Service Design: A key enabler of transforming businesses of future

Service Design is all about putting people at the heart of the experience, embracing co-creation, and taking a holistic approach

Updated: Jul 13, 2017 02:36:15 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock (For illustrative purposes only)

A swipe on your smartphone is all it takes to make the flight experience hassle-free and pleasant. The airline’s app doubles up as your personal trip concierge across various stages of your journey – from the time you start planning the trip to your experience at the airports – checking in, queue time, lounge, boarding the flight and at the destination- and even after the trip. A bouquet of tech-driven services from the airline allows you to search or book flights, pay using Mobile Wallet, check in via mobile, store boarding passes, and check information around your flight. It notifies you about boarding, terminal, gate, seat number – well in time. The digital baggage tag service tracks your belongings in real time making sure you have a smooth journey out of the terminal.

This is not a farfetched dream but the reality that embraces us today. This is a carefully designed Service Design at work for you.

Shift from a product to service-centric global economy

We live in an era where the rules of engagement are being redrawn by consumers. Our economy has evolved to a service and experience domain-centric one. The value we attribute to a product is not simply based on the product but all the services wrapped around it. As a customer, you and I differentiate products based on perceived value of the services. This puts traditional pricing models into a tizzy.

Responding to ever-changing customer expectations, players like Airbnb, Amazon and Uber have already set new standards in reimagining services. Moreover, consumers today expect the same standard of experience from their hotel or bank as they do in hailing a cab, causing what we would call an “Industry Blur”.

This transformation has been driven by an unprecedented pace at which technology is changing – thanks to the emergence of always-on connectivity, Cloud services, social media, Internet of Things, mobile devices, Big Data, and Sensor Technology. This rapid change will continue to be at the core of transformation in the way brands deliver services.

Brands must consider how ongoing digitisation affects their business and find ways be competitive. However, many have struggled to keep pace with what is nothing less than a “Wicked Problem”. This is where brands must start using service design as a framework and way of thinking to significantly reduce the complexity and problem. And provide a way to lend a methodology that answers a set of strategic questions around people, business and technology in order to optimize and transform how a business creates and delivers value to their end customers.

Services: Not just intangible economic goods Unlike products that are tangible, services render value to customers by solving their stated and latent needs. Today, brands must have a robust ecosystem of services in place in order to enhance the value of their core product. In fact, the quality of services has the power to create a brand in the most unusual of places. A classic example: Mumbai’s iconic dabbawalas, who supply almost 200,000 tiffin boxes every day across the city with magical precision, are a brand in themselves.

Services, therefore, becomes the means by which businesses live up to their brand promise whenever and wherever their customers come calling. An article in the Financial Times, October 2016 edition, presents an example: “If it were a standalone entity, Apple’s services unit would be a large enough business to reach the Fortune 100 rankings of the top US companies…” Unsurprisingly, Apple’s strategy to not just build great products but an ecosystem, is paying off.

Disruption in service experience: How can brands ride the wave
Imagine two coffee shops right next to each other – each selling the exact same coffee at the same price. Service experience is the reason why people choose one coffee shop over the other – and return to it – time and again. Service Design is all about putting people at the heart of the experience, embracing co-creation, and taking a holistic approach.

Increasingly, customers are differentiating products based on value of the services – something that has driven several businesses to monetize their services. For example, Starbucks based its ‘Order Ahead’ innovation on the simple insight that customers hate waiting in long morning queues. The nifty service – delivering coffee with accurate predictability to queue-shy customers – pushed up sales for the iconic brand.
In India, cab-hailing service provider Ola has been constantly reimagining its services. The recently-launched ‘Ola Play’ offers a rider easy access to entertainment over Wi-Fi. Play cabs allows customers to use the cab ride as an extension of their workplace or living room. With ride times in big cities often lasting over an hour, customers would value the Ola Play service even though it may mean paying a premium for the service.

Orchestrating the frontstage and backstage to create a complete experience
While service design is all about transforming the customer experience, there are some things the customer can see, and some she can’t. Service Design is about orchestrating front stage-oriented, user-centric design techniques with backstage methods for designing a service driven organization.

Much like in a Michelin star restaurant, where while a customer is thrown into raptures over their gourmet meal presented in an unassumingly artistic manner, they remain mostly unaware of the flurry of activity, behind the kitchen doors, that goes into creating the dish. The same goes for services. A lot of work goes in behind the scene, or backstage, to deliver the service, shape the experience, and represent a brand. The quality of the service experience delivered is then determined during the final ‘service encounter’ that occurs at the front stage.

It’s important to understand Service Design is a strategic exercise that involves the exchange of value-data, information and benefits that runs across an interconnected ecosystem tying the business to itself and to its consumers. This often needs a complete transformation of organization structure, culture and enterprise technology blueprint. That is the reason why front stage transformation can’t happen without the transformation of the enterprise itself. To maximize the impact of a service design undertakings, businesses must break silos, establish constant communication and open collaboration between its departments.

Create service experiences that are purposefully distinct
Brands must identify the ways they can substitute, augment and innovate their products and services –through digitization and be purposefully distinct from the competition. Increasingly, service layers around traditional products are being used to build fundamentally connected products.

Take for instance, the wearable tech “Commitment rings” that promise to offer a solution to “Binge cheating” – a rising modern social predilection where you are betrayed by, or you betray, your signification other by watching content on online streaming services before them, that you had promised you would watch together. Featuring near field communication (NFC) that link them to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, these rings are supposed to only allow you to stream content when both rings are on and within range. Though this pipeline innovation comes from the unlikely quarters of the Ice-cream Company Cornetto, it still serves as a very good example for brand being able to craft service experiences that are not just well-designed and seamless, but are meaningful, purposeful and unique – and ultimately, transformative. This is where the power of service design comes into play.

And finally…
Quoting William Gibson, author of Neuromancer, “The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed.” Much of this is already happening in disconnected pockets in different industries or with different retailers. The real opportunity is not necessarily in creating a new specific touchpoint experience but in bringing all of them together in a holistic, systemic and branded way. Service design lends systems thinking model for this purpose.

Businesses without an effective service blueprint run the risk of breaking apart into disjointed channels. After all, well-designed service experiences are the game-changers that will differentiate businesses of the future.

- By Saurabh Das, Group Vice President & Head of Global Service Line for Marketing Experience Platforms, SapientRazorfish

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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