Service Design: What’s a website’s role?

Meg Davis  

November 17, 2010

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Our economy has been continuously moving toward services instead of products. According to EconomyWatch, ‘every product has a service value attached to it.’ The Starbucks revolution offers coffee drinkers an experience of great service with the end product of basically regular coffee. So it doesn’t come as a surprise here at Extractable that we see our clients also wanting to be service-oriented. Having the best service for products is the new differentiator between competitors. More and more, we are seeing companies titling the primary navigation of their website with ‘Solutions’ and ‘Products and Services’ instead of just ‘Products’.

So what can the dynamic medium of the Internet offer to the service revolution? How can usable and engaging websites be successful stewards of this service economy?

Before we dig deep into the design of websites, let’s step back and review how design as a field has responded to the service economy. Have you ever heard of ‘service design’? This emerging field focuses on how to purposefully construct the contact a customer has with a company so that the customer has the best service. Service design encompasses all the encounters between employees and customers, customers and technology, and technology and employees [Gutierriez, C. (2010). 'Service Design: A Systematic Approach.' Master's thesis in interaction design, Carnegie Mellon University.]. With this in mind, we can view a company’s website as one of the encounters that the customer has with the company.

Much of the time, the website is the first encounter a customer has with the company. The old adage ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’ holds true here. So much of the time we are so concerned with how our site will provide interactions between its own pages that we forget the larger picture – that our site is one part of the customer’s experience with the company.

Here are some tips to consider when designing a website. They focus on thinking about a customer’s holistic service experience with a company:

Conversational Interaction

At the center of service, there is an interaction between two parties. Websites should feel alive and interactive. Websites should engage the user in a ‘conversation’ about what the company does and the services it offers. Sometimes websites just have to engage prospective customers long enough to get customers to call up a company salesperson. Put calls to action on the homepage to help introduce customers and direct them into the website. Embed interactive sections of the website where it makes sense – in places where static representations don’t do the content justice. An example of this would be a return on investment calculator that starts a conversation about cost and value with a customer that can be continued with a salesperson down the line.

The Right Names

The importance of nomenclature on websites is increasing. First, customers have to be able to find the website as a touchpoint and begin a conversation with it. This means the website must match what customers are searching for on search engines. What do your customers call the service you are marketing? The difference between ‘backup’ and ‘hard drive’ might cost you a customer if the customer’s search results don’t return your company. Once a customer is on the website, he must be able to find what he is looking for. If you have a myriad of different customers on a website, use different paths with specialized language to help direct them to the content they’re most interested in. Another important point about the nomenclature is talking internally with the sales team. The sales team is a later touchpoint for the customer in service design, and it is best to keep the communication with the customer consistent. How does the sales team talk to customers? What buzz words do they use?

Personalization

Just as sales people spend time talking with each stakeholder about his individual needs, the website needs to speak to the different kind of prospective customers and stakeholders. With upcoming technology in personalization, there is no excuse for not delivering the most compelling messages to users upfront. We know more than ever about who is coming to our websites. Segmentation of the users can bring clarity to analytics as prospective customers, existing customers, and investors are all interested in different information.

What Makes Sense to Serve Up

Remember that the website is one touchpoint for customers that might be at the beginning of their journey or scattered throughout. As much as possible, characterize the sales process and what kind of content prospective customers are interested in. It is ok for the website not to include every piece of marketing information. Rather, deliver the right information at the right time. If the research shows that prospective customers look at the product section on their first visit and want to see more about the company on their second visit, surface teaser company content on their second visit.

These tips will remind you to think of the website as a step along the customer’s journey with the company. I’ll leave you with one more thought.

Is there more that web technology can do to transition the customer to the next touchpoint? We are already using customer data from websites to qualify leads. Many companies monitor what pages a user goes through in order to qualify them as leads. Can we pass on this data to the sales team so that they know exactly where to start with the customer? Can we reveal to the sales team the information the customer is most interested in?