How Service Design could give you a competitive advantage

Recently I attended a talk on Service Design at a local networking event called Rise and Design

I knew about product design but what was Service Design?  What I did understand was that I had experienced good and bad service. In fact, sometimes, the service delivery seemed to have been set up to deliberately annoy me.Marc Seery

One of the things that struck home from the speakers was that if you did not make a conscious effort to design the delivery of the service it will just form itself – for better or worse.

The importance of the service element can’t be understated; according to Gartner in the case of a PC the service revenue is 5 times the cost of the physical machine.

Service Design is not just another trend – the Guardian newspaper noted “In the competitive world of business, what separates an industry’s players is often the service that comes with the product offering – the customer experience. Quality of service determines whether a customer will be loyal, or leave.”

So good service design helps keep customers happy, and attracts new customers and bad service does the opposite. Good service is also harder for competitors to replicate since it is often more difficult to execute than simply copying a physical product which is there for all to see.

Achieving excellent service is difficult.  How many times have you heard “we’ve always done it this way!” and felt the pressure of vested interests resisting unwanted change.  Even in the smallest organisations there can be a disconnection between those with power, influence and control over the service delivery and the needs of the customers and users.

Often it is assumed that technology can take the place of person-to-person interactions but this can alienate both customers and employees – “the computer says no.”

So how can you design a service that gives you competitive advantage?

Richard Telford of LiveWork describes it as a 4 stage process:

  1. Insight – Inform the Service Design with insights from users/customers
  2. Ideas – collaborate to create clear service propositions
  3. Prototype – design how the service works and the service touch points i.e. “service usability”
  4. Define – Define great service experience and specify how it should be delivered.

For me, the main lesson is to keep very close to the customer experience and don’t let your top people get disconnected. For example, when we were creating our online accounting service Sage One it was the customer insight that drove the service design.  We talked to 100’s of businesses and investigated their current experiences and future needs through in depth discussions. We discovered our customers basically wanted to get on with running their businesses and did not aspire to be accountants. They wanted the service to be smart to save them time but also simple to use with support available to suit the hours they worked. So we gave them 24/7 telephone support and a straightforward service written in their language.

To summarise – providing a great customer experience is challenging but it is worth it because it does give you a strong competitive advantage. So consider how you currently treat your customers and if you have not spoken to them recently or to the support staff providing the service talk to them today – “tomorrow might be too late.”

For further information on Service Design go to:

Marc Seery, Sage One Team