Why Seth Godin's Service Design Tips Miss The Mark

In Seth Godin’s recent post, "Who’s responsible for service design?" he points out several service issues with questions like, “How many people should be answering the phone at Zappos.com on a Saturday? What’s Southwest Airlines' policy regarding hotel stays and cancelled flights? Should the knobs on the shower at the hotel go side by side or one above the other?” He then goes on to say, “Too often, we blame bad service on the people who actually deliver the service. Sometimes (often) it’s not their fault.”

I’m totally with him up to that point.

But then he goes on to blame two sets of people for service delivery issues: overpaid executives and service designers.  Yes, executives set the direction for customer experience. And yes, there is a growing cadre of service designers in service design firms and in-house design teams. But I’d argue that these professionals are responsible for just a tiny fraction of the service experiences that exist today. Unfortunately, most companies just aren’t aware of the field of service design or the value it brings, so they haven't hired service designers to assist with customer experience efforts.

In addition, I believe it’s the decisions and actions of a company’s employees (all of them, not just “overpaid executives”), external partners (all of them, not just design firms), and customers who collectively determine the quality and characteristics of customer interactions. (See my post on the customer experience ecosystem for more details.)

That said, I think the following tips from Seth target the wrong group of people.

Seth’s tip No. 1: Require service designers to sign their work. Who decided to make it the way it is?

My take: Often the people who “decide to make it the way it is” aren’t designers per se, but employees from legal, finance, operations, human resources, or other internally-facing departments and chances are close to nil that their daily decisions get documented in any sort of design deliverable that they can then sign.

Seth’s tip No. 2: Run a customer service audit. Walk through the building or the software or the phone tree with all the designers in the room and call out what’s not right.

My take: A great idea, but unless Seth is using the term “designers” in its broadest sense (to indicate that we’re all designers of the world around us), then this advice falls short. I’d suggest including a cross section of behind-the-scenes employees and external partners in this type of activity.

Seth’s tip No. 3: Make it easy for complaints (and compliments) about each decision to reach the designer (and her boss).

My take: In a large organization, it can take months of digging and analysis to determine the root cause of any given service delivery issue. So instead, I’d suggest routing customer feedback to a centralized voice of the customer team that can then prioritize issues and their corresponding resolutions.

What do you think?  Who “decides to make it the way it is” at your company?


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Webmaster at Joomladesignservices.com


hi William, I'm glad you found the post useful!

Good design solutions are are collabrative eforts

In my experience designers come up with ideas and solutions but the final decision is made by the client. Too often the solution is a compromise which unfortunately might end up not being the best solution.

Therefore the one who really should take the complaint or praise is hard to find - although it seems easier to find someone who is willing to take the praise...:-)

Yup, that's constraints at work

Often what is implemented isn't the ideal, pristine design solution -- but something that fits within the context of technology, operations, policy, culture, and risk constraints. All of the inner workings of the customer experience ecosystem!

Seth and you have different

Seth and you have different point of view.

Seth have the customer point of view.
From this point of view, sure you want the problem to be resolved, but you also wants to give a lesson to the stupid guy at the origin of his frustration... That's a personal fight.
So being treated by centralized voice of the customer team is frustrating... the stupid guy is comfortably hidden behind what you call "the customer team" and "organization".

You have the point of view of the enterprise.
And from this point of view, you want to resolve the problem of the customer, and make the overall system as much cost effective and simple as possible.

But you don't see what matter the most to the customer at this moment: kicking the right ass.

I'm not saying Seth or you is wrong, but this disagreement comes from where you look at "Service design".


I'm very focused on the customer. I want companies to intentionally design experiences that don't irritate customers in the first place.

My point is that it's not always easy for one person -- say a desk clerk or call center agent -- to identify the person who is ultimately responsible for a bad customer experience, especially when that person is buried deep within the organization. But I do think it's the responsibility of customer experience professionals to do this (in a constructive and not an ass-kicking kind of way).

In addition, ALL employees and partners need to be prepared to make customers feel heard, resolve their issues, and then pass on customer feedback to someone who will ensure it gets back to the source.

I think a little civility on all sides can go a long way.

Seth Godin's arguments on service design

I won't preface my comments with "I loved one of Seth's book, Poke the Box" but I guess I just did. Seth's arguments are superficial. His view of "service" and "design" are that of a lay person really. Since Seth is a respected figure, he gets to comment on a very broad range of topics. The stuff he talks about applies to just about anything. It would be harsh to call some of it motherhood and apple pie. So I won't. James Heskett defined the Service-Profit Chain more than a decade ago. What Seth is arguing is nothing new in that sense. It is socialized knowledge with a new masthead.

I've spent that last several months carefully constructing a specially purposed design method and protocol for services. The logic has to be sound. The very concept of what makes a service a service is tricky, thanks to classical economics. I'd never try to apply my protocol for, say, designing software (unless offered as a service) or managing projects. In the end, services are composite products and their production is characterized by peculiar challenges. There is a certain algebra. Let there be new ideas and let them be challenged.