The first comment!

We have now had our blog out there in the open for almost five months. Posting has become a steady part of our team activities. Something has been missing though that we couldn’t quite put our finger on in the beginning – interaction with our readers and more specifically comments! The statistics show that we do have readers, but who are they, we wonder. After five months of enthusiastic waiting for the first comment on our blog, one of our authors encouraged a colleague to break the ice and post one. Yippee!!

The first comment suggested that maybe the lack of comments was due to no other comments which can make it scary to be the first one – kind of a chicken and egg problem really – and that maybe we should start commenting on each other’s posts to get things started. Thank you Pirjo for giving us the inspiration, and congratulations for being the first commentator!

“I don’t believe in that ‘no comment’ business. I always have a comment.”
– Martha Beall Mitchell

After a quick conversation through our Skype channel we decided to start an experiment. We would comment on the posts of other authors ourselves and see whether that will increase the amount of comments also from the readers. Previously this hasn’t even crossed our minds. We have of course been talking about the posts during our team gatherings but have somehow felt that we have no right to comment as we are also the authors. We had thought that commenting ourselves might be kind of pathetic and give an impression of no one else reading the blog. No clue where we got that idea from!

As we are now stepping out of our bubble, let’s see what will happen. Will the number of comments rise or stay the same. We hope that you will get as enthusiastic about this experiment as we are and try out posting a comment. Even just to show that you are there!

Dear reader, welcome to take part in our experiment!

Digitized service system design contexts

In my earlier post, ”Digitality in service design thinking”, I mentioned digital touchpoints as points of interaction between the service provider and customer. I recently ran into an interesting article by Robert J. Glushko [1], where the interactions were divided into seven service system design contexts. Service system is the basic concept in service science and is defined to be a ”value co-production configuration of people, technology, other internal and external service systems, and shared information” [2]. A service system can be and include a part of other systems. The design contexts presented in Glushko’s paper can be used as building blocks for service systems:

Service system design contexts

Glushko’s contexts are an interesting way to consider the wide spread use of digital components in services. Only one of these seven contexts – the first one – does not include technology. The others by default do, though whether technology is always present in self-service is arguable.

Glushko also uses the concepts of front and back stage; front stage meaning interactions between the customer and service provider that are part of the service encounter, and back stage meaning activities that support the service encounter and make it possible [3]. There are often conflicting views between these designer groups. The back stage designers seek efficiency, robustness and scalability, whereas the front stage designers want to create enjoyable, unique and responsive services.

Glushko’s contexts are an interesting and practical way to look at service and its possibilities when designing service systems. As technologies develop so might the contexts; e.g. the seventh context has become a hot topic due to generalization of mobile devices.

The design contexts are useful in the interaction between a service provider and an end user but could also be utilized when designing for B2B or internal services. Creating a holistic view of a service system and concentrating on its design can help the communication of design options both between the back and front stage designers as well as with customers. It must be understood that a service system that is able to deliver is a result of both back and front stage and so its design requires co-operation.

Are there any more contexts that come to your mind?

References:

[1]  Glushko, R.J. (2010) Seven contexts for service system design. In: P.P. Maglio et al. (ed.) Handbook of service science: Research and innovations in the service economy. Springer Science+Business Media, pp. 219-249.

[2]  Spohrer, J., Maglio, P., Bailey, J. and Gruhl,  D. (2007) Steps toward a science of service systems. IEEE Computer society: Volume 40, Issue 1, pp. 71–77.
[3]  Glushko, R.J. and Tabas, L. (2009) “Designing service systems by bridging the “front stage” and “back stage””. Information systems and E-business management: Volume 7, pp. 407-427.

The team newsletter – Extra work or a useful communication tool?

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”          – George Bernard Shaw

The team newsletter is a co-produced team communication platform. It is a Word-document including the following sections:

  1. Team highlights: Team members’ accomplishments and contributions to the team’s goals (High quality research, Industry relevance, Networked globally, Building broad and common understanding, Building inspiring work environment, and Excellent team spirit)
  2. Project news: Resourcing of the team, calls for funding instruments, projects under preparation, new funded and declined projects
  3. Upcoming events
  4. Current activities: Ongoing projects, team member activities, ended projects
  5. Publications
  6. Service science related conferences and journals

This tradition has been started in 2011. The need was obvious then as several team members were located in different countries and it was not so easy to keep track of what everyone was doing. Since then the newsletter’s format and content has been developed further, but it has remained a monthly activity in the team for everyone to update and share their knowledge to other team members also through this channel.

