Tag Archives: experience

Digital experiences: journey first or content first?

Both. Sort of.

Recently the topic of whether to take a journey-first or a content-first approach to delivering digital user experiences came up. The former seems to be favoured by more “traditional” user experience designers while the latter is favoured by many content strategist. No surprise here.

For now, my take is this:

I think I want to start with the customer experience in a conceptual, coarse-grained and probably channel-independent manner. A concept map (or a service ecology map, despite this grandstanding name) is a good basis from which to start mapping a customer journey.

Digging into more detail, increasing the focus on content seems useful, both in terms of detailing the content model and the actual content.

In turn, the content model as well as representative content elements can be an effective basis for designing the actual user journeys for a digital service.

Thoughts, please? Thanks.

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.

Service experience is more than just customer experience

Veigo Kell, retweeted by Bob Marshall, said the following on Twitter this morning:

It is remarkable how little the people running organizations know about the experiences of the people working around them. ~Dan Pink, Drive

This led me to write this post which I had thought about writing before but then put off:

An organisation should rightly be concerned with the experiences customers and users have when interacting with the organisation, i.e. humans and automated services representing the organisation. However, many humans other than customers and users are involved with the organisation. Some of those closer to the organisation are employees and partners. Note: See this blog post by Tom Graves for a discussion of other players in the enterprise, in particular anti-clients. So if it is beneficial to care about our customers’ experiences, it is surely (even more?) beneficial to also care about the experiences that humans working with and for our organisation have. (An ethical argument for doing so can easily be made, too.) A complete view of service experience has to consider the experiences of all stakeholders. And while I’m at it, let’s not forget service outcomes, i.e. non-experiential service results: A complete view of service outcomes has to consider the outcomes for all stakeholders. In other words, I suspect it’s “human-centered design” and not “customer-centered design” for a reason.

Are we moving towards outcome-driven services?

Graham Hill posed the following question on Twitter today:

Thought provoking… Service As A SKU techcrunch.com/2012/05/14/ser… Are we moving towards outcome-driven services? #servicedesign #cem #cex

@GrahamHill

How very interesting.

I haven’t thought about this article in these terms, so Graham’s intriguing question got me thinking.

I have written about this excellent article here, service outcomes here and the role of perceptions here. Against this backdrop, my response to Graham is this:

Expectations of service outcomes and price are what makes people buy a service, perceptions of good service experiences make them come back.

I believe this to be true also when we consider the increasing interest in outcome-based contracts, particularly with respect to compensation, in business-to-business contexts (for example, in the professional services field).

So while I don’t think that we are “moving towards outcome-based services”, specified and contractually agreed service outcomes are certainly important aspects for purchase decisions, while service experience will continue to be relevant during service delivery and for re-purchase decisions.

From a service buyer perspective, it is certainly no coincidence that a focus on outcomes makes services comparable and thus prone to commoditisation, price competition and the race to the bottom–although perhaps somewhat short-sighted.

It seems remarkable that at the same time as (the desire for) service commoditisation increases, the people formerly known as consumers increasingly demand connections on a human level and meaningful conversations from their service providers. It seems to me that people seem to have a good head start on corporations here…

I wanted to stop writing after the last paragraph, but now realise that my response to Graham might be more true for non-distinct services than for others. Expectations of good service experiences might be particularly relevant for purchase decisions of services that are especially important or have particular meaning for service customers.

Service as a SKU (article)

Going through my browser bookmarks the other day I rediscovered an intriguing article by Alex Rampell (published on TechCrunch on 2012-05-14): Service as a SKU. A SKU, or stock-keeping unit, describes variants of physical products, e.g. cotton t-shirt (navy blue, XL, V-neck). The same t-shirt in e.g. a different size or colour would constitute a different SKU.

Alex writes about what it would take to market offline services in an online marketplace. In particular, it is necessary to specify the nature of the service in detail — just like you would do with a SKU in a physical-products context.

The article is a good read and made me think of the following:

When service packages intentionally are being made comparable, how can one service be successfully differentiated from another? Price-based differentiation may be tempting but could well lead to a race to the bottom. Alex mentions customer feedback, i.e. rating and reviews, as one possible source of differentiation.

Alex’s examples specify the service outcome, so the service experience remains as a potentially differentiating element of the service result. But will service providers in the real world be able or willing to specify the service outcome (e.g. leaking toilet fixed, dental crown fixed), or is it more likely that service activities will be specified (1 hour of trying to fix the leaking toilet, excluding material)? Would customers be wiling to buy a specified service outcome, as the price would have to include risk-adjusted costs for material (maybe material is needed, maybe not)?

Non-experiential service results

Service experience, i.e. the experiential results delivered by a service to its customers, is rightly at the center of many discussions in our field. However, we shouldn’t neglect considering non-experiential service results: Has the repaired roof stopped leaking? Has the taxi taken me to my destination? Can I sing better now that I have taken the lessons?

While it may be technically possible to frame such non-experiential service results, or service outcomes, as kinds of service experiences, this does not feel natural to me.

Service experience may well be the better competitive differentiator, but without adequate service outcomes, customers are unlikely to care much about the superior experience we may provide.

The service economy is dead

The old economy has been dead for a while. The service economy has followed suit and has been replaced by the experience economy. Although that is looking a little frail, too, but the relationship economy is just around the corner. Or so we hear.

Actually, successfully delivering services to customers has always involved delivering satisfying experiences in addition to satisfying outcomes — whether we knew it or not. And yes, these days customers may have much higher expectations of experiences than in the past, and experiences may well be a much greater differentiator than outcomes.

Similarly, the rise of the connection or relationship economy is being widely discussed. Again, this doesn’t seem to be entirely new: establishing & maintaining good connections or relationships in one’s market has always been essential to successfully delivering services (at least when customers had a choice). However, a service provider’s failure to adequately connect/relate to its customers and other stakeholders may have much graver and far-reaching consequences today than in the past.

So, by all means, let’s co-create excellent experiences with our customers (and employees, partners, suppliers, etc.), let’s connect to others on a human level, and let’s invest in our professional & personal relationships, but let’s call a spade a spade, and a service a service.


Update 2017–03–24: Changed last section to “co-create…with” instead of “deliver…to”. Thanks, Jeff Sussna.