Eight years after the first Service Design Network conference debuted in Amsterdam, we returned to the city of canals, bikes, and bitterballen to host our ninth annual conference. Since that first conference, we’ve certainly come a long way. Attendance has grown from 220 that first year to 650 this year. And we had two full days of speakers and workshops, as well as an additional members day program and some master classes.

I gave a talk on members day about my experience going from service design consulting to doing the work in house at Capital One. We had more than 300 attendees at members day. Despite it now being two years since Adaptive Path was acquired by Capital One, people still don’t understand what that means. The most frequent question I get is are we still working with other clients, followed by are we planning to expand to Asia or Europe. The answer is no, because Adaptive Path as a company no longer exists. It is a team within Capital One. Everyone at Adaptive Path is a Capital One employee. Now that that’s clear, let’s move on.

Here are my big takeaways from the conference.

We design for the experience savvy person.
–Holger Hampf, BMW

A number of traditionally product oriented companies, like BMW, signaled that services are the future, and they’re trying to make the transition. I liked Hampf’s articulation of the “experience savvy person.” It’s true. People are more experience savvy. The bar is higher. And it really doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, the general expectation is the experience should be seamless, well considered, and maybe even delightful.

Think about value, not the product.
–Birgit Mager, President, SDN

This is maybe an extension of the shift from product to experience. But most companies still struggle with this one. We have product managers and product designers. Collectively, the world is very product oriented, likely a holdover from industrialization. Focusing on value will free you up to deliver in many ways, one of which may be a product, but maybe not.

A viable service is useless if it is not valuable.
–Harald Lamberts, Essense

Speaking of value, this statement supports a broader reaction to the bastardization of minimum viable product, or MVP. Again, organizations focus too much on speed over value and quality.

Start small, then learn. Not launch early and fix.
–Harald Lamberts.

Yes, yes, yes.

While I was thinking strategy, everyone else was shipping.
–Katie Koch, Spotify

Service design, design thinking, lean, and agile are all competing for attention in organizations. Many organizations have taken an extreme and perhaps inaccurate view on agile to simply mean shipping with speed. This interpretation can be at odds with service design’s more systemic and problem-framing centric approaches. So I loved this sentiment by Koch. We need to find a way for these various approaches to complement each other. I for one do not believe every required activity to produce great experiences fits into a sprint.

The magic of service design is the process.
–Judy Mellett, TELUS & Chris Ferguson, Bridgeable

If you’re having difficulty selling service design, this is why. I might change this statement slightly to: The magic of service design is the experience of the process. Only after has someone gone through the experience of service design (not just a workshop or even multi-day training) do they truly understand the power and the value.

Pair a service designer with a customer journey manager.
–Paul Mutsaers & Anna-Louisa Peeters, Rabobank.

As the field matures, we’re seeing experimentation in the way we organize. Should a service design team be independent or imbedded? Do we need service managers like we have product managers? Customer journey managers? Service Experience Officers? What does a modern service experience focused team look like?

With the right tools, people will solve the problem themselves.
–Johannes Landstorfer, IXDS

The need for service design is great, and the supply of service designers is small. To scale quickly, we will need to empower others to do the work themselves. Some of the basic service design tools, like journey maps and service blueprints, are simple enough to grasp (of course mastery is another thing). Studies continue to show autonomy to solve problems improves job satisfaction and increases productivity. Service design tools and autonomy to solve problems, may go a long way to creating better services.

If your service always works, your NPS won’t go up.
–Rene Frijters, KNAB

If you’re not familiar with Daniel Kahneman’s Peak-end Rule, go look it up. It’s a great reminder that maximizing every moment of the experience is not the goal (this is why measuring individual touchpoints without greater context can be counterproductive). Frijters’ point complements Kahneman’s theory. Does this mean you should introduce friction in your experience? I’ll let you decide. But solving a problem for a customer creates higher NPS and brand loyalty.

It’s all moving from the front stage to the backstage.
–Birgit Mager, President, SDN

Yes it is. Service design is a full organization sport. It’s not just customer research and creating a vision. It’s including everything and everyone in the backstage, both in the process and the execution. For a long time, the community has been focused on the experience. We are evolving to realize the importance of the organizational structure, culture, processes, and employee experience on delivering a great service experience. There is much work to be done here.

The first customer is the organization.
–Paula Bello, Kone

Agreed. Understanding customer experience and needs can be relatively easy compared to wrangling the organizational forces required to deliver experiences to those customers. Spend time empathizing with the business, employees, and various non-customer stakeholders.

Evolution of the Practice

Lastly, I want to acknowledge that the definition of service design continues to evolve, as well as how we do it and with whom. Each year marks a leap in our capabilities, perspective, and the practice of service design. During her talk, Birgit Mager gave a nod to this by highlighting how her definition of service design has changed over the years.

“Service design creates services that are useful, usable, and desirable from the customer perspective and efficient, effective, and different from a provide perspective.” –2004

“Service design choreographs processes, technologies, and interactions within complex systems in order to co-create value for relevant stakeholders.” –2010

As we close out 2016 and move into another year, I expect we will continue to question, refine, and evolve this practice we’ve grown to call service design.