Misconceptions about designing a service

Jerome Greutmann
Aug 1 · 4 min read

Over the past few years working as a Service Designer there are some misconceptions about the way services are created and what a transition from a product to a service mindset means. After trying to clarify them for myself I thought I’d write them down.

I will start and stop building my service

Companies love a big re-design but with a service you’re never building it from scratch, you’re building on something existing or you’re already part of a service ecosystem. Banks today offer investments, mortgages, savings, insurance etc. — imagine building that all from scratch.

So where do you start? In most cases someone is already your customer. You first need to find out what’s happening. How are people interacting with your service today? With a big picture view you can see where your efforts are best placed. Sometimes this is actually between services you are already providing rather than the service itself. There are a bunch of tools you can use to find out how to do this the service blueprint is a good place to start (although there isn’t an industry standard).

Secondly, you’ll also never finish building a service. If you do then you’re not reacting to the way your relationship with the customer evolves or the customers perceived view of the world changes. Other experiences people have will affect their expectations as: “The last best experience that anyone has anywhere, becomes the minimum expectation for the experience they want everywhere” Bridget Van Kralingen, 2014. That is why a service needs to be measured and evaluated constantly to ensure that expectations are met so that gaps can be identified and removed constantly.

So there are two things I learned after having this misconception myself: the first step is always an analysis of what you have and the second is constantly reevaluating as you go.

I (we) provide a service

Services aren’t isolated, they live in an ecosystem of different technologies, companies and environments. If you approach building a service from an isolated perspective without considering that ecosystem you may fail to be a sustainable business.

I always thought there was a neat two-way interaction with any service I’ve used. Occasionally you interact with third parties but primarily I’d pick up my phone and call my bank not a third-party. Behind the scenes that’s an entirely different picture — the customer service functions might be outsourced, they use external platforms and so on and so forth. If you can’t pull a golden thread through these different elements to provide a service that works for customers then you’re going to lose out.

Internally you can map out backstage processes which incorporates the systems handoffs as well. If you can’t visualise and imagine the interconnected parts you also can’t try to improve. Externally you can map your customers experience with other services which support or compete with yours to understand the expectations. This can only be achieved if you are prepared to commit to user research and analysis.

A physical product isn’t a service

While a customer might see a product as just a product (shoes, food etc.) they expect a service. This might be digital or it may be entirely analog just like local barista who might remember your name and order. The same principles apply to products which are digital or consumed digitally. One of the best examples of this is the online food delivery business where you expect the service experience all the way to the door.

My mindset changed after a colleague spoke about a service being the support structure to help the customer interact with a product. In my opinion this falls into two categories; absorbed into the price and sold additionally. I’ve only found a few products which apparently neglect services entirely like a Vending Machines or low cost supermarkets cut out as much of the service experience as possible. High-end products tend to absorb a lot of the services into the price (think warranties) while lower-end products tend to offset their low price point with add on services (think delivery costs).

This notion has been the most complex misconception that I’ve tried to wrap my head around but a lot of companies are starting to see the product/service barrier fade. Equally, as the regulatory landscape for products is changing with a focus on producing and consuming more responsibly (see Goal 12 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals) we need to challenge this misconception further. How do we develop an end of product life service which works, how do we create longer lasting products and first and foremost how do we change the relationship between a customer and a product through services whether absorbed into or added onto the price tag. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

I initially held some of these misconceptions because they are some of the traditional approaches to building companies. Uncovering these as part of my job and my interactions with the Service Design industry has been eye opening and has allowed me to change my perspective. Naturally, this list isn’t finite so if you feel there are other misconceptions that need to be addressed please share! Also if you disagree with my take then please drop a comment.

Jerome Greutmann

Written by

Swiss & German | IBM Tech Consultant with a focus on Innovation | interested in the future of tech and energy

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