Service Design or Design for Service

George Julian has written a well researched, accessible and authentic post with a valid question: What is Service Design? I recommend that you read the post and the rich comments.

I will not try to come up with a definition of Service Design, but I’d like to share with you my view on the topic, coming from a Service Dominant Logic. Furthermore I will try to explain how I think Social CRM, Social Networking & Value co-creation tie into this.

I have to warn you upfront: these are all emergent topics that are more or less somewhere between childhood and adolescence and spark a fine debate. Thus: this not the truth, just my current views based on my interpretation of what I’ve read, seen, heard and been told. Please regard this post as inputs for your own interpretation and please share it later on.

What is Service?

I think this is the starting question of the entire debate. Because if you understand what is Service, than you can understand what it is you need to design. I take my cue for the “definition” of Service from a Service Dominant Logic (I know, the regular readers will be shocked to hear this – or bored to death..).

One of the basic elements of a Service Dominant Logic is the understanding that both goods (tangibles) and services (intangibles) provide a service to the Customer.. From that perspective there is no reason why there should be different approaches towards marketing (not just the PR and communications part!) either goods or services. Thus, to me it is obvious that:

Service Design is not just about designing services. Service Design is ignorant of products and services.

But, what is Service?

If you’re a good observer you noticed I did not answer my own question yet. I said that goods (products) and services provide a service to the Customer, but never explained what “Service” is. In my opinion Service is like Value.. very hard to define, because it’s something completely subjective, conditional and temporal.

How we talk about service resembles how we talk about value: Service is something you provide and Value is something you add.. Both, in my humble opinion, are, at best, flawed ways of framing. I wrote about framing “value” before. Here is how I think of  ‘Service’, in the context of a business’ purpose, today:

Service is the personal sum of a Customer’s experiences in all her interactions, through touch-points, with the products and/or services of the company


in all her interactions with the relevant experiences of others, through or in the Customer’s (on-line) social networks

making up for the Customer’s perception of the value received and/or to be received from the company at any point in time.

So, that is what Service is about, according to me that is, from a Customer’s perspective (my favorite angle). The contradiction here is that, as a Customer, we perceive value as something we get, or receive, but from a provider’s perspective, we should never make the mistake of thinking it is something we can “just provide”.

What do you design for?

Many companies think they are designing for Customer satisfaction or promoter score. In real life we are designing for intangible, complex,  highly conditional, functional, emotional, social and mostly temporal perceived value. And the good thing about the Service design discipline is that they have some excellent tools and approaches to better understand what’s of value to the Customer..

That’s it for part 1. Part 2, in which I’ll go into the link with Social Networking and Social CRM – or wherever you take me with the comments – will arrive later this week ;)

Now, shred it to bytes..

24 thoughts on “Service Design or Design for Service

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  4. I think service is really giving to the customers what they expect from our brand. Whether we design for service or provide service design isn’t what is important just as long as we keep our customers happy.


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  6. In service-dominant (S-D) logic, “service” is the use of one’s competence (knowledge and skills) for the benefit of another actor. However, in S-D logic, there are no “services” (intangible goods), which is considered to be a goods-dominant (G-D) logic term. Rather, quite simply, service can can be provided directly or indirectly, through a good.


    • Hello Steve,

      I never got around replying to your great comment. Nothing I can disagree with..

      Taken from a Customer’s perspective though, service and value are closely related I think.. Their perception of service (which they do surely not define as a competence, more likely as a result of (in)competence ;) perceived, influences value perceived, or is altogether the same to them..

      I was not trying to redefine “service” as it is defined in the context of S-D logic.. I was trying to define the scope of “service-design” (as in not serviceS-design and as in broader than company-customer touch-points).. Not sure I succeeded, but surely enjoyed the discussion..

      Thx for reading & commenting!



  7. What Disney is selling is the magical experience. But how do customers feel the magical experience? Through cast members? They may help contribute to the brand experience, but it’s definitely more than that. The magical experience is made up of the environment, the Disney stars and characters who walk around the park with warm greeting, and the fireworks together with songs that touch people’s hearts. All these experiences have very little to do with service.

    Do customers visit the park to experience the quality service provided by cast members, in order to enjoy the magical experience “designed by” Disney? Service contributes to that experience, but service is not experience, and will never be.

    Customers can still experience an experience without being served, but for every service received they will have an experience.

    Experience is something that can touch the heart and linger there long. Service is only a one-way experience if providing positive experience for customers is not the end goal.


  8. Came across this excerpt from the Strategyn website on What is Outcome Driven Innovation, coinciding with what has been said… imo Service Design or Designing for Service defined includes….

    “What if customers do know all their needs? What if it is possible to capture these needs up front in the innovation process – before solutions are created to address those needs and before a product or service is ever introduced into the pipeline”


  9. “if you understand what is Service, than you can understand what it is you need to design.”

