Fireside Chat with Marc Fonteijn: Explaining the Business Value of Service Design in Plain English

A successful way to sell service design is to not mention service design at all.

The Service Design Network New York Chapter hosted Marc Fonteijn last Tuesday, April 27th for a virtual fireside chat entitled “Explaining the Business Value of Service Design in Plain English”. The conversation focused on pitching service design to clients, or simply others whom it would could help, and thinking through metrics, but also weaved in discussion about data types and service design education.

Marc has been practicing service design since 2007, when he started the first service design studio in the Netherlands. He is also founder and host of the Service Design Show, a resource hub of videos, articles, and courses in service design–checkout the YouTube channel!

Host and co-founder of the SDN New York Chapter Natalie Kuhn facilitated the conversation with Marc. She posed questions from both a pre-set list of general questions and live from the Zoom chat. The summary below is recap of the major topics and themes that grew from the conversation, but do check out the recording here for the full experience of questions and answers!

Making the Business Case for Service Design

In the overall conversation, making a case for service design seemed to fall into three categories: pitching service design, defining service design, and when to actually use service design.

Pitching Service Design

Clients are not really interested in service design, per se — they are interested in solving a problem. So instead of trying to define or pitch service design to a client, designers should focus on understanding the situations and problems that the client cares about and pitching solutions to those problems (even though those solutions may well be using service design methods!). Marc reminded us that designers often forget to apply to the client the same human-centered thinking that they apply to end-users. The client has needs, desires, and pains too, and service designers should tune into them just as much as into the end user.

Ultimately, Marc said, most organizations are already using service design — organizations today have moved beyond being product-only based. But, many of them simply do not acknowledge or know that. One attendee, Greg Grabowy, noted in the Zoom chat that this gives designers the opportunity to do follow a “Miyagi method”. Meaning the designer can guide someone through the motions of service design, without mentioning service design, and eventually they will see that they have been doing karate (service design) the whole time!

Another tactic for pitching service design is bringing up examples of bad services. In doing this, Marc notes, the designer can gauge if there is interest from the client in discussing the reasons that the example service is bad, and even in investigating the pain points of their own service.

Defining Service Design

If you find yourself in need of defining service design in plain english, Marc mentioned three go-tos:

  • The Coffee Shop Example: “There are two coffee shops right next to each other, selling the exact same coffee for the exact same price. Service design is what makes people walk through your door, come back often, and invite their friends”. Video by FJORD here.
  • Using a similar field, like UX, as a basis for comparison.
  • Metaphors. Marc even has an episode called 7 Powerful Metaphors That Explain Service Design with Robert Bau.

Deciding If and When to Use Service Design

In assessing whether or not to use a service design approach for a client, designers should examine whether the client’s problem is related to:

  • Understanding customers?
  • Understanding a holistic experience?
  • Creating engagement within the organization?

Designers should be aware of situations where service design is not relevant to the problem at hand. It is up to the designer to be authentic in setting boundaries with the client.

Marc asserted that service design fits well within organizations that already take seriously:

  • Customer experience.
  • Business as a theatre (versus as a factory). When an organization treats business as a theater, it and its employees understand how every person in the organization impacts the customer.
  • Employee experience.

Metrics for Evaluating the Value of Service Design

Marc expressed that he has many thoughts and opinions regarding the metrics conversation. But for this particular conversation, he boiled the topic down to two needs:

  1. The design community needs to be much more specific and accountable about the outcomes it delivers. The design community may not currently have the right vocabulary with regard to measuring value.
  2. There should be education for the client, about the value of what is being created via service design.

When it is time for these value/metrics based conversations, Marc notes that it is important to have conversations with the client where the designers and the client:

  • Assess what the client values,
  • Define what success looks like, and
  • Redefine metrics that will fit the context of the problem/solution/ definition of success.

Success in services/systems, Marc notes, is like a symphony. We do not measure a symphony by one instrument, instead we measure it by the overall outcome and the enjoyment by the audience. In this analogy, we would measure a service design by the overall outcome — are there fewer frustrated customers and fewer complaints? Is the customer base increasing?

At present, organizations are not necessarily set up to evaluate and measure a service / system. They may simply focus on quantitative measures of revenue, A/B testing, etc. This opens an opportunity for designers to work with and educate clients on the possibilities and benefits of evaluating a service/system.

Additionally, Marc stressed — if an organization really is interested in metrics (as it would relate to a service design), the designer needs to respond not with an answer about assigning metrics, but with questions. In order to successfully evaluate a service/system, we need to ask our client questions about what are they interested in measuring, so that we can fully understand the context.

An Ode to Qualitative Data

Numerous questions in the chat asked about differentiating the uses/benefits of qualitative versus quantitative data. Marc made this succinct observation about the benefit of qualitative data: “qualitative data has the potential to identify weak signals before they emerge in large quantities".

Service Design Education

Many service designers learn from experience. Marc suggests that for anyone who is still early in their career, that they look for service design roles within organizations where the service design team is well established. You want to be able to work alongside a team that you can learn from.

It is for this reason, Marc notes, that his Campfire program is experiential. Books will provide frameworks and tools, but experiential learning will help you dive deeper and looks beneath the surface.

One of the best ways to grow as a service designer is to learn from adjacent fields. Marc mentions that his current list of book recommendations doesn’t contain any books about service design. The books cover topics like strategy, storytelling, visualizing, facilitation, and behavioral economics.

Marc has certainly contributed to the education of service designers through his videos, blogs, and resources, and it sounds like it has had an impact on him too:

“My mission became helping service designers to accelerate the adoption of service design. …I want to help empower the people who are often deeply passionate about this field. That’s one of the things I see in this community, people do it (service design) because they feel it is important.”

Resources from the Conversation

Elysa Smigielski
Elysa Smigielski - Qualitative Research and Participatory Designer

Qualitative Research and Participatory Designer

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