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.