April 24, 2019

A scary word. Change. Intellectually we can accept, that change is inevitable and that we need to do something different in our organisations. But emotionally, we are reluctant to let go of what works right now, just because people say that it won’t work tomorrow. What do they know?

As consumers, however, we’re always willing to go with a better new thing. Which is change. So if we do it as people, why are we so reluctant to do it as organisations? And what form of delusion allows us to really believe, that while change happens to everyone around us, that it will not impact our business, which right now is doing as good as it ever has?

Change is the new normal

Actually, change is a constant in the world. But technology has considerably accelerated the pace of change, so that it has become increasingly visible. And this has heightened consumer expectations. They have grown accustomed to continuously improving customer experiences and increasingly user-friendly services. But organisations are slow to change and internally users are still faced with overly complicated and dated processes as well as incomprehensible communication.

This conflicted world view that is still based on what the company does, whether it is delivering a product or service, can no longer keep up with the changing competitive landscape and customer expectations. Brands must be seen as a a whole – how the company delivers – taking into account both business objectives as well as internal and external users.

The user experience is predominant battlefield of competition, differentiation and growth. Balanced, of course, with profitability and efficiency. Into this battle wades service design. It offers a new way of creating and improving services. At the heart of this lies empathy for the users with an understanding of the customer journey and a readiness for agile experimentation. In a world of uncertainty, service design is a customer-centred business development process that is comfortable with continuous change.

Service design unveils your presumptions for what they are: presumptions

Typical business presumptions play out like this: a new service is launched by a company. After some time it becomes apparent, that it isn’t getting the traction that was expected. Following questionnaire based research the service is upgraded and re-released. And nothing happens.

The problem is that the service didn’t even remotely meet the needs of the customer. The development team failed to understand the everyday life of the user and the problems that the service actually had to solve.

Too many organisations operate on outdated customer presumptions. The user comes last on a list of priorities when things are developed. With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that companies don’t achieve the business benefits they expected to see. After all, the responsibility for using the new service the way it was designed does not lie with the user, whether that is the employee or the customer.

The only way to avoid this catch 22 is to understand the people you are designing for and the problems they need to solve. Examining user needs helps to see the reality of customers’ everyday life and eliminates false, perhaps even delusional, views.

Break down those silos

Companies were structured into departments. Over time these became more and more insular, with limited interactions and shared responsibilities. So today the marketing department is responsible for sales and data administration. Suppliers take care of “non-core” systems. Operations administers the actual service itself. As a consequence, responsibility for the service as a whole is no-one’s job. Which is of course what becomes apparent when customers try to use the service, leading to frustration and customer churn.

Service design brings the user experience and service integration to the front-and-center of business development and service delivery and shifts attention from optimisation and spreadsheets to actual human behaviour and needs. And, it makes departments work together. When all departments are engaged in development work based on real customer insight and customer journeys, then a genuine understanding of the user emerges. Along with a commitment to meet actual user needs.

It’s a balancing act

The last two decades’ digitisation drive has made services available to users in entirely new ways. Mostly through increased self-service channels, people are offered clear and automated service packages that they can understand and use without additional help.

However, care needs to be taken not to overdo it. Exploiting automation and self-service requires companies to balance the value gained from services against the time, energy and money investment required from the user.

Consider streaming. People have moved away from physical CD’s to music streaming because these services offer all the music, all time, anywhere. Netflix tried to do the same with film but ran into copyright and library issues where different studios were unwilling to share their stuff. Instead, everyone started to build their own streaming sites. Which in the near future will essentially mean, that if you want to see the best content, you’ll need a Netflix, HBO, Apple, Disney, Amazon et cetera account, each one asking you for roughly 5-10 dollars a month. No wonder that piracy, which was going down as Netflix grew, is now going up again. Customers are not impressed.

In order to deliver a service effectively, you have to determine which factors are must haves for the customers, and which one’s nice to have’s. Sometimes it is best to focus on smooth and cost-effective background processes instead. Service design helps focus user actions in a direction that is profitable as well as a good experience. But care needs to taken to consider also external changes to the environment, because what was predictable yesterday may change (that word again), because of external factors. In fact, climate change as the largest external change on the business environment, is likely to upend almost every business model. Time to get ahead of the curve.

Service design is a systematic approach to achieve a healthy balance between different requirements, keeping in mind the changing landscape as well as user needs. This maximises the user experience in a way that is also profitable for your business. But only if you are constantly willing to change.