    Service Dominant Logic:
    Is the understanding that both [goods (tangibles) and services (intangibles)] “provide” a “service” to the “Customer”.
    Service Design is [ignorant of products and services.]

    a) What are we providing? …A service
    b) How can we understand Service? …it’s a mindset
    c) What is Service? …A framework…
    d) For who? …”The Customer”

    a) “Provide” –
    Provisions = Outcome Driven Innovation, Lean, Capabilities, Customer Experience, Customer Experience Management, Social Customer Relationship Management, Customer Relationship Management, Value Networks, Collaboration, Customer Service, Social Business, etc… ….Value Co Creation

    b) “Service”
    is like Value, something that is completely subjective, conditional and temporal …it’s a mindset

    c) “Service design disciplines have some excellent tools and approaches to better understand what’s of value to the Customer” …A framework

    d) “In real life we are designing for intangible, complex, highly conditional, functional, emotional, social and mostly temporal perceived value. …The Customer

    Provide/Service = Customer

    “Service design is an interdisciplinary approach (mindset) that combines different methods and tools from various disciplines (provisions). It is a new way of thinking (The Customer) as opposed to a new stand-alone academic discipline. Service design is an evolving approach (A framework/design), this is particularly apparent in the fact that, as yet, there is no common definition or clearly articulated language of service design.” [Stickdorn, 2010, 29]

    “Service Design is then about designing the value proposition (provide/service = customer) and the experiences (jobs to be done – technical, functional, emotional, social) needed to co-create value with it’s users (Customers/Company/Employees/other Stakeholders all included)” …………………….”Social”



  10. Wim,

    Great, thought provoking post. The discussion points have been especially good and I’ve enjoyed reading your comments as they draw out more detail around your interpretation of service.

    I think part of the problem with defining service is that it can concurrently have multiple valid definitions.

    I’d agree that the most universal is the service-value construct that you describe. For service design purposes, it may be the only applicable definition, though there are others. While your definition is intended to ignore the distinction between tangible (product) offerings and intangible (service) offerings, that is a distinction that is relevant in design because of the ongoing process and people (or technology) requirements. I’d also suggest that customer service is an area commonly advances separately as “service” (and for product offerings may be the only place where process and people come into play).

    If the majority define “service” concurrently (or at different times) meaning services, customer service and the sum of value-in-use, then that is the – admitedly problematic – definition we may have to work with, though we can always be specific as to which we are talking about.


  11. Great discussions! I would like to express my fear towards your initiative. Getting the client in all costs and investments are allowed under the definition of “sales”. At the very moment the prospect becomes a client all additional services are labeled as costs. Rule number one in business is the costs are always too high. What I try to say here with respect to all efforts to improve service, if service is considered as costs you will get the service level as we are all know. So the true intention and approach to a customer should be changed first. Change from mass production to service economy. As an example is CRM used to serve the customer better? I rarely experience that, CRM is used to get more business out of the customers. If we do not change the approach to truly care, or better delight, the customer it will become as marketing sarcasm as Shoshana Shuboff would express it.


    • Hello Roel,

      Thx for stopping by & commenting here. I very much agree with you, and like how you say: “if service is considered as costs”.. That’s exactly what I try to avoid. Service is not costs, service is the value Customers perceive, and experience contributes to it..

      I also fully agree with you that CRM too often is not used to enhance the experience, or improve the service outcome. it should be though. I wrote about the need to change the “logic” several times. Here is one I did on The Future of Marketing, Changing the Game and Playing Field

      Thx again for stopping by & contributing to the dialog :) Much appreciated.



  12. Hi Daryl,

    You make a great point, but I choose a logic that takes a different angle: experience is there to meet an end or outcome. This outcome, measured against expectations and influenced by how the journey is experienced is, imho, the best proxy for value, or service, from a Customer’s perspective.

    To me, using this alternative framework, has opened up fresh perspectives in my thinking. I’m not saying it’s the only way, but to me it makes more sense at this point in time. If only because I sincerely think we are currently experiencing a move from an experience economy to a Service economy (not a serviceS economy).

    In a Service economy companies don’t only focus on capturing value for themselves by providing experiences to their Customers. In a Service economy companies create platforms on which all stakeholders can co-create thick-value (term coined by Umair Haque, or Shared Value as Porter named it recently) together, for themselves and for society as a whole.

    So, experience and experience innovation will continue to be very important, but they are, like (Social) CRM, means to an end, not the goal itself.

    At least, in my opinion. Let me know what you think.



  13. Wim, with all respect, I find it difficult to accept your definition of service, where you define it as “the personal sum of a Customer’s experiences in all her interactions, through touch-points, with the products and/or services of the company…”

    Service produces experience, but service is not experience. There is a big difference between service and experience.

    Service, from the customer’s point-of-view, is simply “how” s/he is being served at every touchpoint. The user experiences the service, and the experience concludes how the user is being served. Experience is then the “what” when it’s treated as a noun.

    Service design is for positive experience. Experience innovation should be the next big thing instead.


