Archive for November, 2007

Last month, on a tip from Alex Nisbett’s blog, I decided to check out an article in Fast Company about a writer who had gone undercover to work in retail as a front-line employee in a string of service companies for his new book.

From Punching In:

During a two-year urban adventure throught the world of commerce, Alex Frankel applied for and was hired by a half-dozen companies: he proudly wore the brown uniform of the UPS driver, folded endless stacks of T-shirts at Gap, brewed espressos for the hordes at Starbucks, interviewed (but failed to get hired) at Whole Foods [and the Container Store and Home Depot], enrolled in management training at Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and sold iPods at the Apple Store.

I worked as a bank teller for a few summers while I was in college, but it’s been a while since I counted myself as a service worker so I was eager to pick up a copy of the book to get a first-hand account of the world we’re designing for.

It’s a pretty quick read. The author, Alex Frankel, focuses on his backstage interactions with the companies and his co-workers, but doesn’t spend as much time as I would have liked on his interactions with customers. Still, he paints some compelling vignettes (that are occasionally disquieting) and while the book doesn’t have the kinds of insights I expected, there’s still some interesting content for service designers to soak in.

Frankel admits that he wasn’t a naturally good personality fit for many of the jobs, a fact he was required to supress.

For whatever reason, I am not overwhelmingly compelled to join up with others. … My inclinations toward independent work had been there all along, but I had to live through the experiences to understand that some people have a hard time believing and don’t make the best front-line employees.

The efforts by companies to mold Frankel into an employee are interesting. Some simply screen out anyone who doesn’t fit their behavioral profile of an ideal employee. Others work hard to indoctrinate employees into their culture. The most successful was UPS who gave him a uniform and a crash course in package delivery along with a good deal of autonomy in his role as the human face of the company.

About midway though the chapter on the Gap, I questioned whether retail design is a worthwhile pursuit for service designers. There’s obviously a lot that could be improved from the customer experience perspective but it seems pretty hollow. For better or worse not all services are created equal. I need to spend some time thinking about why that is.

Why do services like package delivery or car rental or airline travel or healthcare seem like a better fit?

Teaching Service Design

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino guest-posts over at 31 Volts on the need for service design education and rounds up a few international design schools that’ll be on the forefront of the discipline in the coming years.

I’d add the Carnegie Mellon School of Design to the list. Graduates of the now-defunct Interaction Design Institute Ivrea are also going to be making waves. Maybe it’d be a good idea to put together a survey of student projects.

A few weeks ago, Core77 blogged about a panel at the InterSections conference with Chris Downs, Gillian Crampton Smith, Heather Martin and Jeremy Myerson that sounded intriguing. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find any other information online. No blog posts, no photos on Flickr; I was beginning to think they made the whole thing up.

The conference organizers finally reified things by posting full transcripts and podcasts of the conference. The transcripts are a nice touch, and something the folks at Emergence should consider adopting. Good link-cred.

Here’s the panel discussion that I was interested in:
What’s the new know-how in service design?

They discuss examples of good and bad service design, the core skills involved and whether traditional notions of craft, beauty and visualization are still important.

[via designswarm]

Karl Long of Experience Curve reports on his recent flight on Virgin America. He describes a few innovations in the cabin servicescape: computerized drink ordering, in-seat chat, ubiquitous power sockets and some disarmingly quirky safety videos on YouTube.

Update: Leah Buley from Adaptive Path has her own first-hand observations.

[via Work.Play.Experience]

The Delivery Gap

Nick Marsh links to some damning evidence from a Bain study on customer-led growth. Only 8% of companies who believe they provide a superior experience have customers who agree. 72% are fooling themselves and 20% know their offering isn’t superior (the so-called service laggards).

Bain’s “Delivery Gap” chart is meant as an implicit defense of management consulting, but it also works pretty well as a rebuttal for people who attack the premise of service design. Why should designers try to design services and processes? Isn’t that just plain vanilla business? Can’t administrators and executives and policy wonks design these things themselves?

I need to get this chart laminated and keep it in my wallet.

