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DESIGN 21

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  • At Your Service

    August 22, 2007

    Tattoo_177_

    By Jennifer Leonard

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the strategic field of “service design” of late because I was recently invited to speak at Carnegie Mellon’s upcoming Emergence event in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. And so, as with anything when top of mind, it has filtered much of what I’ve been witnessing and experiencing over the past several days.

    And believe me, I’ve had a motley crue of service experiences to pull from!

    I’ve hailed many a taxi. (One, remarkably, had no meter and ran right out of gas on the Chicago Expressway. In a moment of impulse, I hopped out and hitchhiked my way back to safety.)

    I’ve had my precious Beetle towed. (I dutifully paid the fees to retrieve my vintage wheels at an ominous locale named Auto Return. Although its signage declared, “We care!” it was clear to me they really didn’t. The young lady in attendance oozed disgust for her job: no joy, no eye contact, and no interest in caring whatever.)

    I’ve acquired a new tattoo. (The artists sat pretty in their notorious ink-dom, confident in their skills, covered in skulls and daggers and the odd floral motif. It was their world and they ruled it nobly. “User needs” and “customer empathy” were never part of the grandmaster plan.)

    I’ve lain on a massage table at a swanky boutique spa. (But the hour-long event left me more stressed than soothed. The price was high and yet the quality was poor: the masseuse’s hands felt more like chop sticks than oven mitts.)

    These four stories have led me to devise four distinct typologies of “service experience” that we might seek out or stumble upon serendipitously as we skip across our day-to-days. Let me embellish:

    Support: An everyday service we obtain when we’re in a pinch and need to get around town (taxi), or are in need of a helping hand with things like walking our dogs, laundering our clothes, or cleaning our homes.

    Penalty: A service we have no choice but to pay for. We’ve been fined or arrested or we’ve committed a big fat no-no in some way to someone. (Or we’re “in service” to something other than ourselves, such as the military, or a religion. These aren’t penalties as much as they are selfless offerings, but they’re sticky service matters that I will not delve into at this time.)

    Risk: A service we fear but crave nonetheless. We may want to endure something as a badge of honor, to enfold into our personal life story, to embellish our self-identity, or even adorn our exterior. This is where tattooing resides, along with other forms of body alteration, and all types of extreme activities, such as bungee-jumping, racecar-driving, and rollercoaster-riding.

    Reward: A service we welcome when we want to experience relief from the cricks and cracks in our backs, or simply indulge in a sip of luxury.

    Within each of these categories of service – Support, Penalty, Risk, Reward – there exists an array of possible outcomes thanks to unforeseeable factors, like personality, mood, weather, preparation, skill, space, time, resources and passion. But overall, services do well when they’re aligned with the truism that customer satisfaction is proportionately related to customer expectation.

    With taxi service, I expect to safely get to where I’m going, along the most direct route. (I’d also like the car to be clean and comfortable and infused with fresh air.) But if this isn’t the case, my nerves go on the fritz and I get a bit riled. With fines, bills, overdue fees and all other unpleasant inescapables, I expect to pay and be done with it. (I’d also like the person on the other end of the line, or across the counter, to be compassionate and kind and understanding of the fact that as humans we all make mistakes… and that there’s always a perfectly good exception to every single rule.) But if the already uncomfortable situation worsens, I just want to run and hide. With “no pain, no gain” service experiences like tattooing or personal training, I expect to be in the company of tough love and a bit of badass attitude. (I’d also expect to leave with precisely what I asked and paid for.) But if the service doesn’t live up to its claim to fame (or infamy), I feel physical soreness as well as deep regret. With massage therapy, I expect to leave in peace, delightfully buzzed from the aromatic mix of earthy oils. (If not, as earlier this week, I will never go back.)

    Service design is complex and can’t be narrowed down to a single mantra for a cross-section of corporations. There’s a huge difference in expectation when strutting into the lobby of a Ritz-Carlton versus through the front door of a small-town saloon! There are business needs to consider, staff needs to attend to, and individual consumer needs to discover and satisfy, as best as possible. It all comes together somewhere in a decentralized center, where top-down meets bottom-up; where tangibles meets intangibles; where give meets take; where a system of people meets personal stories; and where no sole element can be extracted from the whole.

    To be continued…