Who's gonna design retail's digital future?

Over the last couple of years, the main uses of our digital devices have changed drastically. Where before we would check our social accounts, read the news, check the weather or take photos of our everyday lives, we now use them for almost all our daily, weekly or monthly life tasks.

Who's gonna design retail's digital future?

When the viral troubles began, retailers that would be classed as digital laggards, really felt that initial pinch as they had no products, plans or processes in place to deal with the biggest global upheaval we have faced in these modern digital times.

We can just imagine the c-suites of these businesses bunched in a room in ‘Fire Fighting’ mode, all stressed out and wondering how they can ideate, build, test and roll out solutions at a rate that has never been required before. It was bad enough for those that were already digital first or engaged in digital transformation, as supply chains were decimated, costs of delivery and cost of sale went into outer space.

While we could spew out facts and figures about this incredible rate of adoption, we want to look through the business lens. How can businesses quickly assess a problem, considering all the moving parts involved and offer sane, pragmatic, and achievable products or services?  

Enter the cavalry, the special ones that can distill huge problems, break them down into sensible and considered outcomes and deliver real world, practical solutions… yep that’s right, the Service Designers.

So, who are these special people and what do they do?

Megan Erin Miller, beautifully lays out her versions of service designers in her blog“How many service designers does it take to define service design” she writes,

“Service Design is about helping your business to create strong bonds and relationships with the people you want to serve, moving away from the transactional make and sell mindset and closer to a relational way of doing business. It’s about putting people first, but in a way, it fits this service economy.” How cool is that!

As with ‘Design Thinking’ this is not a new thing by any stretch of the imagination. Even when Lynn Shostack coined the term in 1982 it was just a name placed on a natural part of human existence, to innovate, refine and solve problems.

Ohhh! don’t get too deep we hear you shouting! Don’t worry we will keep it light, we are not discounting the term or the discipline, it is essential for any business that wants to stay ahead of the competition and provide a great customer experience.

I mean, without service design, how would businesses know what services to offer or how to offer, and deliver them? How would they know how to make their businesses more efficient and more relevant? What self-service options to provide? How would they train their employees? The list goes on and on.

One of our colleagues and coach to several of our bootcamps, Clara Llamas was recently on The Service Design Show, where she tells her story, how she moved toward the discipline and the experiences she has had to date. It is an open and inspiring chat which you should take a few minutes to watch.

In essence, service design improves our experiences with, well basically everything! As an employee, a boss, a customer, a user we use things that thankfully, behind the scenes, are iterated and made better by service designers. They make things work, work again, or work better and all through the eyes of you, we, us, the customer!

When we talk about “Customer Missions” or “Jobs to be done”, these are their lifeblood. Without understanding the purpose of, and desired outcome of the customers mission or job to be done we are just guessing! More worryingly than guesswork, we end up working toward the desired “business goals” or outcomes, and that is the wrong place to be in!

Imagine where Nike would be if their business goal was to drastically reduce costs, and they decided that due to cost of R&D, production, and sales they were only going to produce clogs and the potential customers would have to just accept it. Hmmm not so cool!

It reminds me of the inception of New Balance trainers, now a global business with 4Bn+ yearly turnover. They began life in 1906 as an arch support and orthopaedic shoe company. They were providing a solution to a big problem with support within shoes at that time. They were later adopted by athletes who expressed an interest in buying custom made shoes rather than just the insoles. They developed and succeeded massively due to their customer focus and listening to what the customer wanted. No fads, and business desires did not force any outcomes on production or product development, just a sympathetic ear to the customer.  

So, when we think about the future of anything, it has digital in the process somewhere. Thinking about retail especially, we can see that without the input and expertise of Service Designers the decisions that will be made may be extremely costly and damaging for many businesses that do not appreciate the customer perspective.

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