4 absolute requirements for great service design

Service design is becoming a key organizational competence for business success in the Digital Age.  Let’s look at a real-life service experience and see what we can learn about absolute requirements for great service design.

A (bad) service story

Just recently, I purchased a computer from Lenovo. They provided a tracking number and link. For the next 2 weeks, I watched the ship date get put further and further back. So, I contacted Lenovo, who told me something about a shortage of certain parts. Soon afterwards, the computer was shipped.

Using the tracking link, however, only generated an error message. I contacted Lenovo again and, after some to-and-froing, got the explanation that it wasn’t really an error, but that, while the computer was in customs, the status and location information was not accessible.

Well, this didn’t make any sense to me. Why couldn’t they show ‘in customs’ or any status other than an error message? It was explained to me that tracking was a 3rd-party service, provided by the (very well-known, global) delivery company. So, the service person told me, “…there is nothing I can do on this end.”

A few days later, the computer arrived. Nice (apart from the awful Windows 8.1 – but that’s another (UX) story). That morning, before it was delivered, the status changed to suggest it had been delivered the day before. Fortunately, it arrived a few hours later so I didn’t call Lenovo.

How do organizations get service design so wrong?

This is not an unusual story; the web is peppered with similar stories of poor service every day. With the advent of social media, mobile devices and the growing ‘Internet of things’, organizations of every kind are beginning to realise that the key to great web design and successful business is actually great service design.

The web is now seen to be just one component amongst other channels; each channel (website, phone, email, face-to-face…) has its strengths and weaknesses, and has a different role to play in delivering a great end-to-end experience (or customer journey).

The realization is dawning that customer (citizen, student, patient…) services are primarily not about technology, but about the experience, and demand service design competencies.

4 service design requirements we can learn from the Lenovo experience

My experience with Lenovo illustrates some of the ways organizations frequently get service design wrong. Let’s look at some examples from that experience, and highlight 4 simple baseline requirements for anyone thinking about the quality of their service design.

 

    1. They raised expectations, then failed to meet them.

The delivery date, promised at purchase time, went further and further back. Not a great User Experience. Compare that to Amazon, who frequently give a (quick) delivery date, then beat it.

Requirement 1: Provide realistic promises, and meet them – or beat them! This is not motherhood and apple-pie; this demands endless gritty work improving back-office system efficiency.

 

    1. They passed their problems on to the customer.

The delivery was postponed due to a shortage of parts. Was that my problem? No, it was Lenovo’s – but they made it my problem. This actually illustrates one of the toughest aspects of great service design – it’s as much about the back-office systems and processes as it is about the experience. In a way, the customer experience is just the tip of a very large iceberg. You will have to work really hard on your internal systems and staff to make the experience great. But, to the customer, the experience IS the service (or product) – they don’t care about your internal systems.

Requirement 2: Fine-tune back-office systems so that internal problems don’t become your customers’ problems.

 

  1. They outsourced responsibility for the customer experience.

Lenovo outsourced the tracking service to the delivery company. After all, most tracking companies already provide that service, so it makes perfect business sense. Unfortunately, Lenovo seem to have gone further than that, and have outsourced the responsibility for that part of the customer experience to the 3rd-party (“There’s nothing I can do…”). The truth is you cannot outsource responsibility for your customer experience. It may be run by a 3rd party but, to the customer, the experience reflects on you.

Requirement 3: Own your customer experience from end-to-end. No excuses.

 

  1. They showed no intention or ability to improve.

At no point was I given any feeling or feedback to suggest that Lenovo would do anything differently next time. Again, this is a tough issue, requiring a mixture of a culture of service-orientation, good staff training at all levels and roles, and a formal feedback system that generates continuous service quality improvement.

Requirement 4: Build feedback loops that prevent problems and continuously improve quality; train staff at all levels in service, and communicate this approach to your customer – it’ll be a brand differentiator.

Beyond the baseline requirements

The recommendations above are baseline requirements for service design – the hygiene factors. Organizations that provide great customer service go way beyond those recommendations. With the diversification and increasing inter-connectivity of systems, devices and people, service design is becoming a key organizational competence for business success.

For more great ideas on this topic, I recommend Gerry McGovern’s great article: Web Self-Service Management Principles and Business Case.

There are many other great resources out there on service design; here are a few:

–          Designing Services That Deliver – by G. Lynn Shostack; a Harvard Business Review article from 1984 that still packs a punch.

–          Service Design: The Most Important Design Discipline You’ve Never Heard Of – blog article by Kerry Bodine at Forrester.

–          UX Self-Service design basics – blog article by Cynthia Zimber of TecEd.

–          Aligning with the Consumer Decision Journey – David Edelman, Harvard Business Review

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