Service hacks: making use of resourceful customers for service innovation.

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2 min read

Jun 17, 2021

Service design thinking has been growing rapidly the past few years, with the continuous rise of services as a way to deliver benefits to customers. Product design and design thinking have had a big impact on the methodologies and tools of service design. However, one of the biggest differences between products and services is that products get developed by the company and used by the customer, whereas services only exist with the usage of the customer and therefore are coproduced by the customer and the organisation.

Some organisations get frustrated when customers start using their products or services in a way that was unintended. In product design education, this false way of using products is called ‘improper use’ and is generally stated as something that should be prevented by the designer. Product designers try to dictate the usage with design tricks like use cues. But this kind of thinking doesn’t apply on services, as in services customers influence the way benefits are delivered, sometimes in unexpected ways. Use cues don’t really work here.

“Moments where customers use the service in unexpected ways are called ‘service hacks’.”

Moments where customers use the service in unexpected ways are called ‘service hacks’. Although service hacks are not dictated by the company, they do influence the experience of the customer and thus customer satisfaction. The great thing about service hacks is that they are a proven opportunity for service innovation. Customers are finding different ways to use your services, because they have customer needs that remain unaddressed by the service itself.

During customer research around online ordering for a giant retailer, we found multiple customers contacting their neighbours to create a shopping list for the online order. The main reason was the €70 threshold enforced by the retailer. As customers wanted to order fewer products online, they simply combined their shopping lists with neighbours to get to the ordering threshold. By merely identifying this service hack, we identified a great opportunity for service innovation, where our client could facilitate neighbours or friends to order products online together.

A Customer Journey that included ‘service hacks’.

Another service hack occurred during research at a telecom provider. When business customers were in the process of buying new mobile plans for their employees, they were sending out emails to their employees to ask them what their demands and wishes were for a mobile plan. This somewhat devious way to gather the wishes of employees is a tedious task for the customer and could easily be facilitated by a value added service from the telco itself.

Many companies are not aware of service hacks that their customers use, as they are not unveiled through quantitative research data. To identify service hacks you will need to do qualitative customer research, in the form of observational research and executing in-depth interviews. Only then will you find out what customers are actually doing (observations) and why they are doing it (interviews).

“Try not to dictate your customers, try to facilitate them.”

So get out there, look at what your customers are doing and how they are ‘misusing’ your service or getting things done in unexpected ways. Use it as inspiration to improve your service and create new value adding services. Try not to dictate your customers, try to facilitate them.

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