Archive for March, 2008

The Heathrow Terminal 5 meltdown is a good example of the interplay between service design and system design. It illustrates how services are built on top of systems and how people perceive process and outcome characteristics differently.

To characterize this as “not their finest hour” would be an understatement, but no one is complaining about the limited seating or the fact that Terminal 5 lacks plug-ins for laptop computers. Likewise, no one is praising T5’s fresh, contemporary decor or its innovative information zones. Why? Because people have much larger systemic problems to worry about.

They say that victory has a thousand fathers while defeat is an orphan, and some are calling for service designers to take responsibility, but I see the Heathrow situation as a failure of system design rather than service design. There are some service problems to be sure, for example: the £100 cap for stranded passengers to stay in hotels, but by and large people are complaining about the loss of 15,000 bags and the cancellation of one-fifth of the flights.

It’s a little like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The system problems need to be ironed out before people are in a position to care about service process.

Idris Mootee explores the structure of service design. I’m not sure if this is simply an obvious analogy, or if I should ask for my post back. Let’s see: Howard Hawks quote? Check. Movie scenes as touchpoints? Check. It’s a pretty simple formula for success? Check. James Heskett’s service bookends? Check. Parallels to the world of writing? Check. In Marriott’s customer surveys, 4 of the top 5 factors that contribute to customer loyalty occur in the first ten minutes of interaction with their hotel? Verbatim from Carrie’s comment? Check.

On the other hand, he does make some interesting observations about Le Pain Quotidien.

[via choosenick]

Alexander Kjerulf shares five reasons why “the customer is always right” actually results in poor customer service.

  • It makes employees unhappy
  • It gives abrasive customers an unfair advantage
  • Some customers are bad for business
  • It results in worse customer service
  • Some customers are just plain wrong

I touched on this a bit in my earlier post Fire Your Customer, but Kjerulf goes into a lot more detail. It’s nice to see a concrete example of Southwest firing a customer.

[via kottke]

Marc from 31Volts is running an experiment to compile elevator pitches for service design. It’s called One Line of Service Design. He’s not really looking for definitions so much as examples that help focus in on the discipline:

I thought it might be a good idea to create an list of simple and easy to use examples that illustrate what Service Design is/does. To make this “stick” I suggest we refer to this list as the One line of Service Design toolkit. The goal is not to explain all of Service Design in this one line but to have an good entry-point for an conversation.

Here’s how I might broach the subject:

Service designers work with companies and governments to orchestrate positive encounters with people. For example, think of the last time you traveled by air; did you board the plane by zone or was it first come, first served? That’s a design decision; a touchpoint. Most services are composed of dozens of touchpoints that work together to shape the encounter.

Here’s another take summarized from Dick Buchanan’s Emergence 2007 Keynote, aimed at the design community:

Service Design is about making people more active. No longer passive in their communities. No longer passive in their lives. Service design is about the equitable distribution of resources and tools to make decisions; to change social relationships. To give information and the tools to construct knowledge, to make it actionable to use — either wisely or foolishly — so that people can live as they would choose.

The irony of this post isn’t lost on me in light of my observation yesterday that we were beyond defending the concept of service design. Still, I’ll play along and tag Carrie, Susan and Jack. How would you explain service design?

Update: I slightly tweaked my contribution to add the “positive” qualifier, and I should note that I broke the rules by writing a paragraph — not a line. I don’t think you can reduce service design to a slogan.

Also, Marc has posted some of the quotes.

A Good Year

I started writing Design for Service one year ago today. A few months went by before I realized that I had inadvertently stolen the name from Shelley Evenson’s inaugural Service Design course at Carnegie Mellon. Sorry about that. I learned a lot in that course, but Service Design was a much younger discipline in 2004 and I suspected that there might be limits to what a quarter-long survey could accomplish. So this blog began as a way to continue the exploration.

Over the past year I think Service Design has come into focus. It seems like there’s less of a need to defend the concept of service design. Instead people are focusing on how to do it well. That’s a positive development.

Thanks for coming along on the journey.

Naomi Epel’s Observation Deck is a collection of 50 catalysts for inspiration contributed by authors from around the world. It takes the form of a 160-page book describing the tactics and a deck of 50 cards for randomly selecting a direction. The Observation Deck was conceived as a tool for writers but the techniques can be applied to any creative endeavor, including design.

Here are a few examples:

  • Feed Your Senses
  • Start with a Title
  • Create a Sacred Space
  • Switch Media
  • Change Your Point of View
  • Eavesdrop

The Observation Deck is similar in concept to other creativity toolkits like Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies (for musicians) and Roger Von Oech’s Creative Whack Pack.

The cards help jog the memory, but most don’t make sense without the context supplied by the book (though they’re not as inpenetrable as Eno’s Oblique Strategies). It’d be nice if more context were printed on the cards but the stories are memorable and the book itself is a quick read.

