Service Design – How customer experience creates added value

Why service is the actual product.

Tldr: Improving brands means improving service systems.
Products are becoming more and more similar. The competition is getting bigger and bigger. The demand is finite. Most markets today are predatory markets. Even in new markets, consolidation through displacement takes place quite quickly, as currently shown by the fierce competition in the e-scooter segment, for example.
Service is the real differentiation factor, which is why we choose products and repeat purchases. Service shows the company’s attitude, how it really promises to meet customer needs.
We should understand marketing as a moment of truth in every customer contact, as an attitude that the brand has a decisive influence on the feelings, thoughts and actions of our customers, users, referrers, fans and consumers.
A product without service design is not a product. Service is what makes a product come alive. Service makes the attitude in a product tangible. Service makes a brand successful.

Companies produce products or offer services that normal consumers cannot produce themselves with the same effort, time, experience and quality. This is our classic understanding of an economy based on the division of labor. The core of the market economy: A relevant service provided by an expert creates a special value for a prospective customer with less know-how.

Marketing goes one step further. Not only does it create added value for the consumer, it also creates even more value than the competition. In today’s “consumption-consolidated” world, in which products are becoming more and more similar, products can stand out from the competition through special (additional) services that complement the core performance of the product.

Just as a company thinks and designs service and customer service, so the brand ticks. The service, also complementary to the actual product, underlines the mission and purpose of the brand. In the end, entire service operating systems are created that make a brand unique.

This article makes it clear that service is the actual product. Service decides on the purchase and repurchase of a brand. Service decides on the expansion of a brand’s product world. Service is the convincing accompanying factor of the customer journey.

Service – the linchpin of a brand.

A brand is not just a product. A brand is also the service around it. 

Fortunately, there is no longer a view that customer service is simply a response to complaints. A cultural change has taken place in Germany, largely initiated by the North American service mentality. Older readers may still remember that shopping used to be less fun because supermarket visitors felt like a troublemaker rather than a customer, disrupting the order on the shelves just by being there.

Briefly on this: In September, I was on the road in eastern Germany, in Saxony and Thuringia. My enthusiasm for culture, architecture, the museum treasures in the townscape and the blossoming beauty of the landscape was unfortunately clouded by a barren service desert in gastronomy and retail. I hardly dare to mention it, because it fits the cliché. And I don’t really want to stress that again here. But my impression is leaner, you still lag 20 years behind the West German states. This instructive way of dealing with people is somewhat unusual for the service-spoiled Hamburg native. It really depressed me at first.

Back in Hamburg: Reserving a table with an Italian for the weekend. An amazing reception, a big hello, a few remarks about the weather. The recommendation of a quasi perfect table. Reserved. With fun, laughter, joy. I am still smiling. This short conversation with the hosts (!) made my day even better. And will benevolently make the dinner on Saturday perfect.

Service as the lynchpin of a brand is particularly evident in a company’s self-image of how it really does put a promise of performance, perhaps even care, before customer needs. And this “culture of help” does not just take place selectively, but should be perceptible at every point of contact with the brand and when touching the product.

Service is the unobtrusive linchpin of a brand.

In order to be successful in the long term, the product concept must also take into account the service around the product. This is not only about customer service in after-sales marketing, but also about phases far before and far after. The more service merges seamlessly with the actual product, the more successful the product (service) concept is.

Service is the unobtrusive lynchpin of a brand: from the initial awareness of the existence of a product, through supported decision-making, the type of purchasing process, the use of the product, the decision about further use or the purchase of a complementary product from the brand family, and finally the participation in the brand, e.g. within a brand community.

Service along the phases of the customer journey.


Customer Journey as a flowing service system in 5 phases
Fig.: The customer service journey as the linchpin of the brand – own representation.

1. Awareness | THE BEING

Communication for brands or products can also offer added value in terms of service. In addition to creatively attracting attention, the first contact is all about demonstrating the competence and benefits of the brand. Ideally, image communication shows the attitude and claim inherent in a brand. The advertising material is allowed to offer deepening, detailed information or trial and error (links, codes, coupons) with pleasure and without great hurdles. The gym, which invites customers to “Come by now for a test training” is simply there for them. And when you get a hands-on trial session with a trainer at 8:30 p.m. after a spontaneous call at 7 p.m., then you can already see the great demand for service mentality. Of course, scheduling can also be done digitally.

2. Consideration | DIFFERENCING

The first entry is done. Personal contact and individual needs-oriented communication, transparent information and easy interaction with the brand ensure that the prospective customer can easily clarify questions about the product. A simple exchange with product managers helps to explain and clarify the competence of the product to the customer. Re-targeting should be used to pick up the thread in an individualized and in-depth manner and to continue the “sales talk”. This can make the decision easier for the prospective customer.

