New frontiers for Service Design

Thanks to service designers’ tireless efforts, many people in large organisations now know how to map customer experiences and to brainstorm on potential service improvements. Even if they do not officially work in a service design role, they have often been part of such exercises, or are at least familiar with others’ work in the field. This is great to notice. It is a joy to see service blueprints hanging on so many walls and windows, and moreover, being used to spark conversations on how things could be better.

The ubiquity of service design tools and artefacts is also a cue for pioneers in the field to move on and focus on new frontiers. At the Service Design Global Conference in Madrid, Jamin Hegeman of Capital One pointed to one of these frontiers. He argued that it is time for service design to move beyond projects that just create new service concepts, and to focus more on ways to effectively contribute to the long-term, sustainable management of service delivery and ongoing improvement of customer experiences. (Follow this link to Jamin’s slides.)

Building on prior achievements

We don’t have to develop all this from scratch. The fields of Service Management and Innovation Management have already developed a wealth of knowledge on this. Although still relatively young, these disciplines are more established than service design, having begun in the 1980s, when Western economies started to evolve from industrial to service economies. Since then, they have generated useful models and frameworks to evaluate and improve aspects related to operations, organisation, monitoring and measurements. Service design can surely build on this.

Recent discussions in the service design community, including those at the global conference in Madrid and at local gatherings in London and Amsterdam (where assessment of the sustainable value of service design is a recurrent theme) provoked me to reflect on what would most help us to move beyond the ad hoc project scope. I realised that as a creative community, we seem to be tempted to reinvent the wheel by ourselves, rather than building on what’s out there already. In many situations this is a useful can-do reflex, but sometimes it is also good to stand on the shoulders of others.

Service Quality

One of the most obvious models and tools to look at would be SERVQUAL, which was developed in 1988 by Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry. This model offers a framework for understanding consumer expectations and perceptions of a service, as well as a tool to capture this data and validate it on a scale with five dimensions (reliability, assurance, tangibles, empathy, and responsiveness). By repeatedly measuring the service quality, the long-term effects of implemented service design improvements can be monitored. This model and tool have been long used in the field of services management. It has been tested and proven, and also contested and iterated over time.

Types of Innovation

Another example, this time from Innovation Management, would be the Ten Types of Innovation model, developed by Keeley and others, from the famous agency Doblin. This model is based on many years of work in innovation, and was eventually published in book form in 2013. This model offers a scale of 10 different focus points for innovation in business. This helps to clarify the focus of projects, as well as the scope of the outcomes, and guides discussions around the expected added value. Using this scale can greatly help to avoid misunderstandings about trying to measure the irrelevant elements. The same can be said for the 3 Horizons Framework, developed by McKinsey. For each strategic horizon, a different scale of validation and measurements is relevant. Without this kind of nuanced awareness, people evaluating service innovations will be too easily lost in translation. 

Iterate to mutual benefit

Service design can benefit from being aware of these existing models and tools. However, we can certainly also build on them, and make them more relevant for a service design context. Since they originated in service management and innovation management, these tools and models primarily focus on the business perspective of service delivery, and only narrowly touch on the customer perspective. This is where service design can make a great contribution. We have pushed businesses to take the perspective of their customers into account to innovate their services; now it seems to be time to do the same for the ongoing delivery and experience.

During my PhD at OU Business School, I always learned a lot from Services Management, thanks to the stellar guidance from Dr. Angus Laing. Through my six years of teaching at the UvA Business School and working with Innovation Management expert Dr. Wietze van der Aa, I tried to keep up to date with these fields, which are laterally, but strongly, related. This alignment has always informed our work at STBY. We very much see our work as positioned in a ‘service triangle’ of Research, Design and Strategy.

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