Each of these “pack” designs work pretty well as desktop widgets. I’ve got all three on my Macintosh. Eno’s Oblique Strategies widget is available on Apple’s site. I simply changed the list of aphorisms and swapped out the cover graphics to create widgets for the other two.

The full list of observations is available on Google Books (check the table of contents) and images for the Creative Whack Pack are available on

Library Journal has an interesting article from 2003 about an experiential approach to library design at the Cerritos Millennium Library in California:

Both circulation and the number of visitors have skyrocketed, but the quality of the library experience matters as much as the numbers to Pearson [the founder]. He loves to tell about the teenager on her cell phone telling friends to come to the library because “it’s cool — it’s like a mall!” He’s just as delighted by the woman who comes in each week to read a chapter of Moby-Dick in the Old World Reading Room; it wasn’t just the book she wanted but the total experience of reading a fine press edition in a wingback chair beside a fireplace.

It’s also worth browsing through some of the criticism on the Cerritos Library Wikipedia page, including the arguments that the library has become too much of a social gathering place and that it is unfairly competing with less attractive libraries.

More photos here. And here.

The BBC has an overview of What Makes a Good Airport in anticipation of Heathrow’s new Terminal 5. They mention some aspects like consistent signage and efficient queuing, but one thing they don’t mention is seating. Probably because Terminal 5 doesn’t have any. Last year Dan Lockton wrote an overview of the new terminal that included this quote from the Guardian:

Flying from the new Heathrow Terminal 5 and facing a lengthy delay? No worries. Take a seat and enjoy the spectacular views through the glass walls: Windsor castle in one direction; the Wembley Arch, the London Eye and the Gherkin visible on the horizon in the other.

But you had better be quick, because the vast terminal, due to open at 4am on March 27 next year, has only 700 seats. That’s much less than two jumbo loads, in an airport designed to handle up to 30 million passengers a year.

There will be more chairs available but they will be inside cafes, bars and restaurants. Taking the weight off your feet will cost at least a cup of coffee.

I posted a roundup of articles on the importance of seating last month. Problem is, if you provide proper seating then people won’t shop as much. I don’t know if the plan for Terminal 5 has changed since last year, but the lack of seating is a pretty cynical design strategy.

Low Service Design

From the Wall Street Journal:

In the past few years, more than a half-dozen small hotel groups have been cropping up in Britain and across Europe, offering cost-conscious accommodation. Though their rates and services vary, all are shrinking costs by cutting unessential amenities, which, depending on the property, can mean space, check-in staff, or natural light.

Describing themselves as “budget luxury,” “micro-boutique,” or “low-service design,” most also are offering upmarket touches in the form of stylish furniture, sophisticated electronics or perks such as free movies and Wi-Fi. The result is a pared-down service and lower rates.

Clayton Christensen wrote about this class of low-end innovation in his 2004 article Cheaper, Faster, Easier: Disruption in the Service Sector in Strategy & Innovation.

The Profitable Art of Service Recovery by Christopher Hart, James Heskett and W. Earl Sasser is the newest addition to my service design research collection. The 1990 HBR article is a terrific overview of service recovery.

Mistakes are a critical part of every service. Hard as they try, even the best service companies can’t prevent the occasional late flight, burned steak, or missed delivery. The fact is, in services, often performed in the customer’s presence, errors are inevitable. But dissatisfied customers are not. While companies may not be able to prevent all problems, they can learn to recover from them. A good recovery can turn angry, frustrated customers into loyal ones. It can, in fact create more goodwill than if things had gone smoothly in the first place.

Hart et al. identify seven tactics for service recovery:

  • Measure the Costs – Considering how much it costs to lose a customer, few recovery efforts are too extreme.
  • Break the Silence – Don’t attend to just squeaky wheels; make an effort to actively inquire about problems.
  • Anticipate Needs for Recovery – Narrow the search for opportunties by identifying and monitoring certain problem-prone areas of an operation.
  • Act Fast – Service problems quickly escalate so identifying a problem is only fruitful if the company responds fast.
  • Train Employees – Good service companies rely on “standard operating procedures” for problems that come up from time to time.
  • Empower the Front Line – Training can give employees the perspective that service recovery requires, but the company must empower them to act.
  • Close the Loop – If a customer’s complaint leads to corrective measures, the company should tell the customer about the improvement.

The authors explore these tactics with examples from Club Med, Maine Savings Bank, Marriott Hotel, British Airways, Domino’s Pizza, Stew Leonards, US Air, DFW Airport, Sheraton Hotel, Smith & Hawken, First Union National Bank, US Secret Service, Sonesta Hotel, Montgomery Ward, McDonald’s and Federal Express.

Some of the examples are truly phenomenal.