Inseparable companions

How are service and design connected? Closely, if not inseparably, say service design experts.

Service design, touchpoints or service strings do sound a little like consultant Laura310x230.pngjargon, to be honest. However, there is rational action behind these terms in our changing world. Tailoring their offerings to customers’ needs and creating new ways of working puts companies in the best position to handle tougher competition.

“Service design emphasizes three things: empathy, creativity, and rationality,” explains Tuomo Ketola, Service Designer at Palmu, the biggest Finnish office in the field. “Empathy is needed for a deep understanding of the customer, creativity for seeing new opportunities, and rationality for implementing things.”

“It’s about having a mindset and approach that challenges the status quo. Service design is a tool for customer-oriented business development,” says Laura Franck, Account Manager at service design office Diagonal.

Sounds logical, but what does a company get when it seeks help from a service designer?

From pharmacies to cancer treatment

Franck gives us an example from the pharmacy business: As the margins from sales of drugs become narrower, pharmacies need new business alongside them. A cooperation network consisting of several pharmacies decided to develop its concept in a more customer-oriented direction. Diverse service ideas were tested in a number of locations, and the first pharmacy to follow the new concept is now operating in Ympyrätalo in Hakaniemi, Helsinki.

“Queuing up to pick up a prescription has been replaced by faster and slower service points. Alongside conventional health products and drugs, customers can get smoothies and foot care from pharmacies,” Franck tells us.

Ketola says that service design benefits the public and private sectors alike. The size of the organization does not matter, either.

“Our customers range from startups to large corporations. In the public sector, service design helps in solving the right things. Companies usually try to utilize it to help their business grow,” he says.

The voice of a cancer patient, for example, is heard better in the treatment process when that process is developed on the basis of the customer’s experience. For private hospitals, customer focus is usually vital.

Stickers guide customers

Investing in a combination of space and services, Technopolis leverages service businesslounge310.pngdesign in several projects. Both Ketola and Franck have taken part in them.

Technopolis Ruoholahti in Helsinki is currently fine-tuning the service experience with an experiment using guidance stickers implemented by Diagonal. The stickers make it easier for visitors to move around the building and tell them about different types of services available, such as business lounges and meeting rooms with videoconferencing facilities.

“The stickers have been received favorably by customers, so we are going to replicate the idea at other sites as well,” Franck says.

 This is a perfect example of the ingenuity of service design thinking.

“Fast, lightweight pilot testing combined with, for example, changes in net sales and measurements of customers’ willingness to recommend an idea indicate whether the direction is correct. Only when the reform is seen to yield results, is it adopted more extensively,” Ketola explains.

Top-down or bottom-up?

Finland is not usually considered to be the promised land in terms of service. Rather, self-service thinking flourishes here, and the corporate culture is strongly product-focused. The world is changing, however, and even in the taciturn north, there is talk of a service society.

Services already generate more than two-thirds of Finland’s GDP, while industry only accounts for one-fifth nowadays. “Servitization” is, in fact, extending to the entire corporate sector.

“The Finnish engineer-driven mindset means that people easily look at things from the point of view of technology or organization – top-down. This may result in the wrong kind of a product. Customers do not necessarily adopt it, even if large sums were spent on the development work,” Franck warns.

Service design aims to reverse the direction – bottom-up – meaning that the customer experience comes first.

“We believe that with tougher competition, customers and their genuine needs must increasingly be taken as the starting point,” Franck emphasizes.

Ketola agrees:

“It is increasingly difficult to do well only with a product, and there are few fields where ‘basically good’ is enough. Service design is a positive arms race”

Using design tools

But why is service development called “design” – is there anything significantly new here?

According to Franck and Ketola, the answer is both yes and no. Service design draws its influences from the world of design, where dozens of creative solutions are developed and prototyped.

“For example, a hundred versions of a chair can be made before finalizing one that is put into production. The product must serve the user, but it must also be possible to make it at a reasonable cost,” Ketola says.

 “The same sensitivity towards the user is emphasized in service design. Does the service offer them what they are after? Are we solving the right thing from the customer’s point of view?” he compares.

Franck likes to talk about her work as strategic design.

“We offer strategic support and tools for the company,” she says.

Diversity is essential. Service design unites designers, economists and engineers, who all are primarily interested in the end user.

Feelings open the wallet

Professionals think that Finns still have things to do in coming to terms with a service attitude. However, companies are waking up to the need for a customer focus, which might very well turn out to be profitable. Laura Franck gives us some figures to prove this:

“According to a study in England, companies that invest in design recoup their investment 20 times over. This figure includes both the traditional product and service design.

According to Franck, more than half of the customer experience originates in feelings. This is why the same element is visible in service design and the development of shopping centers and trendy café concepts: the customer experience.

According to Tuomo Ketola, Finns could follow their western neighbor in this respect as well.

“Here, the service idea is often good, but the implementation is often unfinished. I feel that this is often more successful in Sweden, and that also opens the wallet,” he smiles.

From plan to refinement

Successful service design follows a logical process:

  1. Specify the objectives. (What is to be solved?)
    First, think carefully what kind of a service should be provided and why. What is the aim of the project?
  2. Get to know the customers. (Who does it matter to?)
    Everything starts with empathy, i.e. listening to the customer. What is the environment in which services are created? Who and how different from each other are the customers? What are their needs?
  3. Test with pilots. (How should it be solved?)
    Possible service provider partners, for example, are involved in fast and lightweight testing. How do the customers react to the pilots? Measure the results and customer experience continuously!
  4. Implement. (How should it be implemented?)
    The first adoption can be implemented at a single site or location, for example. Does the pilot work in real life as well? Do the customers embrace the service?
  5. Develop further. (Does the solution work? If not, what should be developed?)
    A service is never complete, it is created in use. Continuously refine the concept to be better on the basis of customer feedback.

Source:  service designer Tuomo Ketola, Palmu