Service design, while often talked about in academia, is getting more and more attention from design companies and service providers, as the impact of experience design has been proven to increase customer satisfaction and brand perception. This isn't to say that service design is only about the customer's experience; while that's a big part of it, service designers also look at the delivery of the service, its operational efficiency, and its scalability from a design point of view. They focus on designing both the overall service, an intangible exchange like using a bank account or renting a car, and each of the touch points within the service, which may be tangible products like a bank statement, website or or rental car. Service designers map the way that a service is experienced over time and each of the interactions within the experience.
My co-speakers at the event were Chenda Fruchter, who talked about designing NYC's 311 service, ReD Associates' Jun Lee, who recounted their research with Lego, and Silvia Harris, presenting her work redesigning the wayfinding services at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
I decided not to focus on a specific case study, but rather present a series of issues to keep in mind when thinking about the services we design. My talk, titled "Is there an app for that?" was about the challenge of designing services in today's data-rich web-enabled world, and how our experiences online have changed our expectations of the way things work offline.
I focused on five topics. Here's a brief summary of them:
The fact that I can get the answers to just about anything with a quick Google search or a lazy tweet has changed my appetite for instant gratification. I'm used to having access to everything in my smart phone now, and near real-time response in most of my communication. This can't help but affect my expectations of offline services--I have have less patience for delays, and my perception of acceptable time lines and information access is skewed. Service designers need to think about what happens when things don't go as planned, account for high levels of scrutiny around timeliness in a world where so much of our online experience is near real-time and 24/7.
Online services are all about participation. Many of our favorites, such as Wikipedia and YouTube, are crowd-sourced or co-created. They rely on users to create the content that others will consume. For these services to work, users have to participate. This co-creation model presents an opportunity for service designers as well. By involving users in the creation and implementation of a service, we can engender a sense of ownership and accountability that motivates them to participate, and makes them more likely to succeed.
Along with users' participation comes their point of view. Websites such as Digg, Theadless and others capitalize on the opinions of the masses, giving users a place to express their preferences and see the impact of their opinions on what's featured on the site. Many offline services have started using the web to a similar effect. Some use Get Satisfaction, an online service geared toward giving customers a neutral platform for communicating with companies, and many have started using Twitter as an official forum for customer service. Users now have new ways of expressing their opinions, an the public nature of this online expression can often lead to groundswell. These channels aren't going away, and can be incorporated into service delivery and quality assurance in new and interesting ways.
Thanks to the internet, I'm a lot smarter than I used to be. I now have access to myriad experts, and quickly learn all I need to prepare myself for engaging with a service; I can often find answers to my questions without ever dealing with an expert directly. The availability of expert information online changes my expectations of the the service providers I interact with--it's easy to forget that people are not computers, nor have they memorized the contents therein. However knowledgeable a service provider may be, their differentiator is no longer exclusive access to information. But the opportunity lies in how they use the information and the human quality of their expertise. There's a reason we still consult doctors instead of relying on WebMD.
One of the advantages of online services is that they can track user behavior and provide opportunities for customization. People have become accustomed to their own versions of iGoogle, and saving things like their online grocery lists from one week to the next. How does an offline service reflect the ongoing nature of a service relationship? How does it learn from a user's behavior? Does it respond differently at different points in the service experience?
There are many, many more issues that I could add to this list, but the talk was only 10 minutes long. Exploring this topic left me wondering whether or not there "should" be an app for everything under the sun. What are the qualities that we want to preserve in a world were everything is data? How can we design better services that address a new set of expectations from our users?
You can see a video of the talk on the UX Network, and I've posted the slides on Slideshare as well.
Jennifer Bove is a founder and principal at Kicker Studio in San Francisco and on the faculty of the School of Visual Art's Interaction Design MFA department in New York. She travels, a lot.
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