We design our products.  We design our organizations. We spend an inordinate amount of time and money designing our software.  But, do we design our services?  If we were honest, most of us would answer NO!

This is unacceptable because as Thomas Stewart and Patricia O’Connell write in their 2016 book “Woo, Wow, and Win” 

“A company’s job is to design and deliver delight on its own terms, by fully meeting the expectations of customers.”

Think about this; consistently meeting customer expectations creates customer delight.

If we don’t design our services, how did they get where they are today?  How do our customers feel about the services we deliver?  Do our services help or hinder future sales?  And, most importantly, how should we go about designing our services?  Let’s take these questions one-at-a-time.

How did our services get to where they are today?

When technology companies start-up, they are only focused on two things; getting investors and shipping their first product.  Anything else is usually too small to show up on their radar screen.  After a while, they have beta units placed with important early adopters and they start getting a very few “service calls.”  Usually, one of the engineers is sent to the customer site. They either fix a silly problem (maybe due to a confusing user interface) or quickly escalate the issue to the engineering team, so they can properly fix the problem and also fix the other beta installations.

Eventually business starts to pick up.  Sales add a Technical Account Manager (TAM), sometimes called an Applications Engineer. Once they help make a sale, they come back, install the equipment, and train the users.  And when there is a need for someone to do remedial service, the same person is dispatched.  After this gets old, the Sales Management tells the CEO that “I need my TAM’s to grow sales.  You need to set up a Service Group.”

However it happens, the new Service Department (person?) takes over from the TAM’s but continues to do what they were doing.  The new Field Service and Technical Support resources are trained in the existing procedures (I hate to call it a process.)  And so it grows.

In other industries, the growth of the service department may have followed a very different path, but the outcome has been the same – service is delivered the about same way it always has been.  And the results are what they have always been except for implementing new technologies such as remote support.

How do customers feel about our service?

In the majority of cases, the company doesn’t know.  They think they do but it is only a guess. They don’t do surveys and they don’t collect and analyze feedback received by various individuals who interact with customers.

The reality is that some small, long time customers are very happy. They get good treatment and feel comfortable with the service.  They know what to expect and are rarely disappointed. It is the newer customers who quickly get disappointed.

The new customers enter the relationship without having their expectations set by their new supplier. They extrapolate experiences from their other suppliers and use them as the expectations for the new one.  For example, assume they have a large number of HP printers serviced by HP Managed Print Services.  They then buy a Xerox printer from a local distributor who will also perform service.  If the distributor never set expectations based on their capabilities and procedures, the buyer will just assume that their new printer will be serviced to the same standards as HP.  A situation that likely leads to disappointment.

Do our services help or hinder future sales?

If you have not taken an outside-in approach and redesigned your services to deliver to people what they want, the way they want it, when they need it, then you are hurting sales.  If your product or service is a monopoly, then you may not be hurting current sales, but it does mean that your customers are always looking for improved products and or services and will change when they see an opportunity.

That’s right – many of your customers will toss out a perfectly good product if you cannot keep it running when they need it.  They will buy another product from a competitor if they believe they will get better service and support.  Remember, the reason they purchased your product is because they needed to use it to achieve their business outcomes.  If it is not working, and you cannot make it work, then it is nothing but an expensive boat anchor.  That’s why there is so much churn in the mobile phone and cable markets.  Change is relatively easy and people have no patience for what they believe is inferior performance.

How should we go about designing our services?

Service design is all about figuring out how your customers will experience your services, what experiences you want them to receive, how you will ensure that your business always delivers the desired experiences, and how you communicate the expected experiences to your customers.  In other words, how do you set and deliver a set of expectations that will routinely create value and loyalty for your customers?

How you design each service is like a customer journey map (CJM) on steroids.  When you create a CJM, you identify all the steps your customer’s take in doing whatever they are trying to do.  Then you evaluate how satisfied they are (or probably are) at each step and finally, you figure out how to improve their experience.  What is missing is the first key step – deciding how you want them to feel after taking each step.  And since the individual steps have to make sense when joined into a journey, you have to make sure that each individual journey creates satisfied customers.

Here is a made up example.  Let’s say you are designing a new gas (petrol) delivery system. You know you want to use the existing underground storage tanks so that is a system constraint. Also, you would like to reuse the islands where the fuel dispensers are mounted – a second constraint.  Based on surveys, personal experiences, and dealer feedback, you discover that business falls off during inclement weather and also during extreme temperatures, both high and low.  Also, you learn that customers really like paying for the fuel at the dispenser without walking into the office.

As you and your team think about the problem, you figure out that customers do not have strong loyalty to a particular fuel brand.  It is a commodity.  What they have is loyalty to a specific location. Maybe it is easy to enter and leave the station, maybe it is right next to where they stop a few times a week to transact other business, or maybe they go there because it is a habit.  So you decide that if you can create a simple system which works well in all types of weather, you can provide a great experience and shift customer loyalty to your newly designed stations.

I won’t create a new design because that is not my strength but let’s assume we find a way to shelter the customer from rain and snow, provide shade from the direct sun, and blow hot or cold air at the point where the hose is attached to the car.  Let’s further assume that these individual steps are highly reliable and automatic. Automatic means that when you insert the nozzle into the car’s fill tube, a steady stream of comfortable air will blow to that same point. You also find a way to speed up the end of sale payment process and that the customer stays dry and comfortable while waiting for the receipt.

If you installed my futuristic fuelling system, I would bet that your business would increase because of the creature comforts you provided.  And customers would no doubt be willing to pay a few cents per gallon more because the experience is so pleasant.

That is service design.  You can, and should, do the same thing with how your call center works, how you create, dispatch, and confirm a field dispatch, and all the other interactions you have with your customers.  And you should tell them exactly what to expect for each step and what to do if things do not exactly follow your plan. Within a few months, you will start seeing an increase in CSAT and an uptick in business.

Make this a fun experience for you and your team.  That’s how innovation starts.