Are You Being Served?

This slipped by me last fall, but the Design Council Magazine (DCM) ran a brief article on service design by Trish Lorenz in their Autumn 2008 issue. Why Britain Needs a Revolution in Service Design [PDF 2.5MB].

The four-page article focuses on the state of customer service, using recent survey metrics to set the stage and following up with advice from Live|Work, IDEO and Virgin Atlantic. The article also includes seven steps to successful service design and a brief rundown of customer service disasters.

Nothing particularly controversial here, but one thing jumped out at me. One of the interviews from a business consultancy asserts that “product is easy to imitate, but service is much more difficult. It offers a far more sustainable competitive advantage.” The article even highlights that sentiment with a pull quote.

I think this argument is backwards.

Product innovations are almost always defended by patents but it’s extremely difficult to patent a service. And while operational innovations that reside beyond the line of visibility are somewhat insulated, any customer-facing process or innovation is subject to copying precisely because it’s out in the open.


  1. Christi Z

    Coming from service design myself, I actually think that service design if very difficult to copy. The main reason being the the art of it is in the actual implementation of how it occurs and sustaining the behavior changes that support it over the long haul.

  2. Jeff

    Hi Christi, Thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed your talk at Adaptive Path last week.

    That’s a fair point. I’m thinking of examples like Subway following Quizno’s innovation of toasting their sandwiches. “Hey, we could toast our sandwiches too!” Or the YMCA copying the innovations at more expensive fitness centers.

    I agree that deeper systemic changes have a cultural element that’s tough to duplicate.




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