Created a hub connecting businesses with organizers in Austin's LGBTQIA+ community.
In efforts to franchise the business, the team decided to codify store operations through an operations manual. Here's what I did:
From all this, I was able to improve our customer service, which increased our 5-⭐ reviews from ~150 to over 500 across multiple platforms.
NOTE: This is a retrospective case study. I was not in a design-related role at the time, but looking back, I realized that much of my process seems to fit fairly well into service design. Either way, this gives a great idea of how I work.
Front-desk employees ("Front Desk Receptionists and Game Assistants")
The arcade building, the virtual reality station (booth), the virtual reality game launcher, and the website
Virtual reality equipment (HTC Vive headset, controllers, and base stations in a 10x8ft space) and a computer monitor, mouse, and keyboard at each station.
VR game studios for licensing
Very thin standardized processes in place for customer service, troubleshooting, arcade cleaning and maintenance
iSimu VR is Georgia's first and largest VR arcade. The most popular arcades across the country franchised early in order to gain brand recognition. We wanted to do the same, and needed to codify our operations to be franchise-ready.
These are the biggest problems we needed to solve:
It took roughly a month to train new employees due to disparate systems.
There was no standard way to quickly troubleshoot technical issues.
Every employee had their own way to interact with customers.
Competitors had the same general technology with additional features.
Here are all the problems I identified
When I joined the company, I was trained by every employee on different but overlapping systems. This gave me a good idea of everything we did, but it took weeks to grasp it all and there were many conflicting viewpoints.
Everything from the job title and description, to the customer service and troubleshooting was a little bit different for each member of the team.
The first week of the job is literally playing games. We had over 40 games and experiences, and as a 'Front Desk Receptionist and Game Assistant' I had to know how to play every single one. Not only was it important to assist players through gameplay, but we also had to know how to fix common technical glitches and bugs people might get.
Additionally, the hardware itself was notoriously difficult. The HTC Vive could lose tracking if it's sensors or base stations were obstructed, which would cause the player's view to scuttle about, making them nauseous. Controllers would break or just stop working correctly. The headset display would cut out unexpectedly, casting the customers into a black abyss. Even the wires connecting the headset to the computer could pose a choking hazard if they got too low. And of course players might bang into the drywall at anytime, hurting themselves and putting holes in the wall that could take weeks to fix.
On top of all that, there were the usual computer game problems: freezing, crashing, low frame-rates, long load times, etc.
All of these problems were only addressed with reactionary troubleshooting, therefore increasing the risk of potentially bad customer experiences.
Similar to troubleshooting, customer service was a multi-channel process. You had to know how to talk to customers over the phone where it was difficult to hear on either end, in person when people came to make or use their reservation, as well as in the headset where they immersed in a whole different world.
There was a general understanding of what types of things we needed to say to people who were interested in coming to the arcade but had no idea what VR was about. Likewise for when it was time to show people how to play and aid them in their experience. However, every employee had their own way of explaining what virtual reality was, how to play at our arcade, and even how to help customers in-game.
Some of the especially glaring issues were fielding large event calls such as birthdays and corporate events. These customers were used to a streamlined experience and did not like having different messages every time they called to ask more questions or confirm their booking.
VR Arcades were not a novel idea even in 2016, when the industry was at its peak hype. Small family entertainment centers and trendy bars were buying headsets for people to try while they were there. Long time VR fans who were paying attention to the Oculus acquisition saw this as a resurgence of the classic arcade. The term 'VRcade' was coined very early on before most people knew it was an option.
However, in Atlanta, not many people moved as fast and decisively as this company's founding team to establish a large family-focused arcade. A few months after iSimu VR launched (the name being trounced on reddit), another virtual reality arcade opened barely 5 minutes away. Yet another opened up in the middle of Atlanta, but it was a bar with very different customer base. A few others popped up in and around the city.
Each competitor seemed to have something we didn't: more space, newer headsets and faster computers, more games (some of which were not available for commercial licensing). Unlike arcades opened up by retired businessmen with their own private jets, our team were recent graduates (or current students) who barely had enough investment to have a runway.
What was our competitive advantage? How would we stand out in this increasingly crowded field that supposedly was doomed to die out as the 'fad' faded?
This project was already in motion when I joined the company. Since I was the newest member of the team, I was able to provide feedback on what parts of the business that were not easily understood.
I first inspected the most visible part of the business: front desk operations (sales, reception area, customer service).
I then reviewed my favorite aspect of our arcade: the games and the virtual game selection menu.
