Service culture in action

In December 2013, a man came to the Clarion Hotel Arlanda Airport in Sweden with a special request. He wanted to know whether he could book a room for two on New Year’s Eve; himself and his dog. His dog had a thing about spending New Year in a hotel with champagne and caviar, and getting his paws massaged.

That last sentence is not true. His dog got very stressed because of all the fireworks. No fireworks were allowed around the airport, so the man figured this would be a safe place for his best friend.

The receptionist said: no problem. For some reason, the occupancy rates at airport hotels tend to be low on New Year’s Eve, so she was glad of the extra booking. Then she had a thought: Wouldn’t there be lots of other dogs who would just love to spend New Year’s Eve at a firework-free airport hotel? This was an opportunity. She talked to her management and they agreed. By February 2014, enthusiastic dogs had booked out the entire hotel for the following New Year’s Eve.

This story was told to me by Ida Serneberg, a Senior Digital Consultant, and is a classic example of what happens all the time in a service culture. Service professionals spend most of their day with their customers. In some service organizations, managers are mandated to spend at least 80% of their week with their customers, serving, listening, watching, spotting issues and opportunities, coming up with ideas and then testing these ideas.

If the ideas work, they become new services. And how are such ideas judged to work? Based on how customers are using them. Service design through use. That’s how digital services should be designed. Great digital service designers constantly immerse themselves in the world of their customers.

Customer experience is not about a bunch of smart designers coming up with new experiences. It’s about discovering the experiences that are already out there and designing for them. It’s about the experience that the customer wants to have, not the experience you want them to have.

Customer experience, customer centricity and customer obsession are about putting the customer first. Service design requires humility, openness, deep listening. Service design is NOT about you. You are NOT the customer. In fact, you are often the OPPOSITE of the customer. You know too much. You’ve been on the inside for too long.

If we work for an organization then we must accept that our default culture is organization experience, organization centricity, organization obsession. That’s how you get ahead in a traditional organization who has no history of delivering services. The greatest enemy of future success in today’s customer-empowered world is not the competition but the organization itself.

Years ago, a search analyst at the BBC noticed that when people searched for “planets” on the BBC website, very few were clicking on the search results. Clearly, the results people were getting were not meeting their expectations. The analyst wondered why. Most of the results were for a program about the sea called The Blue Planet. The analysts had a hypothesis. Were people searching for outer space and ending up in the sea? So, he added some solar system results for “planet” searches. Lots of clicks. Success.

Search is a type of macro digital service. That BBC analyst was doing essentially the same thing as the hotel receptionist. Understanding the customer. Meeting an unmet need. That’s service, digital or physical.

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