Archive for January, 2008

The alumni magazine of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto has an interview with Experience Economy authors Joe Pine and James Gilmore. It’s from the Winter 2005 Experience Issue [PDF 8.6MB].

That [charging admission] points to the fact that time is the key differentiator between services and experiences, whether one charges for it (yet) or not. If your company wants to spend less time with your customers—and they want to spend less time with you—then you’re already on the path to commoditization. But if you want to spend more time with your customers, and they want to spend more time with you, then you have tremendous opportunities to get into the business of staging experiences.

More Rotman back issues here.

London service design consultancy Engine shares a high-level overview of service design methodology. Lots of user-centered design techniques and tricks from the ethnographic toolkit mixed in with a few service-centric innovations.

IDEO method cards are another good source that can be adapted to service design, or you can buy a set tailored to the discipline if you happen to live in Germany.

[via Buena Vista]

Não Obrigada

There’s a little Brazilian restaurant near my apartment that I walk by almost every day. On each table is a curious little mechanical signal positioned between the place settings. It’s a simple dial that can be switched between two messages in Portuguese: A large red NÃO OBRIGADA (Not Required) on one half, and on the other a bright green SIM POR FAVOR (Yes Please).

I’m not an expert on Brazilian culture but from what I understand this is supposed to serve as an adumbration. The waiters keep bringing skewers of grilled meat to your table until you tell them to back off by turning the dial from green to red.

From a service design perspective this is the equivalent of hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your hotel door, but in this context it seems absurdly inelegant. There’s something graceful about a waiter who anticipates your unspoken needs, watching your body language and stepping in at precisely the right moment. This on the other hand seems tactless and explicit. On top of that, the touchpoint is constructed out of cheap enameled aluminum. They could at least try something that fits the decor of the restaurant like wood or ivory.

I’ve seen design projects that attempt to handle this kind of thing more implicitly, like smart coasters that detect the decreasing weight of your glass and gradually illuminate, but they’re still no match for a good waiter. Maybe it’s a cultural bias, but I prefer the subtle gestures of traditional etiquette.

Hotel Check-in

A recent comment about Marriott Hotels sparked the memory of a good idea from Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy. I avoided this book for a long time because it sounds like a philosophical treatise on consumerism. It’s not. Underhill talks about the science of shopping but throughout most of the book you could mentally replace “science” with “design” and be well on your way to reading an excellent volume on service design.

Here’s the bit about hotels:

Like lots of people these days, I spend roughly half my life on the road. The most problematic part of the hotel experience is always the same—you arrive late, tired, jet-lagged and looking forward to the shortest possible transition from the road to your room, where you can begin e-mailing, reading, writing, phoning or just ordering room service and a movie. Instead, you spend eternity standing in line when all you really need is your key, the rest of the transaction having been managed in advance over the phone or through a travel agent.

One hotel had progressed to using small, circular check-in islands in the lobby, where guest and clerk can sit side by side at the computer terminal. That’s a start, but some hotel is going to score huge points with business travelers by taking it further. There will be a check-in section of the lobby consisting of some comfortable easy chairs. When a clerk sees you sit there, she or he will come over with a portable, palm-size computer, a credit card reader, a room key and your choice of beverage, and the paperwork will be handled in a civilized way.

When I was interviewing with design firms during graduate school, by far the best hotel check-in experience was the Hotel Avante in Mountain View, California. I walked in and the clerk looked up, smiled and greeted me by name. Pleasantly surprised, I signed for my key and was on my way. That was over three years ago and it still stands out in my mind.

The Carnegie Mellon alumni magazine came in the mail the other day and I finally got around to browsing through the cover story on Tuomas Sandholm, a professor at CMU who is working on improving the organ donation system here in the US based on an approach called paired exchange.

In the case of kidney transplants, 12 people die each day in the United States while waiting for an organ. Many willing donors are not a match for their intended recipient because of variations in blood or tissue type. Paired exchange allows two patients to swap their incompatible live donors with each other to obtain suitable organs. Sandholm has been designing a system to make it easier to find matches out of thousands of potential pairs.

