Using service design to envision socially integrated services and products

What if the technologies of Web 2.0 and the social networks it has enabled were part of the customer’s full experience of a service or product, rather than simply a channel used for promotion or customer service?

A lot of time is spent thinking about how brands interact or engage with customers through social media, but less time is spent thinking about making social media and networks a core and essential part of the services and products behind those brands. I’m not talking about clever online marketing or promotional social media gimmicks – I mean real services and products, that are intrinsically integrated with social software.

There are many reasons for paying attention to this idea – brainstorming a few:

  • Smart phones and mobile computing mean that many of us are constantly connected. Eventually, smart devices will mean the things we use will be always on, always connected too.
  • As digital natives, we are increasingly reliant on the Web as a memory and problem solving aid (research shows we remembering less facts, but we do remember where to find them online).
  • Consumers see many benefits from crowdsourcing aspects of services and products – from continuous improvement to help with edge use cases (health care is an excellent example).
  • Solving the problems of climate change, population growth and natural resource constraints will require technology solutions that impact how we behave.

For example, The Box concept car is specifically designed for inner-city shared use. The designers stripped out complex and unnecessary electronics – instead, it is integrated with the user’s smartphone. And a shared car is inherently a social experience.

If this sounds great in theory, does it mean we can simply plugin ‘social’ into existing service and products? Well, maybe. To quote Clay Shirky, consumers need “a plausible promise, an effective tool, and an acceptable bargain” – so don’t expect consumers to embrace your socially integrated solution, unless you clearly demonstrate what is in it for them. Sitting at a desk it is difficult to design solutions that do just that, but Service Design already provides us with methodologies that can help us to design these new solutions – that is, if designers understand the characteristics of social software and user behaviour.

Service Design is an integrating and multi-disciplinary approach to creating better services that places the experiences of users at the centre (it is aligned very closely to our user-centred approach). For example, service blueprints, a key service design tool, help us to understand the journey of a customer through a service process and the different points of interaction. It helps service designers to visualise both the “onstage” and “backstage” activities that take place to the deliver the service. Of course, in a social business, the line of visibility between the customer and the backstage processes is changing. And this creates brand new opportunities.

In fact, reading between the lines, the implications of the service design lens are significant:

  1. Brand new or reconfigured service and product combinations will need to appear that are a better fit for a socially integrated consumer.
  2. Brand new or reconfigured social businesses will appear, to deliver these socially integrated solutions.

Clearly, this doesn’t mean that every service or product that exists today should or deserves to be elevated into a socially integrated solution. But how will you know if your service or product isn’t ripe to be ripped and replaced with something new? The answer lies with your customers and the design process you use to envison the future.

Think of the people that manufacture car dashboards and electronics – who would have guessed that The Box would replace them with a socially integrated iphone app?

We are still only scratching the surface of social business design. It will change not just how brands engage, but the very nature of brands themselves.

Image Source: Brooks & Bone