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.