In the ideal case, the user quickly experiences the convenience inherent in the product. The excitement and superiority of the product concept should be immediately noticeable. Ideally, the product should be easy or even intuitive to use. Descriptions on the packaging or in the operating instructions should never be neglected. This is where the first intensive exchange with the product takes place. This is where the user experience must be. A yogurt can also provide service. For example, the cup could be fitted with a resealable lid. If necessary there are ad-ons like the recipe suggestions in every brunch pack on the aluminium lid.

Such small added values are reasons to buy. They differentiate from the competition and improve the “price-value ratio”.

3. Preference | ENJOY

Eliminate the last uncertainties. Collect the last pro in the decision-making process. Taking the readiness and the needs and questions of the interested parties seriously, creates relief for the interested parties. And it is now easy to convince them to buy in a direct dialog. Comparison or filter functionalities on the website or in the app can also motivate people to buy and strengthen or facilitate the decision. Information down to the last detail should be easily accessible. If someone is already taking the trouble to delve so deeply into the product, then we should also satisfy their thirst for knowledge.

It makes sense to provide salespeople with tools that make it easier for them to communicate the product story to interested parties in a striking and interactive way. For example, an iPad app can help the insurance advisor to explain the drama of the gap in the state pension scheme in an uncomplicated, “on the fly” way. And fed with the financial needs that the insurance agent elicits from the interested party. Thus the sales story is individually adaptable and thus even more convincing. Service support from the “fan community” in brand communities is also a credible element in the decision-making process.

Ikea wants to eliminate the final uncertainty as to whether the furniture will also fit into the living room with the AR App IKEA Place eliminate. Now it is no longer just about the product, it is about the emotional wow. The price-service ratio is experienced as a “price-enthusiastic ratio”.

4. Action | EXPERIENCE

The laughter of the sales staff* is the user experience in the digital hemisphere. Brand managers, design the digital Customer Journey in such a way that the users enjoy it! The digital journey must bring a smile to their faces. At the very least, fingers should be guided quickly on the smartphone (or computer keyboard), the process should be easy and intuitive to follow, and the anticipation of a successful check out should increase after each step. 1, 2, mine! *Grins*

The convincing convenience in a product is of course the A&O. And should be the noble goal of any business activity.

Built-in customization in products brings an additional service system to an otherwise standardized product and thus even greater satisfaction of needs.

If the use of the product then offers such a positive satisfaction of needs that you want to (must) tell others about it, then we have the authentic multiplier for further interested parties: Recommendation of highest credibility.

5. Loyalty | PROVE

The satisfaction that users or consumers of a product feel must be rekindled again and again. With recognition, thanks and rewards. For example, a company can reward long-time users with behavior-based discounts for complementary brand products. A points system offers not only gamification, but also rewarding recognition in the form of user status (next service level, premium service) or as currency for gifts (see American Express, Miles&More etc.).

When a brand creates a product system of complementary products or connecting infrastructures (e.g. Apple’s iCloud), the customer is provided with more and more arguments for further brand loyalty. Usage is enriched by an enhanced brand experience.

For TUI, in the current COVID 19 era, it is vital for survival to incorporate security in the event of corona risks, such as the costs of quarantine or return transport or medical treatment in the event of infection with the corona virus, into its product range. The TUI Insurance Covid Protect is to make carefree vacation possible. TUI thus demonstrates care for its customers. Admittedly, this is also a service that is intended to prevent the travel business from collapsing completely in these difficult times.In the event of complaints, the threshold of accessibility for companies must not be high. Sometimes, as a customer, you really get the feeling that they don’t want you to get in touch with them at all. Yet it is precisely the compensation with an accommodating apology that has such a great binding factor that the customer who was just dissatisfied can be even more satisfied after the service experience than before the claims settlement.

6. Advocacy | PARTICIPATE

The love for brands can become so great that an entire lifestyle grows with them and followers join together to form communities. Participation and involvement in a brand is the deepest bond possible for customers. Hobbyists from the community should be recognized and occasionally rewarded by the brand. A recommendation from the fan community is valuable because it is authentic and credible. If, in addition, service and advice is provided from within the community, then that is the crowning touch. The Thermomix fans have numerous communities where people exchange information on product use and recipes. It is not uncommon for such deeply involved followers to become organizers of Thermomix parties and finally sellers.

New marketing thinking: Customer Share – Not Market Share

In a world characterized by optionism, it is a particular challenge to gain and retain customer loyalty. The more brands become “service systems” for customer needs and shared values, the greater their relevance and customer loyalty.

Service must be IMHO’s central brand strategy. The mind set of a company with regard to service orientation makes the attitude to the overriding goal of the sense foundation tangible and elementary experienceable. Service thus becomes the value-adding and value-enhancing operating system of brands. The iPhone is nothing without the best iOS. And a brand is nothing without its best serviceOS.

The service that companies offer must spring from the fundamental attitude to the value proposition of making the customer’s life better in at least one area of need. Service does not stop at the call center. Service is always.

