Back in the Victorian England there was an engineer who was no designer at all, yet he was probably one of the earliest service designer thinkers. Isambard Kingdom Brunel constructed bridges, viaducts, cuttings and tunnels to build the Great Western Railway, imagined as an integrated transport system. Brunel had this visionary idea of his passengers boarding the train in London and getting off a steamship in New York. That was in 1841.
Then there was Steve Jobs, so determined to build computers that deliver seamless experience, that he gave Macs the Sleep Indicators to mimic human breathing; a bit obsessed, but nothing great was ever achieved without obsession, anyway. That was in 2002.
Last month I received a package of dog food that I order from krmeni.cz. They deliver late, you never know when to expect them, but there is a nice touch connected to the delivery, which continues to be the reason why I still order dog food there: the guys that pack the food, Pavel and Franta, every time put a small, hand-written note in the package, saying: "I tried to pack it the best I could. Have a good day," or "Hope your Christmas rocks this year. Regards, Pavel."
All three are examples of service design: a technique for designing pleasant experiences, a technique that gives an added value to brands whose products and services we design and, consequently, sell. That's why everybody benefits from service design.
As an ethnographer, I always start projects with getting into the field, immersing myself into the context of the people that would use the service and buy the product. This is called ethnographic research and involves spending certain amount of time with relevant individuals, shadowing and observing their behavior when using or contemplating using the product or service, spending hours in in-depth interviews with them, and trying to uncover underlying motives and expectations they have of themselves and their environment. I take many photos and field-notes to document the whole procedure, and end up with a mass of un-sorted qualitative data from which insights will arise. Sometimes I also include the so-called extreme customers or users; those are people whose lifestyle or behaviour don't exactly qualify them as potential target audience, but, when knowing how to look, these people can shine a light how the product or service could be improved, or can help identifying behavior that might just as well one day become mainstream.
Ethnographic research, being qualitative not quantitative, is concerned with uncovering deeply-held human needs and unveiling barriers, and potential opportunities. Deep understanding, not broad coverage, is the strength of qualitative research, so sometimes even as little as ten people can be enough for a valuable insight.
In the last ethnographic project I did I had 11 people who were very perplexed with its methodology, because they had never encountered it before during many other research sessions, mostly focus groups, they went through. They were also pleasantly surprised with the in-depth questions they were asked.
Designing a good product or service starts with caring indeed, and continues with collaboration throughout the design process.
As a problem-solving technique, service design is best practiced in multi-disciplinary teams that usually include designers, strategists, developers, social scientists, and, of course, clients themselves.
Armed with insights from our field research, we go on to map the entire service experience to see where the problem lays, where are the main pain-points, where the interaction between the brand and the customer is blocked. Still guided with insights, we proceed on to creating scenarios of how the future product/service can be used, which gives rise to brainstorming creative solutions. That's the beauty of service design, it helps to see the big picture.
But, the real value of service design is in its ability to connect the dots because by moving step by step throughout the entire customer journey, we are able to improve the service experience in an integrated and holistic way. We are continuously led with insights, which inform the whole customer journey process - identifying drivers, barriers, desired response, and the role that communication needs to have in order to reach the desired response from the customer.
Why are insights so important?
A recent global study of 1,500 CEOs conducted by IBM reveals that CEOs see a lack of customer insight as their biggest problem. We connect insights to business objectives, and that's what's important to our client.
Service design is a problem-solving technique; a toolkit that directly affects not only the experience of the brand, but the very process of brand building, too. And all of that in around 52 hours.
And what about the Czech Republic?
These days our little pond has been buzzing with words like innovation, user experience, and service design as well. All of these, sometimes, self-indulgent talks make them a bit mystifying, which, in fact, they're not. Service design is a common-sensical technique for making things work. It's somewhat like fixing multiple leakage on your sink.The reason why it brings value is because it provides integrated experience and solutions that directly address human needs. It doesn't try to camouflage solutions under chasing deliverables. That is not our goal anyway. We're here to provide the real value that satisfies both the customers and the clients. And providing value is not that complicated really, it's only a switch in the head towards remembering three essential things: whose problem you are trying to solve, does your solution make sense in the context of their lives, and will it help them to improve their lives for the better. Just remember Pavel and Franta. Sometimes it takes little.
This article was originally published in M-Journal.