Mikael Runonen, Sakari Tamminen, and Petri Mannonen: Reflections on how service experiences arise
Services are all around us and we all use them. Some of them are of mundane, routine type and we don’t necessarily even consider ourselves as users of them, as it is with, for example, mail delivery. Some services, like services in a spa, we crave for and use with delight. There are also services that we don’t want to use unless it is absolutely necessary. Not many of us are pleased to visit the doctor or the police.
Regardless of the huge differences between services, there exists one common denominator between all services. Services are not simply used but experienced and thus they cause service experiences. Service experience is not a result of plain interaction between the user and the service, but a more complex, holistic and ongoing phenomenon. In spite of the long history of services and decades of research, there seems to be no common understanding or even collected guidelines on how the services are and should be sources of experiences in order to be successful. Instead, we have different methods and possible ‘service design processes’ that depict parts of how the service experience is born and can be refined.
In this essay we present a compilation of guidelines on what services should provide to the customers in order to create positive experiences. The guidelines do not consider the actual services and how to do them; they focus solely on service experiences. The guidelines are a result of literature review that was done in the fields of design research, design engineering, design management, service design and usability research – great ideas on services have been presented in all of these fields. Based on our literature review, we have formulated a list of guidelines that capture these great ideas. Our guidelines consist of eight rules of thumb that crystallize the most important aspects of controlling and designing service experiences. The guidelines are neither written exclusively from the customer/user viewpoint nor from the service provider’s viewpoint but they pursue to combine both. As the nature of the guidelines is not in the content of the services, they should not be taken as adequate design guidelines for services. The guidelines cover the minimum aspects that need to be taken into account in order to be able to produce successful and positive service experiences.
1. Fulfill the correct need or goal
Needs and goals of customers are prerequisites for good services. The needs can be identified either by ideating from the company’s former experience or by identifying new kinds of customer needs empirically. It is a necessity that the service is built on a need that has been perceived from customers’ everyday life and it is verifiable. Empirical needs analysis is a well-developed activity within many design related fields and should also be taken as the starting point of service design.
2. Provide a deep and a positive experience
There are two factors that contribute the most to an immemorial service experience: depth and positivity. Pine & Gilmore have created five means to strengthen these factors:
1) Theme the experience
2) Harmonize impressions with positive cues
3) Eliminate negative cues
4) Mix in memorabilia (also known as service evidence)
5) Engage all five senses
3. Make the customer participate in the service
A service comes into existence from the interaction of the customer and the provider – as a matter of fact a service experience is always co-created! Thus the participation possibilities of the customers need to be designed. In order to provide successful experiences, the customers’ ways to partake in the creation of the service need to be meaningful and pleasant.
4. …Without burdening the customer too much!
The backbone of services is the benefit the customer gains and will experience while using them. As a consequence, there needs to be a balance between the participation requirements and the benefits. Too complex and lengthy series of choices may turn the experience into a bad one and cause loss of feeling of control. Services need to be streamlined based on expertise or prior customer feedback. As an example, many excelling restaurants have given up using separate wine lists and have replaced them with wine recommendations that go along with the menus. This hastens the service event, adds on profit and makes the service smooth from the customer’s viewpoint – Thus the whole service has been planned out but it is still easily adjustable if the customer so chooses.
5. Design for both novelty and identification
The added value of a service is created from its difference – in it’s positioning in the markets by branding, the essential service it provides, or the descriptiveness it brings forth. Thus, a service must differ from the competitors enough to create a meaningful – and positive – difference from the customer’s perspective. At the same time the service must also be similar enough to be identified as a certain service by the customers.
The requirements for novelty and identification sometimes result in problematic situations. The service must be recognizable but clearly different from others. Balancing between these two requirements can be challenging. The strategies of realizing this balance break down into three possible ways of making identification through difference:
1) Genre difference: Creating a new kind of service that is easily recognized as a service but does not need to be recognized as similar to other existing services or belonging to certain existing category or genre.
2) Offering difference: Creating a service that offers something new or different comparing to existing services. This is analogous to creating a new version of a product and including new features in it.
3) Quality difference: If it is possible to produce a service with substantially better quality than existing competing services, this can be used to differentiate but remain identifiable.
6. Consider the temporal dimension of the service experience
The service experience cannot be reduced to any single service event. The experience begins before the actual service event because of expectations and continues after it as a recollection. The service process can be perceived as a ‘customer journey’ through different parts of the service. Therefore different parts of the journey have to be designed from the viewpoint of the customer’s experience. Additionally, when considering repeating services, the development and transformation of the service experience through the service’s life span must be taken into account.
7. Pay attention on how the customer connects to the service
Service experience is enabled by different touchpoints of the service. Operations behind the scenes have to be designed to support the touchpoints and their influence on the service experience. In many cases, not all the touchpoints are in full control of the service provider. There are for example many active user communities that utilize Internet to share experiences and expectations of products and services. These communities and their communication channels can be in some cases touchpoints to a service.
8. Make the service environment consistent
The service environment should support the creation of a consistent service experience. This principle is especially important in situations where the service is carried out by multiple providers or through multiple service events. All the providers need to commit to create a consistent service experience and all the service events and touchpoints need to support creating the same service experience.
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