Key take-aways from SDGC18

November 8, 2018
#Service design

The annual service design global conference provides an opportunity to reflect on how service design is applied in the real world.

With case-studies from all over, you get an understanding of how the discipline is developing as well as what the challenges are for getting human centred design embedded in organisations.

Zachary Jean Paradis from Sapient provided some very important statistics to frame the whole conference:
– 89% of businesses expect to compete mostly on the basis of the customer experience by 2016 (Gartner Leadership Survey 2015)
– 60% of customers have higher expectations of customer service than they did just a year ago (Global Multichannel Customer Service Report 2015)
– 49% of customers reported switching brands due to a poor experience (Customer experience ROI study, Watermark 2015)
yet only
– 1% of brands excel in their customer experience, according to their customers
(Forrester CXI 2017)

The last figure quite clearly demonstrates, that there is room for improvement of the customer experience.

Technology came up often in different speeches. A very important observation was provided by Fjord stating that design will be critical to unlocking the transformative potential of technology because while technology changes fast, people really don’t. And, as things accelerate and technology becomes more and more ubiquitous and intelligent, we have to start teaching technology to understand humans instead of humans technology.

An excellent example of the problems with technology that is integrated into everyday human activities, is the fact that people keep rear-ending self-driving cars. It means, that the machines are behaving in a way that is unpredictable to people and it is having real-life consequences. Similarly, machine learning systems tend to amplify human biases, which can have radical consequences in, for instance, hiring and diversity initiatives.


The constant tug-of-war between operations and customer experience was also illustrated. There is a permanent conflict between the need to optimise and cut costs and the need to improve the customer experience, which can feel like adding costs. As long as companies are organised into departments that have (somewhat) conflicting goals and the customer is not at the centre of everything the organisation does, this will keep reinforcing the statistic from the top of this article. As Reed Hastings from Netflix succinctly put it, “Process brings seductively strong near-term outcomes.”

The role of the human in organisations was touched upon by Stefan Moritz from Veryday. He noted that 72% of people were not engaged at work which leads to 25% loss of productivity. He noted, that there are four barriers that keep organisation from becoming more employee and customer centric:
1) Complacency silos: Stuck in silos with a lack of urgency because business is still good enough not to change.
2) Human resources: Industrial and utilitarian view of workforce as assets creates disconnect with employee needs.
3) Old job mindset: Artificial boundaries of one career, rigid hierarchies and separation of work and home are no longer valid.
4) Getting stuck: Skill needs keep evolving, creating anxiety and confusion.

We are in the age of digitisation and automation and as it becomes all pervasive we will have to move into the age of humanisation, where human potential is the focus.

Alberta Soranzo framed the above observations slightly differently, within the flawed context of “human resources”. She said that there are two different theories about people and work and that theory X presumes that:
– People are a cost to be monitored and controlled
– Work should be highly segmented by expertise
– Technology should be used to control human behaviour and minimise human error

while theory Y assumes that
– People can be self-motivated and self-controlled
– The more people understand about the systems they work in, the better they can do
– Conditions can be created that will cause people to seek responsibility
– People can enjoy work.

The above cause and effect is best summed up by a quote from Dana Chisnell who said, “When people don’t understand how their own organisation works, they’ll back themselves into a corner and not participate in improvements.”

One aspect, that all speakers and workshops had in common, however, was the need to make sure that the team that learns what people have problems with in a service, are also the people that need to develop the solution. The cases describing failures in service design almost always feature a disconnect between strategy and execution. Simply put, they try to achieve different results by doing things the same way they use to do. Which Albert Einstein observed, is a form of madness.

Fair use,

United Press, Arthur Sasse