Servitization makes the world dumber, but we can fix it

At the core of servitization is the idea that the customer doesn’t want a drill, they want a hole. While seductively obvious, a danger lies within.

Say you apply this idea to create a new turn-key kitchen installation service. No longer will the customer have to wonder which materials are water-resistant and how long you should let the sealant dry, we’ll pick the materials that fit your kitchen and come install it in your home!

What was previously just a product business model (producing/importing kitchen appliances and materials) has been turned into a service business model (providing new kitchens to homes that need them) and if offered at a competitive price, the service will surely deliver great value for everyone! Market capitalism!

Let’s take closer look. Services are always part of someone else’s journey of fulfilling a need. Let’s say that this visualization represents the customer journey before and after the “servitization” of kitchen acquisition, with the responsibilities of the customer in blue and the service provider in orange:



What happened was that we increased the orange parts and decreased the blue parts. Better service, right? Well, more service would be correct.

And now that we have more of this service, we need a service designer. They will design how the customer interacts with the service, how we deliver the service, what happens in each phase and how the material and people are choreographed over the course of a service experience. Rock solid!

However, if you think of service design as the analogy of product design, you give the service designer the job to design every part of the service. And because service is delivered anew every time, you want the service to be delivered as designed, and that’s where things risk going dumb.

With a detailed design, you need detailed implementation: routines are documented into processes, roles and responsibilities are drafted to make sure the service delivery organization works in a predictable way, and little by little the service becomes a metaphorical machine that can only do one thing. We end up with more boring jobs and a slow decline in employee skillfulness.

But it’s not just the service provider organization that suffers, customer experience might worsen as well. As the service provider becomes more rigid, the whole journey loses adaptability because we made it more orange. The service doesn’t adapt to different customer needs or changes in customer preferences in the way that the product did, because the customer could have done the parts they were responsible for in any way they want.

Unlike what you might expect, I’m not advocating for a total Do It Yourself revolution. Instead, the tipping point in this narrative was the moment service design was thought of as the design of services, as if a service is something you design well and be done with it.

In their article “Designing for Service: Creating an Experience Advantage”, Shelley Evenson and Hugh Dubberly point out that a service is design because people, products, places and systems interact every time to create i.e. design that particular service experience. The authors then propose that what is done beforehand is designing for services, a sort of meta-design there the conditions and limitations are put in place. The result is an assembly of people and places by whom the service is designed as it happens.

For me, designing for services opens a completely new perspective into taking people and organizations into the service design process. Perhaps more importantly, it helps me separate the role of the user experience (UX) designer from service designer in digital services, since a UX designer is looking at a service from the perspective of a customer’s needs and outcomes while a service designer reaches into how the service providing organization is designed.

Do you think we should talk more about designing for services? Or is the role of the service designer just a hype thing and we should stick with user-centered design? Probably stuff on services and co-design coming in future!