Additionally, I analyzed various backend processes: troubleshooting, cleaning maintenance, and our inventory system.
Read more about my auditing process
At each step, I would pepper every team member with questions, from the founders down to the person who only worked when he didn't have too much homework. This gave me a very thorough understanding of both the current operations and everyone's perception of the operations.
After understanding the employee point of view, I would ask customers about their experience. Sometimes through just casual conversations, other times through surveys I recommended we do. This helped me empathize with customers as well as notice how different types of customers had different experiences according to their own perceptions and expectations.
Finally, I would find, read, and ask questions on forums and communities of other VR arcade business owners and even VR game developers/publishers. Understanding what other people in the industry did with the same issues we had allowed me to see the greater picture of what worked and what did not. The game developers I spoke to also had very unique perspectives on the role of arcades in the industry.
Confident in my knowledge of how every aspect of the business functions, I not only gave suggestions on what to document, but also what improvements we should consider:
Troubleshooting needed to be standardized and communicated with the team more efficiently.
This pricing chart was fairly difficult for people to read. Not only was it behind the front desk, but it was also hard to understand. Customers would see it and then ask how the pricing worked immediately after.
Check out the other improvements I proposed
I used my experience as a project manager in my last job to create user stories based on what we needed to improve. Looking at what people wanted as an employee, customer, game licensor, and even as the founders themselves, I was able to propose solutions to every problem I pointed out.
At this point, the prior project lead wanted to pass the project on to me. After gaining ownership of this initiative, I decided to restart the manual and pivot to reflect the changing landscape.
The original format was via powerpoint slides, but this made it too difficult to fit all the information we needed, so I created a document that was more comprehensive.
We eventually realized that franchising wasn't necessarily an appropriate goal, so I encouraged the team to focus on internal documentation that was more detailed.
I found Superhuman's product-market fit survey and used that to determine customer types as well as the best/worst parts of our service according to each of those customers.
I introduced the idea of Objective Key Results (OKR) to address concerns the owner had with productivity during slow times, and employee alignment with the vision.
I also revamped our hiring process to be more standardized, transparent, and exciting
This is a snapshot of our old project status sheet, where we tried to maintain some record of everything we were doing/planning to do.
Here's more details about the OKR and hiring process
The team used an impromptu 'Project Status List' that was intended to share tasks that needed to be done. However, it was a simple spreadsheet that quickly got out of hand. It was difficult to keep track of and everyone had varying amounts of assignments. Some folks had a lot to do, some had almost nothing to do. There was no real cohesion on what each employee can do to move the company forward.
Furthermore, performance evaluations depended almost solely on what the manager and founding team could remember of your contributions over the last 6-9 months.
I searched for tools to help with productivity, performance evaluations, and task management at small companies. I cam across the concept of Objective Key Results and eventually found a free and simple tool: Alexander Jarvis's google sheets template for OKRs, KPIs (Key Performance Index), and PPPs (Progress, Plans, Problems).
It took a few weeks to convince the founder to switch to this method.
His main concern was that we did not have a traditional team nor functioned as a typical startup. We were primarily a retail center with hourly workers, so not everyone worked the same amount of time or had time to work on other tasks if the arcade was busy.
I showed him how this would allow people who had a lot of downtime to still contribute, while also helping those who usually worked during busy hours to align with the overall vision and thus be excited on where the company is going beyond the daily grind.
Through implementing this system, I improved the communication channels between the founding team (who usually worked in their home office) and the arcade team. Every employee had a chance to speak with the founders on a more regular basis and shared their thoughts, hopes, and feedback on the business. This helped us tap into more of their talent, and get employees more involved in overall business strategies.
Another key result of the operations manual was a complete overhaul of our hiring process.
I used my experience working at an HR tech startup prior to this position to inform my process. In short, I did the following:
We were able to improve the business in a number ways through my contributions. I was promoted to the new Arcade Operations Manager position to continue implementing and improving end-to-end operations where I could.
Thanks to testing our virtual environment with customers, we were able to:
As a result of creating standardized communications with customers we:
Thanks to creating holistic services for business operation we:
By documenting and implementing our troubleshooting process we:
Though I did not get to design the new virtual game menu space station myself, I did play a large part in testing various iterations via contextual inquiries and scenario-based usability tests, then relaying those results to lead each iteration.
Created a hub connecting businesses with organizers in Austin's LGBTQIA+ community.
Building a (stealth mode) SaaS platform to solve a critical problem for UX researchers.