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‘World building’ through Service Design

by Ernez Dhondy

Star wars character
I had a moment recently after watching Rogue One.

No, it wasn’t one of sheer delight thanks to the 120min of cinematic bliss I’d just experienced. It was one of admiration and awe in Disney’s meticulous planning and ability to link seemingly nuanced events in Rogue One to the wider Star Wars universe.

In modern film making this is no longer a novel idea. ‘World building’ has become somewhat of an obsession for Hollywood with countless movies now offering narrative threads that intertwine characters, plots or settings for the next film in the series. Just look at what the Marvel’s The Avengers was able to achieve with nothing more than five minutes of post credits screen time. It’s bold, adventurous and the movie’s self-referential style gives movie buffs a new reason to engage.

So, am I talking to you about movies or design?

Well, when I think about what an ‘omni-channel experience’ may look like, I find myself using Hollywood’s world building concept as a useful allegory.

The Service Design discipline is largely focused on blending the brand experience across any touchpoint by mapping a customer’s journey across each. In the modern age, the customer’s journey is complicated by the adoption of new technologies aiding their ability to self-service, and increasing the pressure they place on brands to provide instant gratification. Because of this the customer’s journey is more varied and unpredictable.

Creating an engaging, unique or even useful experience across any touchpoint is no longer enough. Instead we need to invest in building a unified ecosystem, a ‘world’ within which a brand places the user at its center and empowers them to self-service regardless of how they choose to do this. For marketers, designers and technologists this is the nirvana of the experience age. But for most it is realistically a long way off being actualized.

What do we do in the mean time?

We need to begin investing in building and then orchestrating these interconnected worlds. That starts by designing customer touchpoints that are generally more aware of one another (i.e. those touchpoints they share their world with). Better yet they need an almost symbiotic relationship - one where services and channels begin to combine to create more value for the customer.

The flagship Amazon tablet, The Echo, has a ‘mayday’ function which is the perfect example of orcheastrated touchpoints working together. The product is self-aware enough to know that when using it, a user is likely to encounter a problem which it is not equipped to handle, and instead directs the user to a more appropriate channel. I.e. face to face with a customer service representative. The approach is simple. Not to mention for 99 per cent of us it’s preferable to reading through layer upon layer of FAQs, or having to wait for an email response to a query. The beauty of the mayday function is that it is really just a better utilisation of an existing channel crafted to resemble an exemplary service experience. This sort of efficiency allows us to build leaner products and services that are better equipped to perform the task at hand and worry less about tertiary requirements. 

 As users bounce around from channel to channel we must strive for a certain consistency across touchpoints. I am not just talking about an aesthetic consistency here either (although that is an essential element), we must look for consistency in the functions, form, interactions, language and tone. Recently Marvel has been criticized for taking an almost cookie cutter approach to storytelling, but this criticism hasn’t resulted in decline of viewership for their product. The fact remains that when you see a Marvel film you know what to expect, the brand is reinforced through consistency and the fact that each film serves to build out their wider universe. As designers, I truly believe there is a lot we can borrow from Marvel’s ability to create products that re-enforce both the brand, as well as each other’s purpose. 

 For those of us only starting to plan our ‘world building’ strategies for our products and services, my advice is to start simple:

  • Audit the touchpoints, identify where existing overlaps in service may occur.
  • Plan for how these touchpoints can do a better job of utilising each other expertise or better yet combine these services to provide a service hybrid of some sort.
  • Begin to tweak and edit these touchpoints so they have a consistency in look and tone. Make them feel like they are part of the same world.

Start small but have a vision for what the end game is going to look like. Be ambitious, aim to create a fully integrated, well-orchestrated world of digital products and services working asynchronously together to provide additional value for your customer.

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