The Art of Crafted Service

Photo Credit: Phillip Swinburn

Recently, I’ve heard the term, service design pop up in more and more places. There’s a great podcast by Marina Terteryan Called “Why Service Design Thinking” that well describes what service design is and why it’s important.

But, I’m a contrarian by nature and the term service design doesn’t quite capture, to me, how important this topic is. A potter doesn’t design his pottery nor does a cordwainer simply design a custom pair of leather shoes. Master craftsmen craft their pieces with a learned skill and genuine passion. When I think of the importance of service, I can’t help but feel that amazing service is not simply designed, but rather it’s crafted.

Crafting a service experience is essentially made up of four distinct elements: design, tools, people, and execution. For some, these come as naturally as breathing, but for others, there’s an effort and intentionality needed to craft the right experience.

The Designing

The whole art of design is one that’s continuing to prove valuable in more places than how we’ve typically thought of design in the first two decades of the twenty-second century. The term design belonged to the visual guru who knew just where to place the red dot and exactly how many typographic units are appropriate for a certain body of text. Now, we are thinking more about designing things like job descriptions, office cultures, and even service. This is incredibly exciting as it marks a period where we once again think a lot about why certain things are done a certain way by certain people.

As far as crafted service goes, the design process is about identifying who your customer is, how they want to interact with you, how they could be delighted when interacting with you, and what you’ll need to make this happen.

There’s a bar in Mumbai called “The Bar Stock Exchange.” Throughout the course of the night, the cost of drinks is constantly changing based on supply and demand. People approach the bar as a stock trader might call out his trades on the stock exchange floor. It’s great fun and provides an experience that’s both unique and entertaining. Although there were moments I thought the implementation could have been improved, the concept or design was simply fantastic!

Photo Credit: PICSELI

The Tooling

It’s important that the design process thinks free of tooling restraints, but the tooling conversation is a quick follow-up that’s incredibly important. Many companies start here though. They look for a great CRM, ticketing tool, or phone system and build out the experience based on the capabilities or limitations of the tools they picked. If you start with designing the experience you want, it may change the direction you go with your tools entirely. For example, you may realise that you never want to have an asynchronous conversation with your customers and therefore rule out email as a method of contact. That means you’re going to optimise your tools for live conversation, whether through the phone or through messaging. Or, you may decide that your product’s support needs to be completely transparent to the entire community and so you go with a forum system, which allows for one-to-many, rather than one-to-one.

When you pick your tools, make sure you find a partner, not just a service provider.

There’s a great story that Howard Schultz writes about in *Pour Your Heart Into It*. In the early days of Starbucks, Howard wanted to find the right paper cups for hot liquid, and he convinced Solo to take a big bet on them. It certainly paid off for both companies. You want a company that’s willing to work with you to create something that will bring greater value to your customers.

Photo Credit: Jo Szczepanska

The People

I would argue that this is the most important element for crafted service because, if you hire the right people and give them a strong purpose, there’s a good chance they’ll simply woo your customers by their natural instinct and charisma.

It’s not about hiring nice people, nor is it about hiring good looking people. Restaurants often focus on these two traits, and we can all recall times when the handsome waiter with a nice smile forgot to bring us that glass of water, even though we asked for it three times. It’s also true that there’s not a single profile that will work for any service role as, if we’re trying to design unique and custom experiences for our businesses, the task will call for specific attributes. So, the first thing we must do is look at the experience we’ve designed, the tools we have access to, and then determine the attributes and competencies need to realise the end goal. We then interview to see how these attributes and competencies have been demonstrated in the past (remember, past behaviour indicates future behaviour). We look past the nice smile and try and find out if they have the right character to help bring the experience to life.

Zappos famously puts their candidates through an incredible process to ensure the right candidates succeed and the wrong candidates are weeded out as quickly as possible. If you’re fortunate enough to get an interview at Zappos’ headquarters in Las Vegas, the driver who picks you up is your first ”interview”. If you’re rude to the driver, you’ll be sent back to the airport before you even walk into the first formal interview. Once you make it through the process, Zappos will pay you $2,000 to quite! Every step between when you apply and when you make it is designed to ensure you’re the right person for the role and will be able to handle the autonomy provided to you as a customer service rep.

Photo Credit: Nik MacMillan

The Execution

Here, you’ll either execute (in the worst meaning of the word) everything you’ve worked towards, or you’ll simply see everything turn on and start working as you had hoped.

As a consultant, it’s important for me to work with my clients to identify what success looks like. Too often, I’ve found myself looking at something and going, “this is great!” but, when I look a little deeper, as neat as what we built might be, it didn’t have any material impact on the business. Well-crafted service experiences will always have a material benefit and impact to the company. That doesn’t always have to mean that sales will go up as a direct correlation. Perhaps the success indicator is that your customers are staying with your company for a longer period than they were before. Or, perhaps, you see your net promoter score go up. Identifying what the win is will help you validate the work put into the support experience.

That said, it’s my belief that there’s a fundamental responsibility as humans to create meaningful experiences. If you’re not able to justify an elaborate and costly service experience, you may want to consider something far simpler yet equally intentional. There’s simply no excuse nor any room for poor service in today’s market. Period.

There’s a coffee shop I’ve been working out of in Annecy, France lately called Brumes. The owner, Julien, has created a simple, clean, modern café which focuses on the coffee. There’s nothing terribly complicated about the café itself, but there seems to be intentionally nothing to distract you from a peaceful cup of coffee. The music is great (whatever playlists Julien draws from, I’d like to find out), and the furniture is both simple and comfy. He’s able to manage the café with either just himself or one other barista. He’s executed on a great service experience in a way that will not hurt his ability to focus on his core product, the coffee!

Photo Credit: Oliver Thomas Klein

I recently was part of a conversation in which some friends expressed concern about their jobs becoming automated by technology. They were almost willing to sabotage the efforts to automate to avoid becoming redundant.

I get the concern, but I think it’s unfounded. There’s a world of opportunity we’ve yet to discover because we’re so focused on far too many tasks that keep us from dreaming, designing, and building new and more beneficial things for society. The risk, of course, is that we’ll use all the extra time to binge watch on Netflix or simply become lazy and selfish. Good customer experiences ensure that we’re working to design and build things of value, and the more value that we can deliver, the more opportunity we can create. Additionally, the more we connect as humans, the more we will be reminded of why we would do anything at all.