We've been writing about service design for a month now (happy anniversary to us!) so we thought it was time we introduced ourselves, explained how we each and together got interested in service design, and why we think service design is the most important strategic tool most companies -- large and small, established and startup -- haven't heard of.

Service design is what you do so your customers get the experience you want them to have - -every time. Companies that get the ideas behind service design -- think Nordstrom, Uber, Ikea, Stitch Fix -- aren't necessarily thinking about what they do to provide superior customer experience as "service design." It empowers companies to deliver, on their own terms, the reliability, robustness, elegance, and effectiveness that have been associated with manufacturing.

The Bulk of the Economy

For too long, service businesses -- now 80 percent of the U.S. economy -- have been applying the principles of industrial and product design.

This is flawed because services are fundamentally different from products. Services require the active and simultaneous participation of both parties, effectively making them acts of collaboration and co-creation.

Three critical ideas in our definition of services propel it to the realm of strategy -- beyond branding, marketing, customer service, and all other ancillary aspects.

  • Service design is proactive, not reactive, involving choices, actions, and consequences.
  • Service design starts with delivering on your promise to customers in accordance with your strategy, rather than acceding to everything a customer asks.
  • Service design creates consistency, and consistency is no accident.

We come to this subject with complementary areas of interest and experience. We've each written other business books and are former journalists who have worked with, studied, written about, and advised senior leaders. Tom has been a C-suite executive in a professional services firm; since leaving BusinessWeek (now Bloomberg BusinessWeek), Patricia has had her own consultancy, guiding senior leaders about messaging, content, and services. Management, leadership, and strategy are areas we're knowledgeable and passionate about. Yet service design was fresh territory for us to explore.

Smarter. Not Quicker

For Patricia, finding out about service design, through work she was doing with the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) was truly a Eureka moment. She's one of those people who is always trying to figure out not the quickest way to get from A to B, but the smartest way -- because she's always convinced there is a better way.

She instinctively assesses a situation through that prism and starts breaking it down and reassembling the pieces. Discovering there was a nascent field of study devoted to this whetted her appetite, and she found it was a logical extension of the work she did in the New York Times best-selling book How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things: Breaking The Eight Hidden Barriers That Plague Even the Best Businesses. She wanted to take service design beyond the classroom and the team room and bring it to the corner office and the boardroom.

For Tom, Woo, Wow, and Win represents the culmination of a journey that began when he was a member of the board of editors of Fortune magazine. In a series of Fortune articles and in two books, Tom pioneered the field of intellectual capital. Companies' intellectual capital includes the value of their relationships with customers, along with human capital, intellectual property, brand equity, and the like.

Through his career at Fortune and later as the editor and managing director of Harvard Business Review, Tom continued to advance the thinking around intellectual capital and its components. As chief Marketing and Knowledge Officer of Booz & Company, he helped develop the "Capabilities Driven Strategy" theory, which grounds this thinking in very practical ways.

Customer Capital

A chance meeting and quick conversation at a professional event led to friendship and a realization that together we could discover and develop some exciting, practical, and valuable ideas for companies and businesses. In talking to Patricia about service design, Tom had his own Eureka moment. He recognized that customer capital is even more important in services than it is for product companies, because of the collaboration and co-creation that are the essence of services.

We developed a framework and a toolkit that enables leaders to find that better, smarter way to connect with customers and create experiences that delight them -- and generate genuine value for company and customer alike.

Companies need to understand and embrace what makes services different: Services are experiences; experiences are journeys, and journeys are designed. For us, embarking on this journey of discovery about service design has been exciting and enlightening, and we're thrilled to have the chance to share what we've learned and discovered with you. And we hope you'll share what you've learned with your team, your customers, and with us.