Failure demand


Failure demand is a concept discovered by Professor John Seddon. According to Wikipedia, he describes it as "demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for the customer".

I'll give an example of something that happened to me a while ago. We needed an electrical inspection in order to sell our previous apartment. Due to the setup of our tenant living there, we had one month to make this happen before we had to hand over the keys to the new owners. One month seemed like a good enough buffer to make this happen. I immediately thought of Company A, because they left a sticker on the electrical cabinet after a previous inspection. I submitted a form on their website and got a confirmation message along the lines of: "We'll contact you as soon as possible to arrange an inspection!".

I mentioned that we needed an inspection within the next month.

The actual timeline

  • One week after submitting the form, I called Company A to ask if they received my request and explained that it was "urgent" (3 weeks time left).
    • The answer: "Yes sir, I'll inform my colleague to get to you right away!"
  • One week after my call (2 weeks time left), I called Company A to ask if something went wrong, because I still hadn't heard from them.
    • The answer: "Sir, I'll make sure that this gets picked up before tomorrow evening."
  • 1,5 week before our deadline, I submitted a form with Company B and was presented with an option to pick a date/hour for the inspection. As expected, they showed up on the requested date/hour and our electrical inspection was ok for our handover of the keys.

So you might wonder, what happened to company A? They called me one week after handing over the keys to the new owners to set up an appointment... So five weeks after my initial request and two phonecalls where they assured me this would be picked up fast, they wanted to set up an appointment. I kindly mentioned that their competitor already took care of it.

The lessons

  • Your copy on your website is part of your customer journey, make sure it fits with the way you actually work.
  • When you promise to get back to someone, do so. Even if it's just an update to let them know that the request is being processed. I'd rather receive multiple updates, than not hear anything at all.
  • If the customer is calling you to ask for a status, you're already experiencing failure demand, because of an implied expectation from the customer's side.