At a recent conference our keynote was a passionate explanation of the importance of service design to a receptive audience. We were sailing through the Q&A portion when someone asked, "What about products?" Although services account for 80 percent of the economy, it's a fair question. So, apologies to all of you who sell or make products for our lack of empathy.

Truth is, service design can help companies that don't see themselves as service-oriented understand how to interact with customers in ways that augment the value of their products. Whether it's about customer or user, product or service, it's the experience that matters. From the start, Apple Stores were a great example, and remain so.

Service/Product Connection

The act of shopping at an Apple store was imagined and designed with the same degree of attentiveness and concern for experience as has been applied to the design of Apple products. As Apple has shown, even if what you are primarily selling is a product, service has become an integral part of your product.

But it is equally true that the product is a service. When Clayton Christensen and Scott Cook tell innovators to ask, "what job are customers hiring your product to do?" they're asking a service question. In an economy where goods and services are ever more entwined, your responsibility for your product and your opportunity to delight your customer don't end at the loading dock -- and neither does your capacity to create value.

Customers care little about the distinction between maker and seller. Their loyalty is earned by the entirety of their experience, not just one part of it. Whatever the offering, and whatever the arrangement between goods producer and service provider, the important point is to develop and design a customer journey that delivers the value you promise.

Complete Journey

Research by the McKinsey consulting firm confirms the importance of managing the customer journey as a whole. According to the consultants, "Performance on journeys is 30 percent to 40 percent more strongly correlated with customer satisfaction than performance on touchpoint is -- and 20 percent to 30 percent more strongly correlated with business outcomes, such as high revenue, repeat purchase, low customer churn, and positive word of mouth."

Company after company is underwhelming its customers and leaving money on the table because they don't make the most of opportunities to create great customer experience as well as great products. The selling of products is heavily influenced by the experiences and services that surround it, whether those are Web pages, apps, credit card processing, retail display, after-sales service or even the outfits sales people wear.

Apple gets this - and so does Warby Parker, which took care to put just the right amount of spring in its eyeglass cases, as co-CEO and co-founder Neil Blumenthal told us. So does Dunkin' Donuts, which makes sure that its food can be easily consumed while driving (yes, that's why Munchkins are put in cups that fit into cup holders).

Emotional Connection

Products or services that have or seek a strong emotional connection to customers need to be especially alert to the impact of value-chain partners on the experience they want customers to have. For manufacturers and their customers, shopping and technical support are emotional as well as practical considerations.

The connection works the other way, too, from service to product. When a restaurant says it uses Niman Ranch beef or pork, it is using a product attribute to validate its service excellence. The Finest Carrier, a Southern California company that specializes in transporting classic, antique, and racing cars, assures customers, "We use only the finest equipment."

The two lessons: Consumers pay to experience the whole play, not just your role in it or one scene in the second act; and manufacturers have just as much to lose -- or win -- from service design and delivery as do services companies themselves. A manufacturer that adds services without understanding the economics, organization, and design requirements has upped the number of ways it can disappoint customers and shareholders alike.

Published on: Sep 27, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.