Despite the large extent to which the service industry is contributing to GNP’s worldwide, and how many services of all kinds we as individuals interact with on a daily basis, only a small amount of attention has historically been given to the management, development and design of great service experiences.
However, during the last 20 years the approach to and understanding of service has begun to shift dramatically, giving birth to one of the fastest growing concepts – Service Design.
Operating in the Facility Management industry, daily focused on delivering excellent services across a variety of clients – the concept of service design has naturally caught our interest and attention. So who better to speak to about this topic than the Co-Founder and President of the International Service Design Network, editor in chief of Touchpoint, the International Journal of Service Design and since 1995 the first European professor on “Service Design” at the University of Applied Sciences Cologne, Germany – Birgit Mager.
Read her perspectives on Service Design in our interview below.
Q: To begin with, can you explain the concept of service design, how it has evolved and where from?
Service Design was first introduced as an academic field in design research and education at the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne in the beginning of the 1990s. In practice, service design choreographs processes, technologies and interactions within complex service systems in order to co-create value for relevant stakeholders.
I think one of the key parts in service design is the co-creation. Usually, during a service design process we explore the in-depth needs, desires and also the existing experiences of different stakeholders and users. We use these insights to improve and innovate user experiences.
Doing so, we design services that are useful, usable, and desirable from the user perspective and valuable from the provider perspective.
Q: How is this co-creation process in context with service design approached?
There’s a broad variety of co-creation approaches available. These can stretch from open-innovation approaches where people are invited to actively participate in a conversation on digital platforms to ethnographic methods where you intensively work with individuals or groups of users in order to collect their experiences and proposals. Also, it can be workshops where a group of users go into the detail of every single step of a service-journey and based on that visualize new journeys. Other methods including storyboarding, enactments and storytelling have the capability of opening the solution space – they are widely applied as well.
Q: How would you define the scope of service design and where would you position it in a service organization?
For me service design is a strategic approach. Therefore, I see it anchored as a top management priority. It needs top management attention, good reinforcement throughout the organization, it needs training and professional people that are able to work with the processes and methodologies.
In reality however, service design often starts as a project. Often someone gets interested in the concept and starts to work with it to see how it can help solve concrete issues.
Along the line, external partners will be invited to bring in professional competencies and then a team consisting of interdisciplinary partners will be established.
Naturally, the outcomes of such projects can serve as vehicles to convince the organization that service design makes a difference and helps to solve problems more innovatively.
The anchoring of service design in an organization is an evolutionary process. In the end of this evolution, service design becomes anchored as a principle of organizational change and innovation, becoming an innovation lab that has its own budget, dedicated people and a solid ground for innovation.
Q: What about the background of the employees starting such projects or taking the initiative to implement it as a part of an innovation lab. Are these service designers or can they come for a variety of other positions?
Professional service designers that come from agencies or universities normally help businesses to get the service design process started. But throughout the process learning by doing and other more formal educational approaches will take place to bring the service design idea to managers and other employees. Usually, throughout the time the service design competency will grow, and the basic processes and core methodologies will be used by non-service designers that have learned through process and education. This brings a lot of value, but then again a professional service designer that has gone through academic education is a very helpful asset within organizations to make sure to really deep dive into the organizations, develop ideas, prototype them, test them and prove them.
Q: Now let’s move to something a little different. Many of our readers are dedicated to work with Facility Management, so it would be interesting for us to hear from you, how you think Facility Management can benefit from working with service design more strategically?
I think for them it is basically the daily food to understand that services in the best sense should be designed in an interdisciplinary approach together with the users. I think Service Design should be the heart of facility management. It brings a lot of very effective methods and helps to create enthusiasm and motivation within systems of services.
As an example, we are currently working with a University in the Netherlands. They have quite a strong facility management institute and have just started to build service design into the education of Facility Management.
I think that is a really good approach. I think every facility manager should have a core understanding of what service design is, should be able to understand the process, the methods, and should be willing and able to work with professional service designers.
This also in context of creating valuable service outsourcing relationships. Working with service design, you create a shared understanding of what you are going to do, you create a lot of shared motivation and I think the visual skills of service design also help to envision what you are going to achieve.
Q: Looking in the future, how do you expect service design to evolve? What will be the biggest trends and movement we will see?
Throughout the last 20 years I have seen the world of Service Design evolve in an amazing way. When I started I would have never thought that I one day would be talking to companies all over the world working with service design agencies or building their own service design competence centers. I’m amazed to see how many successful agencies there are out in this world. The competency for service design is growing everywhere.
The expertise within the organizations is growing on a rapid pace and some of the strongest fields for service design that will emerge are the public sector, the financial sector and the health sector. Here service design is growing faster than everywhere else.
I also believe that there will be more specialization within the field of service design, to become experts in service design in public sector etc. This kind of in depth expertise for specific sectors will emerge. And it will become a natural part of the innovation labs that companies are building.
Q: So where can we find insights to best practices of Service Design, where can our readers find more inspiration?
There’s quite a few great cases. One of the very interesting companies for me right now is the Austrian Railway. They have started to work with service design on a project base and they have created really amazing experiences working with the project. Just a couple of months ago, they have opened a service design innovation center at the main railway station in Vienna and hired service designers to focus on continuous process of improvement and innovation of all the processes and experiences throughout the traveling experience with the Austrian Railway. This is a really nice example full of inspiration.
There are many really great cases and best practices out there. Take a look at the Service Design Network website, where we have created a case study database that among others highlights the winners of Service Design Award 2015.
Interacting with the global community of Service Designers is also a great place to find inspiration and gather more knowledge. On June 30th there will be a small one day conference in London worth visiting, and from October 26th to October 28th the 9th Global Service Design Conference will be held in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Both events will get your readers great opportunities to meet the companies and agenciees, doing great work with service design.
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