2020: A new decade of service

I hope we’ve left The Experience Economy behind. I’m tired of Customer and Employee Experience. It was good while it lasted, in that it renewed everyone’s focus on the importance of the customer and the employee in any service. But the outcome of a decade of experience programmes has been some cosmetic change, but not much real change. The deckchairs on many liners have been rearranged to look nicer for everyone, but many of the boats are still sinking. Some years I look back and wonder “how much of what I’ve delivered is just providing palliative care for dying businesses?” A UX or CX programme won’t save a business, any more than a facelift can save the prospects of an ageing starlet. What we need is to go deeper.

I want the 2020s to be the Decade of Service. Why? Because I believe service is what we all want as people, and what will lead to more sustainable growth across the board – for us as individuals to grow and for the organisations we all work in to grow for us.

Service is the element that connects customer experience and employee experience. You can’t have a happy customer without having a happy provider. A sustainable service will fail if it doesn’t achieve this balance – either providers will stop providing or customers will stop consuming. I firmly believe the gig economy will fail in due course because of this – though it might take a regulator to regulate – another service which is failing in its duty to protect us. I also believe that no amount of technology, AI or digital transformation will guarantee success for an organisation without a strong spirit of service in the team that designs, creates and maintains that organisation (from strategy down to delivery).

Nasa janitor, on being asked by JFK what he did

Service provides the integrity within any value exchange, because it’s inspired by people serving one another. And people want to help each another. It’s hard wired into us. We respond in amazing ways to service. Agile collaboration, done well, becomes a form of internal service, where people self-organise in service of a common mission. Leadership, done well, is done from a point of view of leaders serving those who serve the customers.

The moment we’re born, we get eye contact, a smile, a hug, some food. Our parents look after us for the first years of our lives. They serve our every need. When they themselves grow old and frail we serve them. This is how it’s worked for millenia. From this has evolved a deep instinct to serve one another. At first in the nuclear family unit, but then more broadly, within the tribe. An instinct to serve evolved into a system of service. Over many years to barter and to commerce. Along the way people have chosen to serve some pretty ugly causes, but the bulk of people serve one another – in families, teams, organisations, services – with empathy, generosity and compassion. This is the perennial instinct to serve. And over the past couple of years researching service, I’ve found considerable research showing that serving others makes us healthier and happier, whilst not doing it makes us unhealthy and unhappy.

We now live in an era where services are all around us. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep, they wrap our every moment. We barely notice them – like a new, invisible element. But how many of them can we really say look after us? How many get beyond the transactional day-to-day, to achieve a solid and sustained relationship with us over time? Again, I’d say very few.

Banks are okay at moving money around, but are proving incapable of helping us stay on top of our money. Parliament is okay at managing the country, but has proved pretty incapable of providing coherent leadership, with anything close to a statesmanlike integrity. In so many areas, established services aren’t serving us very well.

We’ve become complacent about service, let so much drift and, as a result, now undervalue what it means and its importance. Which is ironic given we all spend so much time working in or for services, the dominant economic form of our era. Humility, giving, integrity, generosity – these words are lost in a world of services where rabid focus on satisfying the customer’s experience is done at the expense of the employee’s experience (I get a super fast delivery whilst the gig economy worker gets no job security, and simultaneously no public service leader is able to convince us that this is unfair and worth fixing).

We’re at the dawn of 2020, after so much service transformation, and so little genuine serving is going on. Lots of ‘customer service’, but that’s where you end up when the service fails, so it doesn’t count.

We need to define service anew and understand it afresh.

We need a Decade of Service to reconnect services with service and serving:

Services: the organisations and institutions we’ve created to provide service to one another, sometimes for a profit. Often they’re built and managed according to a factory-based, product-centred logic entirely unfit for our modern services economy.

Service: the element that drives activity between customers and employees – an exchange of value that happens countless times a minute. Service is undermined by managerialism, and its relentless yet failed focus on targets at the expense of outcomes.

Serving: what people do for each other, as an instinct, and so often as a workaround in the services they use. I’ve lost count of how many times research has revealed customers and employees creatively circumnavigating the work of managers to successfully give and receive service.

By better understanding service – what it is and how it works – it is my hope that we’ll become better shapers and maintainers of our services, and, thereby, each other.

People will say that it’s naive. That people don’t want a life of service. To which I’d say, that misunderstands what I’m talking about. The instinct I’m tapping into is poorly articulated by our latin-based word, which is rooted in servitude and slavery, and more akin to the Sanskrit word, Seva, meaning selfless service. In every project I do, I have techniques to get the team to tap into this instinct. Triggering a sense of service is at the core of any turnaround in any service, and makes sure you get beyond “CX blah”…

Because we really need better services right now, to help us all progress in life. Much more than we need better gig-economy-era customer experiences. And we REALLY need those services to serve what really matters – to help us co-exist and progress together, on a planet of finite resources. We need to find ways to look after one another, and the planet we live on, whilst turning enough of a profit to keep the lights on.

As I start my first day back to work in the new decade – this is my wish.

More to follow…

2 thoughts on “2020: A new decade of service”

  1. Hi there, great post about going deeper into service design. In my work I completely agree that service can be designed inherently itself, with and for the people who are in it, driven by the purpose created by the customers. Whilst there is nothing wrong with Digital service design, and design at the level of interactions, far more is possible, and we must explore this. Time and time again the outcomes have shown that what is possible is fundamental change for those staff in the service, the managers, and obviously the customers. If done well, it can herald the start of true transformation to new forms of management, teamwork and personal fulfilment.
    I agree with you, it should be a focus for the next decade.

  2. Pingback: The nature of service and how we've grown up with a service economy which is now finding it very hard to actually serve customers - Interview with Joel Bailey of EY Seren | Adrian Swinscoe

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *