Two major trends The Age of the Consumer and The Age of Transparency are changing consumer behaviour and expectations. Service Design risks irrelevance if it doesn’t consider the implications of these trends.
The Age of the Consumer
Simply put, customers expect consistent and high-value in-person and digital experiences. They don’t care if building these experiences is hard or requires a complex, multifunction approach from across your business. They want immediate value and will go elsewhere if you can’t provide it. (Forrester, link)
These changing consumer expectations are tightly connected to innovations in technology and lead to a massiv change of consumer behaviour. While there used to be pretty much two ways to get information and purchase products: through a website or in a retail store. Nowadays, a multitude of additional channels are available to the consumer. Products can be purchased through apps, messengers, chat bots, voice control, they can be bought or configured online yet picked up offline. This creates an enormous ecosystem of channels that consumers are using to interact with brands and purchase products or services. Throughout their omni-channel research and purchase, consumer expect a consistent consumer experience. In the Age of the Consumer organizations need to adapt the way they design the consumer relationship.
Service Design has proven itself as a discipline in the era of servitization. It looks at everything happening on the front- and back-stage to holistically design a service. Yet, services live within an ecosystems of touchpoints, often extending beyond the owned touchpoints and needs to integrate seamlessly with adjacent and even competitor offerings. For businesses it becomes vital to deliver a consistent consumer experience across all products, services and ultimately every single touchpoint, as this is the connecting tissue within the ecosystem organizations need to nurture.
For the Service Design discipline it becomes vital that services are not only designed through the connection between front and backstage but as well living within a big ecosystem of touchpoints customers are experiencing before, after and during this service. A broader set of design and strategic skills are required to cater to this new task.
The Age of Transparency
Let’s look at the second trend that underlines the need for a new mindset. Through the access to an abundance of information, consumers are more aware and critical about their decisions. In the interaction with companies, they “are gaining unprecedented access to all sorts of information about corporate behaviour, operations, and performance” (Tapscott and Ticoll 2012, p. Xi). Forrester calls this The Age of Transparency.
Consumers are no longer limiting themselves to the products and services companies are putting on the market, but are curious to know more about the brand, company and what is hidden behind. If as a company you are not providing the information needed, consumers will find a way to access them. In other words, a new generation of inquisitorial customer are actively looking behind the curtain and therefore behind the brand into the company, or to speak in service design terms, looking at the back-stage actions executed to perform a service or produce a product.
What does this mean for the Service Design discipline? All of the backstage steps carefully designed are not only ensuring the service experience, they themself play a more active role for the experience of the brand and company as customers become more interested into how companies work.
I believe that Experience Design is the missing link between Service Design and the connected customer. Experience design (XD) is the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, omnichannel journeys, and environments with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience and culturally relevant solutions. (Wiki, May 8, 2017). Experience Design incorporates all aspects that a customer is “experiencing”, active and passiv, conscious and subconscious.
I want to recap on some key thoughts at this point. The rise of technology and thus a changing consumer behavior has led to two major trends The Age of the Consumer and The Age of Transparency. Consumers expect consistent in-person and digital experiences, as well as being able to contact a company through their preferred channel. Additionally, the internet has created the access to an abundance of information, placing consumers in the position to choose a company based on the criteria they personally value.
With this in mind, there is a need to start the design process much earlier than at the Service Design phase. It is rather time to think beyond the service and rather use the company as a added value to the offer. By actively making the company part of the business offering, there is a necessity to not only design the service but also “design” the company. In this context “designing the company” doesn’t mean the brand, products or services but rather making sure that there is a shared understanding within the organization. By focusing on the employees and creating shared values and a purpose, we can enable them to use their common sense and thereby act in the best interest of the company. The goal is to create an authentic environment from which the company is prepared to actively push back the dividing line, the curtain which separates front- and back-stage, allowing interested consumer a glance into the company. A strong internal alignment will also set up the company for a constant adaptation and transformation, required in the ever-changing reality.