Service results need to be considered in their context

This post has been triggered by an interesting conversation with Kristof Dierckxsens, Tom Graves and Chris Potts that took place on Twitter during the last two days.

Chris challenged a sloppy statement I made earlier:

Services don’t deliver experiences. They appear in, and influence, them.

(Chris Potts)

This is difficult terrain: In the context of a service, a service provider and a service customer (in the simplest case) strive to co-create specific outcomes and experiences for the customer. The service provider is unable to bring about these outcomes and experiences without the (collaboration of) the customer, and circumstances might prevent the desired outcomes and/or experiences being achieved.

Against this background, it is not useful to say that ‘services deliver experiences’. Nonetheless, services are designed and provided with the intent to bring about, contribute to, or influence specific outcomes for and experiences of the customer. (Also see this). However, a service provider can’t guarantee that such outcomes and experiences can be actually achieved for a specific customer in a specific context.

As an example, I might get into a taxi to get to catch a train at the station. The taxi driver is friendly, drives responsibly and takes me to the train station without delay. For some reason, the train has already departed and I miss an all-important meeting. Even though the taxi service resulted in a successful outcome and experience in a narrow context (the friendly driver safely got me where I needed to be in good time), my outcome and experience in a wider context (I’m upset about missing the train and thus the meeting) wasn’t successful. I’m unlikely to keep favourable memories of that taxi ride–although none of this was the driver’s fault.

Chris provided another example:

Over a latte in your favorite cafe you choose & book a skiing vacation. Which #service created this #experience?

(Technical answer: Service (loosely) implies someone doing something for someone else. Thus no service created the overall experience. “Services seek to bring about experiences” doesn’t imply “Experiences can only be brought about by services”.)

This example shows that experiences, like many other things in life, can be considered fractals. The overall experience here is composed of a set of more fine-grained experiences (sitting in that cafe, enjoying the drink, booking the vacation, anticipating the joy of going on holiday & skiing). Service outcomes, and services themselves, can be viewed in a similar way.

Interestingly, none of the service providers (cafe owner & staff, travel agency) could have foreseen how I would use their services concurrently. Consequently, they also couldn’t design for this.

In conclusion, designing and providing services with the intent of co-creating specific outcomes and experiences with, for and of customers is (self-evidently, I think) a useful concept in a narrow sense. In a wider sense, we need to acknowledge that we can’t control the our customers’ broader outcomes and experiences. That’s a tough lesson calling for a humble stance–and maybe slightly less conviction and certainty when designing services.

In this wider context, one of the questions Chris raised in his books is highly relevant:

How do we want to appear in [influence & contribute to] our customers’ experiences?

By analogy, the following questions seems equally relevant:

How do we want to influence & contribute to the outcomes our customers’ realise?

Thanks for the conversation, folks.


2 thoughts on “Service results need to be considered in their context

  1. ivo velitchkov (@kvistgaard)

    I hear quite often people quoting Gorge Box for “All models are wrong but some useful”. A statement such as “Services don’t deliver experiences. They appear in, and influence, them.” is a model. It can become at least a bit different one just by changing the language. But let’s not go there. Why this model is useful? Well, with so many years of self-centric organisations then evolving to client-oriented or the more contemporary inside-out, such a statement was and is useful by changing the perspective and supporting the outside-in perspective. If it’s an over-statement that’s good and even not sufficient to overcome the under-estimation of what a customer experiences while “consuming” a service. Now, why it is wrong? You made a good point on that.

    1. Oliver Baier Post author


      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It has been useful to remind us that we’re dealing with models here, all of which are ‘wrong’ by definition.

      Chris Pott’s observation–or model–was useful in challenging the somewhat sloppy statement I had made earlier…and it helped moving the discussion forward.



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