Service Design is about creating innovative propositions for service providers and users. This means creating high profit margins for the providers and highly regarded benefits for the users. Or, as Peter Schumpeter puts it: obtaining a “temporary monopoly position.”
Service Design is not about merely corresponding with tradition or reinforcing people’s preconceptions about what a ‘great service experience’ is. Conforming to people’s ‘common understandings’, more often than not, does not yield high profit margins. ‘Common’, as defined by Immanuel Kant and cited by Hans-Georg Gadamer, is “something to be found everywhere, but to possess it is by no means any merit or advantage.”
Other Service Disciplines
This article by Liveworker Mauricio Manhães was originally published in Touchpoint Journal, Service Design Network.
Of course it’s important to correspond with people’s prejudices about what a great service experience is in some measure, but to do that there are better-positioned service disciplines. Disciplines such as Service Management and/or Service Engineering are much better equipped to correspond to tradition and preconceived notions of what being ‘pampered’ means.
But, drawing on Kant‘s definition, just providing this ‘common sense service’ is “by no means of any merit or advantage.” The only situations where this would be an advantage are ones where the usual service provision is bad. This, then, is not a problem to be addressed by service design. It should be seen as a management or engineering problem: what must be done is known and it has to be done effectively. In the end, this approach will certainly lead to efficiency and low profit margins.
High Profit Margins
On the high-profit-margins side though, it is necessary to work through people’s expectations and prejudices. Hans-Georg Gadamer defines prejudice as a historical standpoint from which a person understands her/his self and the other. This “other”, basically, is what is not her or his self. Gadamer also brilliantly advocates that to get to know the “other” presupposes Bildung (a German word that relates to ‘formation’). Which, summarised, means: “keeping oneself open to what is other – to other, more universal points of view” (Gadamer, 2004).
Being open to the “other,” although it might seems easy; it is by no means a simple task. People are entrenched in their beliefs in a way that can distort understanding. In that sense, the design related disciplines have underlying structures that enable building bridges between different groups; playing an important role in facilitating understanding.
So, service design is not about ‘pampering’ customers. It’s about creating innovative propositions to increase the profit margins of service providers and the perceived benefits to users. To do that, service design practitioners have to be aware of the prejudices at play in a determined service context. That awareness is not geared towards reinforcing the prejudices, but to enable the service design practitioner to bridge the different viewpoints.
“The imaginative productivity is not richest where it is merely free, however, as in the convolutions of the arabesque, but rather in a field of play where the understanding’s desire of unity does not so much confine it as suggest incitements to play”.
These “incitements to play”, with all the unpredictable outcomes, is where service design draws its strength from. Most of the time the results might not be effective, but, as the venture capital firms know very well, the ‘hit’ will pay for all the ‘misses’ by generating amazing profit margins. Service design projects should result in surprising approaches to common understandings of what a service should be. Sometimes people can even be painfully surprised – and that’s the goal: to create innovative solutions where differences between what’s expected and what’s delivered are maximised to the benefit of both businesses and their customers.
Of course, this is not an easy offer to tell prospective service design clients. But there is a simple solution to that: to offer service management projects. These would have all the human-centered research practices on identifying touchpoints and expectations and… prejudices. But the goal would be to create secure service proposition with known benefits. A service proposition that would perfectly fit the clients prejudices about what a great service should be.: traditional service, as portrayed in the beautiful picture from the British TV show “Downton Abbey”, which illustrates this text. As stated previously, a service design consultancy has all the credentials to do service management projects, therefore, that would be no problem at all.
To cut a long history short: ‘pampering’ customers is about tradition. Not design. Not service design. Service design is about finding new “temporary monopoly” territories for service provision.
And as all explorers of new territories know, the experience can be harsh sometimes. And that is not bad at all.
Image: Downtown Abbey TV show.