Customer Service is only one aspect of a Service

(Originally posted in Sept 2014)

Blockbuster may have never been rude to you, but, in the end, they still failed as a service offering. That’s why it’s important to ensure that you’re not thinking about Service Design and Customer Service as synonyms.

A service is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “the action of helping or doing work for someone.” Brick-and-mortar Blockbuster locations provided the service of supplying customers with access to a wide range of video game and movie rentals.

In most cases, in order to “help or do work,” there’s a current state (how things are now) and some level of goal (how we wish things to be). A particular “service” being offered is usually only one of many possible paths toward this goal. One aspect of Service Design is the process of researching, discovering and optimizing those paths. And herein lies the rub. Too many “service providers” remain locked in on models they haven’t evaluated for years (sometimes decades). For instance, here’s the way Blockbuster saw it in the early 2000s.

Yet even then, Blockbuster knew that there were new paths emerging, new ways of thinking and new customer desires brewing. One can imagine that with great Service Design thinking on their side, and a commitment to be truly customer-centric, Blockbuster could have prototyped and experimented with innovative service offerings that, at the very least, would have allowed it to be better prepared to handle the disruptive service paths we now know as Redbox, Netflix, Slingbox and Apple TV.

Respectively, these paths correspond to Blockbuster, Netflix DVD service,
Netflix online service, Redbox, Apple TV, and a collaborative consumption method.

All that said, not all services are customer-facing anyway.

The providers and recipients of services can be all sorts of people – and sometimes not even “people” at all. The table below lists a handful of common services to show a diverse range of providers and recipients and how they can even play both roles simultaneously.

Type of ServiceProviderRecipient
Movie RentalBusinessCustomer
Police ForceGovernment & Society (via taxes)Society
Customer ServiceEmployeeCustomer
Point-of-sale SystemBusinessAnother Business
Armed ServiceCitizensGovernment & Society
Experience FeedbackCustomerBusiness
401k MatchingBusinessEmployees
Self-checkoutComputer SoftwareCustomer

As you can see, customer service is just one of many services that an organization may offer in order to be successful. For Blockbuster, customer service was just one part of what made its business work, along with inventory suppliers, employee payroll systems, management structures, utilities, janitorial needs, point-of-sale software and many more that were all crucial in supporting their core service offering. The challenge for Blockbuster was not that any one of those sub-services was particularly bad, but instead, recognizing that the core service offering of brick-and-mortar movie rental needed to evolve in order to accommodate changing times, technologies and expectations.
 
This is just one way of describing how Service Design can impact the very DNA of an organization. No one is saying it’s easy, but what’s the cost of inaction?

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