“The purpose of business is to create a customer.”—Peter F. Drucker
Great service is not just a consequence of good intentions, attentive management, and a supportive culture. In fact, cause and effect are reversed: Service needs to be laid into the company’s keel, the way performance is built into a BMW or intuitiveness designed into an iPad. A company designed for service will naturally display the behaviors—the intentions, attention, and culture—good service requires. If service isn’t built in, no amount of good will can deliver it reliably, and no effort can compensate for the lack of it. Trying to satisfy customers will be like canoeing into a headwind: The effort will eventually exhaust even the most determined team.
The surprising fact is most companies are not, actually, designed for service – to provide an experience that matches a customer’s expectations, and to deliver it time and again. The reasons for this are complex and partly historical, as we will explain in the pages that follow. For now, accept our premise that providing superior service is unnatural in most organizations.
Addressing that problem is what this book is about. In the last few years, a handful of progressive thinkers, pioneering executives, and scholars have begun to develop ideas and experiments in service design. Their thesis and ours is simple: Services should be designed with as much care as products are. We include service delivery in the concept, too, because artistry without execution is meaningless, in business at least. Service design and delivery involve reimagining, recreating, and rethinking the execution of every stage and aspect of customer and company interaction, regardless of what is being sold and regardless of whether a transaction actually occurs, to satisfy that customer and advance your strategic goals.
If service isn’t built in, no amount of good will can deliver it reliably, and no effort can compensate for the lack of it.
Put another way, service design and delivery – what we call SD2—is what you do so your customers get the experience you want them to have—every time. Three ideas are embedded in that sentence. First, service design is proactive, not reactive; it involves choices, actions, and consequences. Second, service design starts with what you, the seller, want; it is about delivering on your promise to customers in accordance with your strategy, not about acceding to everything a customer asks. Third, service design creates consistency, and consistency is no accident.
After scores of interviews, thousands of hours spent, and tens of thousands of miles traveled, we have come to hold four propositions about service design almost as tenets of faith.
Companies that embrace SD2 are bringing new thinking, new actions, and new effectiveness to running businesses by applying design thinking and sound strategy to services.
Executives know—as Peter Drucker put it—that their most important job is to create and keep customers; yet management science and practice are less advanced in service industries and in customer-facing functions than in practically any others. We have a century or so during which industrial and product design have been studied and applied—but just a generation of service design. In business functions, we have much more solid knowledge of finance, operations, technology, and even HR than we do of sales, customer service, or even marketing.
Lacking design and the knowledge of it, executives lurch from tactic to tactic
Lacking design and the knowledge of it, executives lurch from tactic to tactic, sometimes trying to attract and retain customers with sales and promotions, then with loyalty programs, then with extras for preferred customers, then by giving more decision-making authority to front-line employees. Some of these techniques will work on some of the people some of the time, but there is little if any insight into why or how.
Without a design-oriented approach, companies pursue customer-centricity, as eager to please as puppies but with no clear sense of their unique identity or what they can do better than anyone else. Without service design and delivery – without being able to plan and execute in a way that is repeatable, predictable, scalable, and profitable – companies cannot set customers’ expectations, let alone meet them. They cannot support their strategy. They cannot offer reliable results to stakeholders. Like rubes in a casino, they will win occasionally, but will lose far more often.
SD2 is equally critical for the C-suite and frontline employees
Till now, the concept of service design has been embraced mostly by marketing executives and people with trendy titles like Chief Experience Officer. While marketing is a big beneficiary, the value of SD2 reaches high into the strategy sphere and deep into companies’ operational core. It is equally critical for the C-suite and frontline employees, as useful in business-to-business transactions as it is in B2C.
As we tell the stories of companies that have begun to take this journey, we will share what we have learned about:
Providing a superior service experience is the gateway to success. SD2 is the key that unlocks it.
Study after study has shown that the nature of consumers’ experience with a company is a key deciding factor in how they choose to spend their money. Poor customer experience results from a lack of consideration for every step and aspect of the customer’s journey and poor decisions about those steps. Poor customer experience results in poor word of mouth, which is amplified online to a wider audience than ever before.
Providing a superior service experience is the gateway to success. And SD2 is the key that unlocks it.
Copyright © Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O'Connell. All rights reserved.