A guest blog by Stefan Ravalli

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I’m out for dinner with my wife at a really nice restaurant and everything is fine. The flavors of the food and drink are on point and so is the timing of their delivery and the knowledge and efficiency of the team. Everything is fine until a server spills something on me. Now things have the potential to go from fine to truly wonderful. Wait, what? Am I a sadist? Do I love signalling how gracious I can be while someone is grovelling? …

Serving is about helping another person progress from one state to a better state. In the past few weeks we’ve seen a remarkable resurgence of people doing just that — serving. The variety has been striking.

  • The most visible are the health workers and carers — those providing care in a professional capacity, within formalised services. Here the progress is from sick-to-well. Or helping people shield from the virus, and so stay well from one day to the next
  • Then there’s a large group in ‘key worker’ roles — providing services to keep life going. Here the progress is hugely varied — helping a vulnerable person go from hungry to fed, helping a take delivery of exercise equipment, helping a small business owner correspond via post. …

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Cognitive diversity has never been so important. If you can see patterns in complex information, use deep empathy to research and understand the needs of others, and coach agile innovation teams to be vulnerable, without burning out — then your skills have never been more valuable than they are now. Cognitive diversity is just different styles of thinking.

“Colleagues gravitate toward the people who think and express themselves in a similar way. As a result, organizations often end up with like-minded teams… This lack of cognitive diversity has two impacts. First, it reduces the opportunity to strengthen the proposition with input from people who think differently. …

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I hope we’ve left The Experience Economy behind. I’m tired of Customer and Employee Experience. It was good while it lasted, in that it renewed everyone’s focus on the importance of the customer and the employee in any service. But the outcome of a decade of experience programmes has been some cosmetic change, but not much real change. The deckchairs on many liners have been rearranged to look nicer for everyone, but many of the boats are still sinking. Some years I look back and wonder “how much of what I’ve delivered is just providing palliative care for dying businesses?” A UX or CX programme won’t save a business, any more than a facelift can save the prospects of an ageing starlet. …

The economics of early intervention are obvious to everyone, with examples all around us. “A stitch in time saves nine” is a well-known trope because it speaks to a simple logic. If you don’t intervene early with a tear, that tear will increase in size, leading to more cost to repair. Or, in our fast-fashion society, the disposal of the garment.

When it comes to customers, citizens and patients though, disposal is not an option. If a customer is falling into debt, a citizen is struggling with tax payments or a patient is slipping into mental illness, we, as service providers (and the designers of those services) need to recover those people. …

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I once had a London theatre client who discovered that their ushers, who'd been working in the role for years, had gradually taken it upon themselves to hunt down people who were trying to sneak in at the interval. The number of people doing this was tiny, perhaps under 1%, but the ushers saw their job increasingly as a policing role.
The implication of this on the 99% of other customers was palpable, my client told me. …

It matters where you start from.

The business world has been enamoured with warfare for so long. The first org chart was invented by a prussian general. Strategy is a military word. We talk about capturing customers and value.

Only then do we talk about love — love for a brand. Love for our customer. Love for a company. Love for an idea. Love for our employees. Love for a product.

And increasingly, love for an experience.

Increasingly though, the afterthought — the love — a passion for the experience itself — has become the premise. The design has become the intent. The reason for being. …

It’s a guilty secret of mine that when I get a bit stressed, I spend time at the weekend clearing out kitchen cupboards. It’s really cathartic. So the rise of Marie Kondo isn’t a big surprise to me. It’s just made it less shameful to admit to my closet, closet cleaning habit.

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What it’s also done is lead me to reflect on how service design tends to spark its own form of tidying up joy.

I’ve long used the analogy of corporate services being like a composter. Every years someone comes along and lays down a new load of process, a new tech platform, regulatory programme or operating model, only for someone else to come along a few years later and do it again. Not only that, but each department is a bit like a different part of the garden, shedding its own wheelbarrow of clippings into the composter. And over time it all adds up, to the point where you can’t see the layers any more. No-one can see the logic. It’s just a mish-mash of stuff. Which is why service design is a research discipline at heart, and one of its favourite tools is “the 5 whys”, because by the fifth time of asking “why is it done like this?” …

I’ve been sitting on the idea of this post for the whole of christmas, and not written any of it. So I just sat down and said, “write it in 30 mins”. Perfect being the enemy of good and all that. Anyway — here goes:

If the past 10 years were about getting Service Design to the top table, now it’s about tackling the system conditions that undermine success when designing and building human-centred services. …


Joel Bailey

Using design to build better services. Exploring the origin, meaning and power of service.

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