James Rock, the managing director and chief business designer for Cultivar Consulting Limited, a business and services design consultancy, talks about service design, its benefits and why it’s important for your business.

You have a background in field service. Can you discuss your background in more detail?

I started my career training and practicing as a product designer and later found myself as a senior manager focused on managing a team, key projects, and departmental budgets. After receiving my MBA while working for Jaguar Cars Ltd., I moved into business consultancy with leading international consulting firms and began working with organizations across the world, developing strategies, re-engineering processes, and increasingly this was in service related areas. I found my background as a designer helped me to think creatively and that I have a talent for generating ideas and developing unusual and innovative solutions to problems. I now use service design methods extensively to help others to invent, or re-invent their business and service models. Ten years ago a key client asked me to help sell-off their field service organization because it was loss making and received lots of customer complaints. After talking with customers it became clear that although problematical, the service element was something they valued much more highly than the physical products of this company, and so I was asked to become national service director with operations across the UK, and led the re-design and turn around of the operation. Since then I have worked as a consultant, delivering service design with various clients.

What is service design?

Service design is a relatively new discipline that asks some fundamental questions: What should the customer experience be like? What should the employee experience be like? How does a company remain true to its brand, to its core business assets and stay relevant to customers? It has grown as our economies have moved from being primarily manufacturing based to service based, and as our world becomes increasingly complex, networked, and interconnected via technology. It uses design methodologies, but applies new, heuristic design tools to develop service models that delight both users and employees who deliver services. A service designer isn’t just rational and analytical, but uses creative insight and inspiration to help organizations develop innovative services.

Why is it important in field service operations and why should companies be focusing on it more?

Leading brands increasingly see field service operations as a strategic asset rather than a cost center. Field service is often the most important customer touch point for organizations, since customers buy via retailers and distributors, but expect field service excellence from the brand. Your call centers and service engineers are therefore key representatives of your brand, and while every customer understands that sometimes products can go wrong, when it does they expect rapid and high quality customer service to fix it. Customers are also becoming more demanding so it is also very important that field service organizations develop highly responsive service recovery processes. In the rapidly growing world of social media, customers are becoming more vocal and very quick to complain about poor service to thousands of friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter. This “word of mouth” effect is playing a bigger and bigger role in brand marketing campaigns. So I think it’s only natural that organizations recognize they need to constantly improve and reinvent the way field service is delivered to make sure they delight rather than disappoint customers.

You’ve written that many companies have not heard of service design or have not implemented the process. Why do you think this is?

I visit and speak at leading service management conferences, visit customers and potential customers, and read journals and blogs and I see excitement about new technologies and the way they can reduce costs and optimize field service, but I think the vast majority of it comes from a service management rather than service design perspective. This is left-brain, logical and rational thinking that focuses on understanding the existing process and improving it by removing waste and variability. A lot of leading management education teaches managers how to do this, and techniques such as Total Quality Management and Six Sigma have helped to make big improvements this way. However, design-led approaches focus on the right-brain and more creative thinking. It is an artistic discipline rather than an engineering one. This leads to innovation and breakthroughs that can lead to step-change improvement in performance. Steve Jobs did this at Apple via looking at the end-to-end customer service model, and in doing so reinvented the music industry, the user interface, and the retail experience, which when combined resulted in Apple becoming the most successful company in the world.

As the field service industry becomes increasingly complex and as customers’ demands change, what role can service design play in increasing productivity and ultimately the bottom line?

The role of the designer has through time been to deeply understand the needs of society and the end user, and link it with the technology of the day. As our economies have become more service oriented then the role of the designer is naturally moving from product design towards design of services, and the growth in service design and design thinking in our best academic institutions is leading the way forward. Taking a service design approach should help organizations to better understand customer needs and wants, and co-create solutions that delight them. In doing so this will not only optimize productivity, which has been the management led focus, but provide real and greater value to the customer and therein lies the path to success via growth and profitability.

What role does technology play in service design for field service companies?

Technology is empowering huge shifts in the way that customers interact and the way that field service is delivered. Trying to keep up with emerging technologies such as mobile data solutions has been both a challenge and opportunity for most field service organizations. To be competitive in field service organizations have found that they must embrace technology or get left behind. But technology is still rapidly developing. The cloud will forever change hardware design and lead to devices that have less moving parts and therefore more reliable, and which will empower ‘The Internet of Things’ whereby devices will be connected, allowing remote diagnosis, monitoring, etc., such that it will be possible for organizations to predict failure rather than wait for a customer call. Leading field service companies are developing technology route maps to better understand and predict the future and design-in these technology developments as part of their evolving service delivery model.

Because it aims to improve the service provider-customer experience, is it possible that through service design, companies can over-intellectualize the process and get away from focusing on the customer experience?

Service design takes a very simple and user centric approach to improve service operations. The methodology is very straightforward and well-proven and the tools that are used are visual and tactile so that everyone can engage with them and contribute. They concentrate on the user experience. This is far from over-intellectualizing the process, and in fact breaks the overall process into simple to digest and bite-size chunks that everyone can consume, which in itself allows more people, including the users, to co-create optimized processes. So it is a great surprise to me that I have found so little use of service design in the development of field service organizations and expect this to change as organizations become more aware of the potential benefits.