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Top 6 Predictions for Service Design in 2016

Posted January 27, 2016

The service design movement is gaining a tremendous amount of momentum. New conferences are popping up each month, existing conferences are adding service design to their speaker and workshop schedules, new books are being published, and whole global communities being spun up. For better or worse, it’s becoming the latest buzzword and practice that many companies want to talk about, but are still grasping at how to integrate.

I’m going to share my top 6 predictions for what we can expect from service design over the next 18 months. This is a combination of what I’ve experienced, what I’ve seen, what others have shared with me, and aspirations that I want to put into people’s minds as a seed.

1: The medium of your brand will become irrelevant.

The only thing customers will attach to your name will be the service you provide them.

In the past and in the present, many people know what a specific product is and what it does. It exists in a medium – MP3 players, furniture, an app, light bulbs, a washing machine. It’s a thing or way you provide value that is semi-specific to your core capability. A customer perception might be, “Ford makes vehicles, they’re not a ‘getting people from place to place’ company.”  And historically there has been nothing wrong with that. The goal was to get your product into the hands of people, generate goodwill and loyalty around the product, and you’ll have success.

If the future of service design is to come to fruition, what a company makes will not be as important or relevant as what a company does to serve. As companies evolve into focusing on serving a customer needs, they will be known more for that type of need they serve. Nest might have started as a “thermostat maker”, but has quickly evolved into wanting to offer the service of home automation and emotional assurance that you’re home is a-ok, by adding in other types of products and services to extend what they do. I suspect eventually Nest will be known as a company that serves its customers through making their homes more comfortable and convenient. That is how people will describe them, not as a thermostat, smoke detector and security camera company.

2: Touchpoint design will not be enough to differentiate.

Differentiation will come through the relationship you have with your customers and how you serve over time.

As each of these predictions build on another, this one is about the design of what you produce. The user experience of touchpoints is top of mind for every smart business. The better the experience, the more leverage you would have against competitors. In essence, if you’re widget has more appealing, easier to use, more effective at its function, and solved a real problem, you’d have success.

Today, “UX” is a commodity. It’s just vitamins and is part of any healthy diet. It can almost be argued that the only barrier to entry into producing those appealing, useful, problem solving widgets is the hiring pipeline of good candidates. It’s much harder to take that and use it as the basis of a durable relationship with customers that gets stronger over time. The widget doesn’t have the strength to support the weight of the entire relationship, regardless of its user experience. It is simply not meant to do so. A service relationship must be established to leapfrog competition and exceed customer expectations.

3: Holistic experiences require holistic organizations.

What you produce mirrors how you are organized. Cross-silo coordination will be the key to delivering outcomes.

Conway’s Law: “organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.”

If offering service is our goal and enduring, long term relationships the outcome, we have to find ways to bring organizations together. Not just how they communicate, but how they work. The organism needs to have more pathways created to get all the neurons firing together on a larger goal. It’s the difference between cooperation and collaboration. Cooperation is working together. Collaboration is working as one. Two different approaches.

Remember, “divide and conquer” is a sword that cuts both ways. The meaning gets reversed most of the time, when someone wants to split up a team and “divide and conquer” a task, when most often happens is that you divide yourself and are conquered. The goal is to divide and scatter the other army, not intentionally divide and scatter your own resources.

4: Customers adopt more fluid expectations.

They will expect quality services to feel the same across categories and contexts.

In Shelley Evenson’s talk at SX15, she mentions ‘liquid expectations,’ the state of mind “where everything competes with everything, and peoples’ expectations transcend expected boundaries”. Meaning that as people swipe through their phones, even though every app is totally different, they are all “liquid” now. My banking app should behave and serve like my home alarm control, which should then behave and serve like the TV remote app, which should then behave and service like my ebook reader.

Today, no one is exempt from reaching the bar of the general population’s expectation of experience, regardless of category. A great experience with a phone app sets expectations for a toilet plunger, and even though they don’t compete directly, the elevation of expectation does make it harder now for the toilet plunger to differentiate against other plungers. Truly, the world is “becoming an easier place” and you have to keep up (I say with a hint of cynicism).

5: Employee experience will become a design priority.

Design thinking will be applied to how experiences are produced and services delivered internally.

If we believe everything so far about service design, then it is imperative we believe that it is people who serve people, and those people need to have their experiences designed for as well. The employee experience is essentially the way service, and products, are delivered. They are often left to grow organically and sort of left to figure it out as they go. This works up to a point; there are only so many ways to run a business. But to deliver service that exceeds customer expectation, the internal employee experience has to be designed to do it.

This isn’t management consulting or efficiency optimization. The point here is to design the inside of your company so employees can do their jobs better and have the resources and capacity to deliver what the customer needs in better ways. You apply the same human-centered lens internally, reflecting not just on what you make and provide, but on yourself and how you work. You can work better, lowering delivery cost and increasing quality and efficiency. I believe that service design is the best currently-available approach to do so..

6: Building service design capacity will be essential.

Service design is a much needed tool for companies to better design and deliver exceptional customer experiences.

Almost all companies will benefit greatly from the service design uprising. If you serve a customer, you can design for service. The rub is that the capacity to think,execute, and deliver in this way isn’t easy to develop. There are tools, methods, practices, and people dedicated to the implementation and execution of service design, which in turn lets you implement and execute the better ways to serve your customers.

10 years ago companies adopted design when they may never have considered it before, and service design is the next big renaissance for companies that will serve their customers well over time. All of these predictions lead up to this final one.

It’s not about service design being this silver bullet or the flavor of the year buzzword. I see it as the opposite. Customers and economies have matured to the point that service is expected, and service excellence and the relationships you maintain with your customers is how you differentiate regardless of what you make or do. It just so happens that service design is the tool that has been developed to facilitate that type of endeavor.

Hope To See You There

I believe in service design and its effectiveness to drive change for customers and organizations. Watch the world around you, and you’ll see how serving a customer becomes the new method of offering value, regardless of industry. Designing for service is how we’ll get there.

See you there.

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I love all things experience design. I work as a Principal Service Experience Designer at Intuit in Mountain View, CA.