“A “service” sign in a room lit up at night” by Mike Wilson on Unsplash

Netflix, Google, Spotify & iPhone are all highly aware of the importance of good Service Design. We can see this through their business models. Did you ever wonder why Netflix charges customers on a monthly basis instead of per movie or why Spotify also only offers monthly subscriptions? And why did Apple switch from iTunes to Apple Music? The reason is simple. All of these providers wanted to move away from selling products and into selling services. Through well-designed services, providers hope to build and maintain a relationship with you, the customer. This relationship means that they can predict their revenue better, re-invest in improving customer experiences, up-sell and introduce new products and services more effectively to their existing customer base.

The benefits of brand loyalty, which companies such as Nike developed and cherished in the eighties and nineties, are reaped with more certainty through successful customer relationships within a service agreement.

This relationship creates a fluid, back and forth association between the user, the client and the stakeholders. Broadly speaking, what is good for one should be good for all. It is within this Venn diagram of interconnectedness that innovation has the most impact. Service Design is the methodology used to develop this innovation.

Service Design — a case study

What did we all do before we had smartphones?

This may seem like a whimsical or rhetorical question, easily answered — we spent less time on social media — but we use our smartphones for so much more than just keeping in touch with friends and family.

From ordering a taxi to finding a new place to eat, or finding your way home, your smartphone can do it all. Before you had your first smartphone, you called the taxi firm, and you bought restaurant guidebooks and had an A-to-Z of your city in your bag. Now, your phone provider holds a stake in each and every one of these transactions.

Take for example the case with Nokia. When in recent years, many people claimed to feel nostalgic for the ‘good old days’ before the omnipresence of the iPhone, Nokia, was quick to react. Newly acquired by Microsoft, the mobile division of the Finnish company decided to seize the opportunity to make its comeback. In 2017, Nokia re-launched the 3310, a phone with which you could make calls, send texts and of course, play Snake. However, the comeback was short-lived. Six months later the project was all but abandoned.

Their phones delivered as promised, they had features, but no services. And once the phone was in your pocket, your resuscitated relationship with Nokia quickly ended. They couldn’t sell you any more services and without innovation in their service design, our nostalgic passion for them faded.

How does the concept of Service Design translate into practice?

Businesses and institutions have been using Service Design for many years without putting a name to the practice.

However, as a specific discipline, its worth in the US has only lately been truly recognized. One reason for this is the emergence in popularity of UX (User Experience) Design. This methodology uses technological, scientific and psychological principles to improve user experiences of predominantly tech products. And this opened the door for more appreciation of Service Design, which encompasses UX (in products) and also all the remaining elements and touch points within the customer journey.

How does innovation in Service Design make a difference?

A company doesn’t have to be a contract-based service provider to benefit from Service Design innovation. Wherever a service journey occurs, be it ordering a coffee to something a little more involved, Service Design innovation is required.

Think back to your last flight. Did you check-in online, download your ticket to your Wallet app and swipe your phone on a kiosk to see if you could get a upgrade? What did you do with your bag? Was there a long queue and did you swear never to bring hold-luggage with this airline ever again? How was the wait at the gate, did you get bored? Did you sneak over and grab a free coffee from the Lufthansa counter, and how did the flight attendants look when you boarded the plane? What about the new funny safety security video — was it the first time in years that you’d noticed it?

Which parts of this journey do you think involved innovative Service Design and which didn’t? Is there any correlation between innovation and satisfaction?

Now let’s talk about the designers involved

In this segment of the customer journey at the airport alone, someone designed all these tiny interactions, and more, that you never noticed. But more truthfully, a hundred different people designed each one. And this is why you noticed that some of these experiences were positive and some were overwhelmingly negative. Part of the journey, namely the baggage drop, was likely designed in isolation by an external party — the airport. And this is the element, which will make you reconsider your relationship with the airline.

However, by using Service Design, even this element can be improved. How about a text message update to tell you when there are long queues expected at the counter, or a curbside bag-drop option? Suddenly, the relationship is once more delightful.

As the airline famously remarked, “We realize you have a choice of airlines, and so we thank you for flying Delta.” All customers have a choice. Service Design is about making them choose you.

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