Seven Contexts for Services

Last week at the service design panel in San Francisco, Bob Glushko tossed out an interesting reference to the “seven contexts” for the design of services.

1. Person to person
2. Technology enhanced P2P
3. Self-service (people to technology)
4. Backstage intensive (invisible supply or distribution channel)
5. Multiple devices (avatars of a service)
6. Multi-channel services
7. Location-sensitive

I think this is a helpful construct for acknowledging the sprawling nature of services, but it’s not an exhaustive list.

You’ll note that the first three contexts form a continuum from people-dominant (high touch) to technology-dominant (high tech). What’s interesting is that the people/technology continuum is only one of eight spectrums identified by Laurie Young in his book From Products to Services. The others include customized vs industrialized; infrastructure-based vs added value; product-affiliated vs stand-alone; discrete (project) vs continuously rendered (annuity); self-service vs performed; membership vs anonymity; and transaction vs interaction.

Lynn Shostack started the ball rolling with her classic illustration of the continuum between tangible-dominant and intangible-dominant offerings in Breaking Free from Product Marketing. Her 1977 paper stands as an early recognition of the spectrum between products and services.

Add to intangibility a range of nine other aspects identified by Young in his book and the number of contexts extends well beyond seven. You’d need some sort of matrix.

Thanks to Jane Westfall for helping to track down the list of contexts from the talk.




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