Thus, service becomes an investment in future profits. Service design is not a cost factor. Service is the actual product, which is one of the biggest contributing success factors to strengthen the brand relevance and thus also for sales. We have to change our image of marketing. Marketing is not just fishing for new customers. Marketing today is above all about retaining and developing customers into loyal users and advocates. In the long run. Today, this is only possible with a service-oriented customer experience. And that’s cheaper than constantly attracting new customers.

And therefore the market share approach is outdated. It’s all about customer share. Or even better: Community Share. The enthusiastic fan community that participates and remains loyal to a brand in the long term because this brand makes their lives better. Because it shapes the relationship with the customer as an overall experience. Completely frictionless, everlasting. Customers do not forgive a brand for intransparency, irrelevance or the repeated failure of interaction. Service and product are one, everywhere.

The customer share (or community share) is the share of time, attention, interaction, engagement with the brand and use of the brand. This is how the prospective customer consolidates his positive opinion and becomes an enthusiastic buyer. He develops a positive attitude towards the product. He can forgive even small functional weaknesses and becomes a repeat or complementary buyer of further articles from the product range.

The critics are very enthusiastic about this model: Investment my ass. Service becomes an exuberant cost factor after all. To be always present, to be always responsive, that costs money.

I see that differently. Apart from the fact that noticeable service can be priced into the “price-value relation” of a product, the internalization of consistent service orientation minimizes costs:

  1. by integrating service processes and customer support departments
  2. through automation 
  3. through participation of the community

An example taken from life.

I recently bought the deodorant spray Men Expert Fresh Extreme from L’oréal. After only three times of use, the spray head failed. Probably a plastic part inside the head was broken. I am an easy-care consumer. But that was a big deal for me. Although the deodorant only costs 1.55 €, I took the trouble to contact L’oréal. I wanted to tell the brand that a product is faulty, that this is probably not an isolated incident. At the same time, I was also shocked that L’oréal, as the most successful deodorant brand in Germany, has such weaknesses. Via Facebook it went fast. Shortly after my post on the fan page, the Community Management Team got in touch. They were prepared for the case. They wrote me that it could be that I might have caught an older product. Currently the problem is solved. I should mention the batch number. After I posted the number, I was referred to Customer Service by mail. At least here the first error: channel change. Second error: Customer Service could actively contact me. But I had to write a mail and describe the case again. Third mistake: Community Management and Customer Service are two separate entities. You could create integrated processes, or even better, a channel-independent “L’oréal Customer Service” department.  The possible result of the merger: Optimization of response times and costs. Traditionally, the community management of Facebook & Co. is the responsibility of agencies or other external support units. Customer Support is not trusted with authentic social media tonality. In today’s times of always-on and customer expectations of a threshold-free communication chain, this view is outdated.

Back to my case: The response from Customer Service by e-mail took a little longer than the team’s response on Facebook. After a few standard text modules the request to send a photo of the spray can. Oh dear! I am supposed to prove that too. And then once again please the batch number. Tedious. Finally. “Of course we will gladly replace the product.”

Phew. I’m getting a new deodorant. Then I waited for 6 weeks. The deodorant was lovelessly packaged. But there was a shower gel in addition. I don’t think that L’oréal won me back with it. The product was not perfect. But above all: the service process was not perfect.

What could L’oréal have done better? Integrate and streamline the complaints process! And automate it! I could have been happy with a form in which all the important information is entered in a bundled form. Not in a back and forth e-mail traffic. In this case even a “complaints bot” would have been perfect.

L’oréal would have been happy to let me participate in the product improvement as a user. After all, I took the trouble to contact the brand because I wanted it to be better. L’oréal could have recognized this. And for me, it might have been a little bit of belly brushing. And I would have seen: “They trust me. They want to be helped.” My feeling would have been much more positive.

For me it would also have been okay to get a digital purchase coupon for the product at short notice. (I had to wait 6 weeks for a replacement.) The retail landscape is complicated. But such digital services are now negotiable and billable.

We see: Digitalization helps us enormously with service innovations. Digital services are essential to create a rapid positive brand momentum and to be there all the time. And at the same time, service is an entrepreneurial attitude. Service is wanting. Analog and digital.

Because one thing is certain: brands can differentiate themselves by creating a special brand experience that lasts. Whether analog or digital, brands must become service operating systems in order to become value-added platforms for needs. This is how buying reasons arise.

Kai Bösterling ist seit 20 Jahren Berater in verschiedenen Werbe- und Kommunikationsagenturen. In den letzten Jahren verantwortete er in der Geschäftsleitung von Digitalagenturen die Markenberatung. In Agenturen wie Zum goldenen Hirschen und GREY klassisch ausgebildet, ist er heute überzeugt, dass Marke, Idee und Kundenerlebnis Leitfunktionen in Unternehmen übernehmen müssen – als geistige Haltung, als service-orientiertes Handeln für den Kunden und als Brücke zwischen digital und analog.

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