HiRes

The newsletter is available in the team SharePoint workspace. Before the end of the month the team leader reminds everyone by e-mail to update the file. The task in minimum is to fill in the “Team member activities” section’s personal part, where everyone writes down what has happened, what’s next, where, and what’s the boogie. Other sections are filled in if and when there is something to contribute.

As I started writing this post I asked the team members for honest opinions about what pros and cons there are in the newsletter. Not all team members’ opinions were received but here are the results of my short survey:

Pros:

  • In team meetings there is no need to go through one-by-one (in a list-like fashion) what every team member is currently doing, in which projects participating, etc. Team meetings can concentrate on other important matters and time is also saved to more relaxed gatherings
  • Makes you think what you have done and what you will be doing every month
  • Transparency of activities to all team members
  • Goals are visible and hence better remembered
  • One way to give positive feedback
  • Nice to read what everyone else is doing – either in more details or just to get a quick glance
  • Otherwise it would be difficult to know about more than a few of our team members’ work
  • A nice way to let the center leader, professors etc. to know about us and our doings
  • Communication between team members in distant locations
  • Documentation of what has been done before (possible to check things)
  • The co-creation aspect of the newsletter is saving the team leader’s time as those same activities should be recorded by him in a similar form every month anyway; this spares doing the individual “interviews”

Cons:

  • Difficult to avoid a boring layout and too many bullet points and other lists
  • Hard to remember to look the newsletter more than once in a month, i.e. when you update it yourself
  • Somewhat faceless
  • No interaction
  • No proof that someone actually has read what you have written…

The quote that started this post is in the core of the problem. It is easy to assume the value of the newsletter as a way of improving our communication – and in many ways it is. However, it is true that just having the information available does not guarantee it will be used. Maybe we will find new ways to develop this platform to better match our needs.

The fact that it has been used this long does implicate that we are doing something right. We will continue using this tool and reporting any major changes that might occur in the future.

Are you using anything similar for communication purposes in your group or team? What are your experiences?

Digitality in service design thinking

One of the 10 research priorities in service science [1] is service design that can be defined as “shaping services’ functionality and form from client perspective so that a service offering can be perceived useful and desirable from client point of view and effective, efficient and distinctive from service provider point of view [2]”. The essence is to look at the service holistically through the eyes of the customer with a purpose to create new implementable ideas. Channelling those ideas using visualizations and prototypes is the key to communication between the different stakeholders. Service designers speak about fast prototyping and testing of ideas with customers in the early phases of design to avoid spending time on solutions that will not work – an interesting analogue to agile principles and adaptation to changing requirements in software development.

One useful tool in service design is the customer journey [3] where the experienced service is divided into touchpoints that can be seen as points of interaction. These touchpoints can also consist of several companies’ offerings that the customer puts together in order to reach the desired goal. Understanding the customer journey helps the company in designing the service journey – the service from the company point of view and its touchpoints – to connect smoothly, reflect the company’s brand, and carry the customer through the service leaving a positive experience.

Touchpoints can also act as a way into understanding the digitality of service. When talking about digital services the emphasis is on the digital touchpoints of a service – such as software programs, websites, applications, digital advertising etc. Even though the digital touchpoints are only one part of the whole service, in today’s connected and ubiquitous society digitality is in one way or another present in almost any service and the amount of the digital touchpoints is increasing.

In order to get a holistic design for a service and its multiple touchpoints, the viewpoints for it need to come from various experts including diverse groups of employees and business partners as well as customers. To enable this the service providers need to support design thinking. Design thinking is “designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity” [4].  After a holistic design for a service has been created the action can be directed into individual touchpoints. For example, the computer scientists start to work on the application using methods from the field of software development whereas the interior designers start thinking about colour schemes for the wall paints and furniture placement.

How to ensure that even in this point of separation the designed service overview is kept in mind until the very end of the project and even after it? On what scale is the communication between different touchpoint designers possible and necessary? How can this all be done in practice?

The problem lies in the holistic nature of service design. How to create the common ground for communication between people with various disciplinary backgrounds? Service design has collected methods from several fields but how to create even better tools and methods that support the communication and design? How to know which touchpoints in the entirety would be perceived most valuable and which design options to select? How to enhance the service mentality?

These are just some of the essential questions that need answers. The work is ongoing but much is still left to be done.

References:

[1]  Ostrom A.L. et al. (2010) Moving forward and making a difference: research priorities for the science of service. Journal of Service Research, 13(1), pp.4-33
[2]  Mager B., Gais M. (2009) Service design. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, p 42.
[3]  Stickdorn M., Schneider J. (2011) This is service design thinking. BIS Publishers, Amsterdam
[4]  Brown T. (2008) Design thinking. Harvard Business Review, 86(June), pp.84-93.