Service Design Matters

When companies want to “innovate,” smart folks within those companies often think “product!” It’s a natural inclination because there are great examples like…the lightbulb or Apple-anything. But, what about services? Those pesky, hard-to-measure things companies need in order for someone to buy or use their version of the lightbulb.

Max Masure and I we went through weeks of design thinking workshops to tease out ideas for a client’s R&D department. There were few constraints. Ideas could be anything as long as they had the potential to add to the company’s bottom line. The cross-functional team was truly A+. We had close to 40 people from varied backgrounds, roles, and corporate ladder rungs. We co-created, co-designed, even co-prototyped some of the better ideas. We made phenomenal progress in uncovering latent needs and new avenues of innovation growth.

There was just one catch.

Only about half of the ideas were products. The other half? Services. The team lead was worried that we didn’t generate enough product ideas. I understand the concern. If upper management expects product innovation, it’s only fair that we deliver it.

But, that got me thinking. Why are products valued more than services? With our client, service ideas would have (excuse the pun) served to improve product delivery and provide education around their product so that the brand comes off as a thought leader who cares about its customers.

Seems straightforward. Yet, products are the shining stars and services are viewed as the supporting cast in companies with products to sell.

Customer support systems are an easy example. Companies with a product — whether physical or SaaS — sometimes forget that we need to design the experience as much for the customer/user as the person who delivers support services, for example. A happy support person = a happy customer.

We also sometimes forget that services can make or break a user (who by the way is a customer whether they pay or not) experience with a product. If you buy Lululemon pants and the back rips while you’re squatting, a bad return/exchange customer service experience determines whether a customer will re-purchase workout gear with unintended ventilation.

It’s important to think of innovation across the entirety of the business. Everything, from the actual product to the supply chain to internal communications to customer service systems. If the user/customer doesn’t see the innovation, it doesn’t mean the company is not innovating.

Sometimes seeing is believing. But, sometimes, not seeing is believing in magic. Remember that delight Steve Jobs kept on about at Apple? Magic.