How can service organizations stand out in today’s crowded market? It starts with having above-market products and service, of course. But what’s the best way to achieve that? Marc Bolick, president of consulting firm Dmarc8 and a member of the Design Thinkers Group, which helps organizations become more service-oriented, says that success actually begins with the end result: Organizations must first think about the right solution to a problem, then work back from there to design a process or product that achieves that — a concept he calls “design thinking.”

We talked to Bolick about the philosophy behind design thinking, its benefits and why it’s critical for service companies today.

What is “design thinking”?

It’s what a lot of good engineers and marketers do as part of their day-to-day work. There are a few keystones to design thinking. One of those pillars is human-centered design. People don’t realize they design things on a day-to-day basis, but if you design a survey of a collateral document or configuring a service or product to a client, you’re going through a design process. You’re deciding what the customer needs and what you’re going to offer those customers for what price and what types of services are going around it.

I think of design thinking as a language. There are some very high-level things design thinkers and services designers try to weave into their everyday work. One of those is being human/user-centric. In other words, understanding deeply the experience and needs of the humans that are part of the product or service.

Another pillar is starting with divergent thinking, as opposed to linear thinking or convergent thinking. In other words, you start not necessarily by defining the problem, but rather by determining what outcomes or results the end-user wants, and then try to come up with as many possible ways to get to that desired outcome.

Why do businesses need to adopt design thinking? What are the benefits? What’s the ROI?

Every business can benefit from using these principles of human-centered design and prototyping to get rapid feedback, and taking on a collaborative approach that includes customers and multidisciplinary people who have different perspectives and knowledge of the problem.

You come up with more robust solutions. For any for business, including service businesses, getting those products right and making sure they’re meeting or exceeding what the customer wants to achieve can provide them a significant competitive advantage. By going through a design thinking process, you’re much more likely to come up with latent needs that the market is not meeting, if you can satisfy by designing a product that meets those needs.

The returns can be many-fold and can be game-changing for companies. They can come up with products that meet their customers needs and potentially open up new markets that are undiscovered or unmet.

How can service companies in particular apply and benefit from design thinking?

If service companies are facing complex problems that don’t lend themselves to a direct analytical approach, pesky problems that are really hard to solve, design thinking is a good way to approach these problems in a structured way. Say a service firm has a new competitor come in and takes some customers. How do they tackle that problem? Design thinking is a viable solution.

How does design thinking, which seems like it is an executive-level discussion, affect the front-line employees of a service organization?

These are definitely strategic exercises, so I’m not sure they actually touch the service person directly. However if you think of the design thinking process as a way of better serving the customer’s needs, then the people who are in the field are the ones who are closest to the customers and best understand their needs. Design thinking requires multidimensional people, so you definitely want to have a representative from service techs in the whole process.

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