Lots of juicy stuff to dig into from the syllabus for MSE430 at the Stanford They’ve put together a comprehensive list of links and resources from the class.

A couple of the more recent courses also look interesting, although most aren’t as well documented.

Zipcar Interview

Peter Merholz interviews Scott Griffith, CEO of Zipcar.

There’s always an evolutionary process in the background. One thing that we’ve done is really started to employ what Toyota calls their kaizen techniques. Anyone in the company can raise their hand and say, “I see an inefficient process,” or “I see a user experience issue,” and if we call a meeting and really review how we’re doing it now and review how we can improve it, that through better systems, better processes, or some unique application of the technology we’re not using yet, we could really change either the consistency of the delivery of our service, our member experience, or improve it overall.

[via Service Design Mailing List]

Services As Structure

Legendary film director Howard Hawks once said that to make a great movie all you need are three great scenes and no bad scenes. It’s a pretty simple formula for success. What if we looked at service design through the same lens? It’s not a perfect analogy, but each service encounter is composed of touchpoints. Is it enough to create three great touchpoints and no bad touchpoints? It might not be a bad place to start.

Here’s another parallel from the world of screenwriting:

The first fifteen pages are the most important of any screenplay… and the final fifteen minutes are the most important of any movie.

This corresponds to what James Heskett calls “service bookends” in his book on Service Breakthroughs:

The stage for the service experience is set in the first few minutes of the situation. Once the tone has been established, it is difficult to change a customer’s impression of what follows.

Last impressions count too. That last few minutes of a service experience may cement the final impression of the event, which influences a customer’s willingness to make a repeat purchase or provide positive “word-of-mouth” selling to a potential customers. These first and last parts of the service encounter are the “service bookends.”

The final structural analogy is based on the peak-end rule. Basically that the best or worst part of an experience and the end of that experience are what influence our perception of an event. From a screenwriting perspective it’s apparently critical to minimize the time between the peak and the end, otherwise the audience gets bored. One of the best examples of trimming down that gap is Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, where the climax of the film happens a mere 43 seconds before the end of the picture. In less than a minute Hitchcock still manages to wrap up seven different plot points.

Retail could certainly learn from this. Finding a product to buy can be a great experience, but it’s always followed by an interminable wait in line to pay. Same problem with restaurants. Not only is the end of the experience (checkout/the bill) lackluster, but the long wait gives the customer too much time to recover before wrapping things up. How anticlimactic.

In William Goldman’s book Adventures in the Screen Trade (from which the 15 minute rule and the Hitchcock example are drawn) his central thesis is that screenplays are all about structure. Understanding some of the subtleties of screenwriting structure, such as the storytelling balance between acts and the structural differences between one act, two act and three act forms could prove to be fertile ground for service design.

Customer Service Blog

Service Untitled is a traditional customer service blog that might be worth checking in on from time to time:

This blog will talk about quite a few things. There’ll be a mix of actual examples and how the involved company could make the service experience better, tips and advice for improving the customer service experience, examples of companies that have mastered customer service, customer service etiquette tips, and plenty more.

Dividing by Zero

Cross-cultural communication often highlights the existence of unspoken assumptions and unwritten rules. Alexandra writes about a recent experience with conflicting definitions of service design that brought the problem to the fore:

I quickly realised though that we were talking about services in really different ways…. Definitions are always useful and I get the feeling that in these pioneering years of service design, we’re gonna need one really quickly.

Besides the traditional “services industries” that she encountered, I’ve also seen some competition from IBM’s Service Sciences for mindshare in this space. Service-oriented architecture (SOA) comes up again and again in my research, further complicating things, and design firms here in the states think of “software as a service” whenever you mention service design.

Richard Buchanan commented on the state of affairs at the most recent Emergence conference:

Did anyone find a definition of service design? I didn’t find one, and I am not bothered by that. Defining disciplines lacks value. Instead, we should ask ourselves, ‘What is the result of service design? What industries does it touch? What is its deeper purpose?’

His conclusion was that the ultimate purpose of service design is to give people the information and tools needed to act—to be free to live as they would choose.