting our conversation at times to scold her imaginary children (and boy she turned out to be a tough customer!). We tried a few pitches, struggled with curveballs from various types of customers, and grasped for materials and props. Though our exercise lasted just 30 minutes and remained far from the real context, it made our discussions more informed. On the next business day, we flew out to Kumasi, Ghana.

3. Do It Again, Ask New Questions, Use LEGOs

The night before launching the prototype in the field, we still weren't sure about the person-to-person interactions. Good thing we brought LEGOs! On our hotel coffee table, we assembled miniature people and role played conversations, quickly trying and adapting different versions. It was a moment of productive playfulness that the team needed, and it provided just enough confidence for our first day.

4. Test with Real People.

There's nothing like exposing your ideas to real people and seeing them take off or fail miserably. We tested if a permanent kiosk location would be valued by residents in a community for convenience of access and flexibility of support. We set up in one spot one day, but when trying to run the kiosk in the same location on a second day, the owner of the lot refused. We were forced to move to a nearby bus station. Though the hypothesis was technically left unproven, customers did inquire if the kiosk would be returning again the next day, which we took as a light affirmation of demand.

Testing ideas with real people meant facing practical challenges with our partners at Tigo, as well, training them in a very different customer service experience. It took time and repeated coaching to break default responses and roles, to get them to try a new script, and to help us explore the minimum viable contours of a brand new customer experience.

5. Test Different Hypotheses

Each day, we iterated on the script and methods that kiosk staff used. We made sure to document types of interactions and track indicators—i.e., new vs. existing customers, or visits to other touch points. We always took the time to share the kiosk's progress across our team. Getting everyone's perspectives helped expose what was working and what wasn't, ultimately defining what the kiosk needed to test next.

6. Plan the Next Experiment

We came back to San Francisco from Ghana with one week to go until our project's final meeting. Between synthesizing our prototyping experiences, distilling what we learned, and planning the next experiments to tackle new challenges that had emerged, the week flew by. One helpful part of our experience was that our partner and CGAP teams had worked so closely with us during field work that they could tell the stories from our prototypes as well as we could. Some of them had even gotten the chance to be a part of the prototypes—fielding questions they'd never gotten before, playing videos on a tablet with real people's stories, or piecing together different ways of interacting with customers, LEGO block by LEGO block.

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