How to Design a Perfectly Dysfunctional Service

Since starting to work in the field of user experience I have become increasingly aware of dysfunctional products and services. My tolerance for them has also decreased as I have become aware of how they could or perhaps even how they should be improved.

Over the last few months I have experienced one of the worst experiences of customer service I have every received. It was from the UK passport system, HM Passport Office. If they were deliberately trying to design a dysfunctional system, I’m not sure what else could be done to make it worse.

In mid February I went to the post office to renew my passport as it was due to expire in March. I decided that it might be easier to apply via the post office than applying on-line. On the 8th March I received a text informing me that I have been emailed for more information, but no sign of any email so I phoned the passport office. The first issue was that the phone number to call was nicely hidden, the second issue was the queue to get through was very long (approximately ten minutes). The third issue when finally got through to someone they were not able to deal with the enquiry not even to tell me what was in the email. They were a call centre worker with no access to any information – good practice in customer service would have given them some authority to deal with customer issues directly. Instead, I was told that someone would call me back within 48 hours, however that never happened, I never received that call.

After waiting a couple of days I filled in an online form -this also told me that someone would get back to me, they didn’t. Next, I received a letter through the post asking me to post my documents, but it did not inform me what documents I should post or why. I tried calling back but got cut off after waiting in a queue for ten minutes, this happened twice. When I finally got through to someone they told me that someone would call me back within 48 hours, they didn’t I also filled in another online form, also no response, by this time I felt like of was stuck in some kind of Kafkaesque dystopian nightmare. I was in a loop.

On Saturday 16th April, more than two months after I initially applied, I finally managed to speak with someone who confirmed that the information required was my PhD certificate and that I needed to send in my original. I posted my certificate on the same day. Finally this issue seemed like it was resolved. Big sigh of relief.

This morning I received a text informing me that my application has been withdrawn and that more information has been sent in an email. No sign of any email


  1. Tim. What a good example of the danger of simply designing a service, and not taking into account the whole end to end flow of work. Engaging the front office/ back office, and having measures that cover that end to end.

    Liked by 2 people

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