The structure of the service concept

Strategically it is important that there is a shared view about the nature of the service that the organisation provides. The service concept defines what the organisation does, what marketing have to sell and what the operations have to deliver.

(Johnston, Clark & Shulver, 2012, p. 25)

This sounds useful to me. Taking customers into account, the picture gets murkier, as is to be expected with customers:

Likewise there may also be differing views about what an organisation is ‘selling’ and what the customer is ‘buying’.

(Johnston, Clark & Shulver, 2012, p. 25)

This observation is congruent with my experience. A service concept can help bring these views together:

The service concept is an important way of capturing the nature of a service so that customers know what they are getting and staff understand what they are providing. The service concept can also be used to help develop new services.

(Johnston, Clark & Shulver, 2012, p. 47)

This seems to be another useful definition to me.

So now we know what a service concept is and should do, what does one look like? What goes into it? What is its structure?

Johnston & Clark (2005, p. 40) suggest the following structure and content:

The organising idea. The essence of the service bought, or used, by the customer.

The service experience. The customer’s direct experience of the service process, which concerns the way the service provider deals with the customer.

The service outcome. The result for the customer service.

The service operation. The way in which the service will be delivered.

The value of the service. The benefit that customers perceive to be inherent in the service weighed against the cost of that service.

Seven years on, Johnston, Clark & Shulver (2012, p. 48) have developed their suggestions to:

The organising idea — the essence of the service bought, or used, by the customer.

The service provided — the service process and its outputs which have been designed, created, and enacted by the operation using its many input resources, including the customer.

The service received:

The customer experience — the customer’s direct and personal interpretation of, and response to, their interaction with and participation in the service process, and its outputs, involving their journey through a series of touch points/steps.

The service outcomes — the results for the customer of the service process and their experience, including ‘products’, benefits, emotions, judgements and intentions…

What has changed? The later version is more explicit with respect to different versions (or views) of the same service existing for or being held by different parties (e.g. service customer vs. service provider). It is also more explicit about the subjective nature of the service experience and the assessment of service outcomes, and thus in turn, customer satisfaction. Furthermore, it explicitly mentions the customer journey and touchpoints. All in all, the nature of customer co-creation of the service seems to be more visible in the later version.

What got lost on the way is the explicit discussion of customer value (or service value to the customer) that was so explicit in the earlier version of this concept. To me, this loss seems significant as in my experience customer value is one of the aspects most in need of alignment among different stakeholders.

In contrast, the service operations aspect seems to have found a new home in the service provided section.

What else is missing? A discussion of the service value to the organisation could well be useful in some situations, especially when the service-providing organisation is very large or its units are very heterogenous. In an increasingly connected economy society we ought to add partners, suppliers and other stakeholders such as members of the community in which an organisation operates and even the general public to our mental model. (Tom Graves has much more to say on this aspect.)

Now what? (So what?)

Glad you asked. Do we need to extend the service concept? Do we need a service concept canvas? Would this adopt elements of, say, the business model canvas, the enterprise canvas, or the customer journey canvas, all of which have relevant ideas to bring to this discussion? What about the service content model (see page 2 of the enterprise canvas download linked to above)? Or should an articulated service concept just link to such models as and when necessary?


Johnston, R., Clark, G. & Shulver, M. (2012) Service operations management: improving service delivery. 4th ed., Pearson.

Johnston, R. & Clark, G. (2005) Service operations management: improving service delivery. 2nd ed., Pearson.


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