Service has been on my mind lately … a lot.
Just last week, Amazon launched its new Kindle Fire HD. CEO Jeff Bezos proudly exclaimed that the new product “is a hardware device that is also a service.” After interacting with the new Kindle Fire, one swiftly realizes that it is simply an interface to Amazon's entire suite of products: streaming media, eBooks (and eTextbooks), games, and so forth.
Also this week, Dave Gray (@davegray) and Tom Vander Wal released The Connected Company. A theme emerges very quickly in the book: We're in a service economy. It's not that “making things” isn't important; indeed, making “things that matter” is more important than ever. The point, though, is that any one object is rarely so important that it can stand on its own merits. The objects and things we make are rather the beginning of a conversation that makers and designers have with the people for whom they design and make things. Gray explains it this way: a product "can be considered a physical manifestation of a service or set of services: a service avatar."
With this in mind, let’s turn our attention to, as Craig Wiggins writes, our kind of people. I think many of us look at our various roles with bi-focal lenses: one lens focused on meeting the lofty story we tell ourselves and others about how we help people perform better or develop as individuals; another lens focused on the objects we create, such as e-learning courseware, simulations, and so on—the manipulatives and the Jeopardy boards (that’s for you, Cammy Bean).
Consider for a moment the idea that everything we do (and what our peers in our organizations do) contributes to one object in a set of services. We provide more than one service that creates change in our organizations.
Take, for example, changes in customer interactions that we help design and implement that result in higher customer engagement. In this example, “higher customer engagement” is the business goal. Success can be determined through positive tweets, an increase in returning visitors to a given e-commerce portal, or an increase in subscriptions to direct marketing collateral. Sure, we may produce one or many products—or interfaces—to “content.” But the product/content is not the end goal; the end goal is to effectively change customer engagement.
Therefore, it’s not the things we make that are so important. What is important is the connection to information we help to broker AND the interfaces to that information (portals, courses, performance support tools, mobile apps) that really contribute to change in customer engagement—whether through interaction with employees or other offerings.
What does this mean?
We must begin to think with a service design approach, which is very different from simply developing a product. When we offer services powered by the Experience API (“Tin Can”), perhaps even using interaction patterns to provide real-time feedback, we not only design services that result in observable (infer: measurable) changes, we also design services that give feedback on how to continuously improve those services.
This mindset then triggers a chain reaction: as we improve one piece of the offering suite that results in changes in customer interaction, we improve a whole host of objects/products that depend on that one piece, too. It also invites some larger questions:
- What conversations are we starting with our products?
- What services are we demonstrating with the objects we make and design for our peers (and/or our clients)?
- To what are we connecting our people?
- How are we leveraging the vast bodies of know-how available to us as curators?
- How are we making it easier to leverage such information?
In a “Tin Can” world, we’re not just designing experiences because they’re more engaging. It’s not, as Julie Dirksen (@usablelearning) writes of creativity
, “garnish on the plate.” Rather, we’re able to design services that lead to change that we can measure and (probably) see.