[via choosenick]

When I pulled together my service design literature review this summer I was surprised to find that none of the papers in the service marketing canon mention the term “touchpoint.” It’s a pretty glaring omission so I decided to dig into the history of the term and find out where it came from.

As it’s used today, touchpoint seems to be an umbrella term that can refer to any of several different facets of customer experience that are treated individually in the literature.

  • Service Evidence (Tangibles) – The physical elements of a service. Shostack introduced this idea and Parasuraman included it in the 1988 SERVQUAL scale.
  • Service Encounter – The human interactions that take place between a customer and a service provider. Bitner explored the development of this concept in 1990.
  • Servicescape – The environmental aspects of a service. Bitner’s 1992 paper refers to a FedEx dropbox as a “lean environment or servicescape.”

The closest the term “touchpoint” has come to the established service marketing canon was earlier this year when Mary Jo Bitner (of service encounter and servicescape renown) used the term in an unpublished paper. Bitner acknowledges that it has become more common (particularly as a substitute for “service encounter” and “moments of truth”) but indicates that it is still less widely accepted in the academic community.

The term evidence dates to 1982; tangibles to 1988. Service encounter to 1985 and servicescape to 1992. But when did “touchpoint” enter the mix?

The word itself is not new. The Oxford English Dictionary traces it to a 1602 treatise on astronomy. Over the years it’s taken on dozens of meanings. Touchstone, checkpoint, highlight, pitstop, point of friction, boundary object, counterpoint, nexus, cause celeb, jumping off point, point of contention, point of comparison, flashpoint or liason. It has technical meanings in acupuncture, engineering and mathematics. The term is a trademark for a series of Christian books, a series on child development and the name of a polyandrous networking club.

Harvard Business Review adopted the term in February 2007 to describe the instances of direct contact between a customer and a service. McKinsey Quarterly embraced it in June 2003. Live|Work used “touch-point” at least as early as 2002 when Lavrans Løvlie gave a talk about service design at the Interaction Institute Ivrea.

Before that, the term touchpoint existed in the world of branding to mean precisely what it means in service design, suggesting that the term was borrowed outright by the newer discipline. But it’s still not clear who coined the term, or when.

Customer relationship marketing (CRM) is a likely source. When companies like Oracle started building systems that could track every possible point of interaction with a customer, that concept needed a name. References to “touch point” or “touch-point” are common in articles on CRM and industry discussion boards starting in the late nineties.

Several companies also registered domain names around this time. Touchpoint Communications registered touch-point.com in 1996 for a business selling personalized marketing materials. They couldn’t get touchpoint.com because an ISP had snapped it up a year earlier for an unrelated purpose.

There’s a tantalizing copyright record from 1992 for a text entitled “Touch point analysis and touch point analysis research guide and club membership” by R.J. Staszak, but I haven’t been able to find a copy so it’s not clear whether it’s a fit.

The earliest solid references to touchpoints used to describe the points of contact between a customer and a service can be found scattered throughout articles in trade publications.

1999 – Best CRM practices require cultivation of touch points
Advertising Age’s Business Marketing; Vol. 84, Issue 12

Data come in from numerous paths or, as CRM practitioners call them, touch points. These touch points include the obvious channels in the integrated marketing mixture–advertising, direct marketing, public relations, interactive–but also include less-than-obvious channels to provide a complete picture of how customers interact with a brand.

1998 – Wow customers with service to build positive PR
Hotel & Motel Management; Vol. 213, Issue 8

Racker was G.M. of the first TownePlace Suites in Newport News, Va., and now manages brand training for the six-property product. Since guests generally stay up to 21 days and contact with hotel employees is minimal during their stay, management established a focus on service touchpoints.

1997 – Advanced Mail Equipment Pushes the Envelope
Managing Office Technology; Vol. 42, Issue 9

For many companies, mail has become the last “touch point” with customers. Mail provides an opportunity to communicate through targeted promotional materials strategically inserted with customer statements.