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  15. Wim,

    Love the thought provocation here. All too often we get caught up in the limitations created by common usage – ie; Service. To most, this brings up the idea of what businesses call “Sales” and “Support” – Customer Service…the help a customer gets during consideration and transaction and later, when things go wrong or the customer doesn’t understand the “user manual”. The concept of including the time spent in use of the product / service as being “Service” is probably foreign to most (businesses and customers). But take, Mark’s citycar…the fact that it is utilitarian and he doesn’t think much about it, doesn’t mean that the car is not serving him well. It is doing it’s job…servicing his need (to get from one place to another).

    If we understand this greater concept of Service, then we can understand the part that others have in shaping Service – the Research department for helping understand and identify needs, the PD department for development, the Marketing department for shaping expectations/perceptions, etc.

    I do agree with you that it is only the customers perception of Service (the all inclusive one) that matters. And that perception is on a continuim, from the expectations formed prior to acquisition to the perceptions (conscious or unconscious) derived during use to the memories after it’s gone(?).


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  17. I like your thought, Mark :-)

    I agree with you when looking at Service, not as a sum of more or less fulfilled expectations, but as a holistic continuum reflecting adequacy between a customer’s job (what he intends to do) and what is provided by the company to help him.

    Too often is customers service considered as a way to overcome a bad experience at some touchpoint, but, in my sense, it should have a more global role, helping to evaluate the whole experience. Raising Satisfaction at some point might prove to lower global experience (for example: cheesy marketing material, or too promising interface). Level of expectation doesn’t always need to be highest as possible to provide customers with the best experience…



  18. As I read your blog, I immediately thought: how about the expectation of the customer. So I must agree with Mark. The quality of service-experiences is measured by the expectation of the Customer. And the funny thing an expectation is a living being. It evolves and can also be influenced by circumstances or environment. Not so long ago if you wanted a new telephoneline at home, the consumer expected that it would take at least a month for the company to realize that. So when it took only a few days, the consumer was flabbergasted and pleased.
    Nowadays depending on the customer, three days can be too long!
    My personal situation, the nessasity of this service for my situation, the common expectation, the price I pay for it, my references, they all build up my expectations.

    And expectations are the beginning of a service experience. If you ask me that is why good services is so personal and difficult to define. There is in general a common idea of what really bad services is, but there is a real thin line for bad and good services. Just because it is a personal experience…

    In conclusion, the customer expectations must be added to your formula.

    And furthermore if we would ask our self what makes services great, than one of the ingredients is a unique personal approach towards the customer where sensitivity and empathy rule next with high qualiy servicelevels/drivers and a good product.


    • Hi Ankie,

      You’re early :) I’m just leaving a quick note to say that I did factor in expectations by writing:

      “making up for the Customer’s perception of the value [..] to be received from the company at any point in time.”

      What do you think?



  19. Just a thought. How about thinking about Service in terms of expectations about the ability to meet a need. The expectations are shaped through the recognition you have a need, then information gathering, interacting with others, testing etc.

    Customer experience in this case is manner in which the expectations are met _from the customer’s perspective_, and Satisfaction is a qualitative appreciation. The value is derived not only from the points of giving and receiving, but rather a continuum of ups (and downs), which evolves kind of like a moving average, which then implies that we should be trying to measure Satisfaction not at a single datapoint, but rather how it evolves over time, and then link that back to the experience.

    All this just to say that “Service” is probably better understood not as a sum of experiences, but rather as something that evolves over time until the need is no longer served or it has evolved, requiring that we call upon another Service. Maybe this could be designated as “Implication”, which is currently not looked at at all in the literature I’ve read.

    For a company, it may then not make sense to track all experience datapoints to decide where to concentrate their investment in “Customer Experience”. Maybe somebody can even come up with a nice predictive curve…

    My thoughts on this are not completely clear on this, but maybe it’ll give you some new ones


    • Hi Mark,

      I definitely agree that it is not an absolute sum, but a moving average.. I tried to word that by saying “personal sum”, because how the average is moving is highly depending on the individual..

      I think I need a little more explanation on your mention of “implication”.. not sure what you mean in that paragraph..

      On the last one: I think it is fair to say that it is needed to track performance on all touch-points, it is just not needed to perform on the same level on all touch-points.. Depending on how you perform and need to perform you can make a decision on where to invest..

      The only thing is: you cannot measure what is not there.. So how do you know you are missing important touch-points? That’s also an area where Service Design methodologies come in, because traditional VOC and CEM methodology fall short..

      Enough to think about :) I think we agree though that Service is not something you provide, but something a Customer (or prospect) perceives, based on her own set of expectations, experiences and outside influences.. not?

      Thx for stopping by and adding a great comment!



      • The idea of implication is simply the level of emotional investment. When I buy groceries and get a box of cereals, I frankly don’t use too many braincycles to make a decision, to think about how I experience the “cereal adventure” ;)

        On the contrary, getting and using a new car, getting it fixed, customizing it would require a higher level of implication and will have a profound effect on my expectations and experience.

        And the level of this can change over time. I no longer regard the little citycar I bought 2 years ago in the same manner, it has become utilitarian – or more simply put I care less, only that it gets me to where I want to go and this has shifted my set of expectations. No more weekly trips to the carwash!


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