1995 – The Morphing of Customer Service
Management Review; Vol. 84, Issue 12

Over and above the music, there were other drivers of patron satisfaction that included the encounters we have with patrons, all the communications-related activities, the parking, the whole experience from the customer’s point of view,” says Reynolds of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s interactions with customers. As a result, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra worked to improve the touch points, such as brochures and other correspondence

1994 – Health Care Book of Lists (pg 77)

CRM (customer relationship management) identifies contact points between customers and the company, and enables the organization to use each “touch point” to learn more about customer needs.

1993 – Marketing for Keeps: Building Your Business by Retaining Your Customers (pg 154)

Try Education as a Customer Touchpoint. Inviting customers to an educational forum of some sort offers a subtle opportunity to make contact.

I haven’t been able to dig up any references to “touchpoints” prior to that. There’s no smoking gun. No authoritative source. But there might have been a catalyzing event.

In 1996, British Telecom introduced a series of interactive multimedia kiosks throughout London called Touchpoint kiosks. Since kiosks are of course touchpoints themselves, my theory is that the prominent branding of the kiosks helped popularize the term in the public consciousness, making it easier to adopt later on when service design firms first emerged in London.

The UK has power points, fire points, cash points and till points. Touchpoints seem like a perfect fit.

Laying the groundwork for an upcoming book, Bob Jacobson shares his phenomenal survey of experience design on the Total Experience blog.

It’s going to take a while to dig through this, but required reading is Experience Design and the Design of Experience by Erik Davis from Arcadia: Writings on Theology and Technology. As Jacobson puts it, “Davis’ chapter is possibly the best discussion anywhere regarding the significance, practice, and consequences of designing for experience.”

Inspired by the recent New York Times article about anthropologists collaborating with US Armed Forces in the Middle East, design anthopologist Dori Tunstall raises the issue of ethics in service design over at Design Observer.

How should the design community respond if the U.S. Army asked us to join teams to do “service design” projects in Afghanistan? What if Uncle Sam wanted our design thinking?

Many of the comments to her post seem not to make a distinction between ethics and personal preference. Others limit the input of the community to questions of performance integrity and product integrity, i.e. owing clients our best work, and holding solutions to a standard of fitness for purpose.

It’s not clear to what extent Tunstall’s question is particular to the field of service design. The discipline seems to be ahead of the curve with its focus on a “triple bottom line” centered around not only financial but environmental and social concerns. Issues of geo-politics clearly fall within those realms. This begins to form a shared language for discussing matters of ethics; in fact, it makes the conversation unavoidable.

Richard Buchanan’s “Design Ethics” in the Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics is a good source for exploring the impact of designers as moral agents.

A fourth ethical dimension of design arises from the service nature of the design arts, and presents some of the most difficult ethical issues designers face. The design arts are fundamentally a practical service to human beings in the accomplishment of individual and collective purposes. … The potential for moral conflicts and dilemmas is so great that in this fourth ethical dimension the ethical problems of design are essentially the same as the ethical problems of citizenship and practical living in general.

Buchanan often cites the Nazi concentration camps of World War II as an example of exquisite design leveraged for an exceedingly immoral and horrible purpose. As long as designers are human, design will never be a morally neutral act.

Update: Anne Galloway on the reaction to Tunstall’s article over at Purse Lip Square Jaw.

Paul Adams observes real time customer experience feedback at the Beijing airport.

Something is driving a customer centered border experience. After checking your passport and visa, you are encouraged to rate your experience: Greatly satisfied, satisfied, checking time too long, poor customer service.

A comment on the post mentions feeling uncomfortable about the repercussions if bad feedback were traced back to her. I don’t think it’s possible to move the feedback point to the end, because by then people are already collecting their things to move on. But maybe an analog system like “rate our service” cards would be a little more transparent.

I wonder how the experience with TSA would change if this type of feedback were available?

It seems like car sharing is an ever-popular service design example so I thought this might be interesting to the community. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

For the past two years, the Bay Area has been the most competitive market in the nascent but booming business of car sharing … but the competitive landscape is changing. Zipcar and Flexcar, the two largest and only nationwide car sharing companies, announced Tuesday night that they are merging. The new company will operate under the Zipcar brand and use its technology.