Wendy Stephens’ young daughter left her teddy bear at one of the parks or at their hotel inside Disney World Resort in Florida. This can spoil a memory of a Disney experience for a young one, including this seven-year-old.

When they realized the precious stuffed animal was left behind, the Stephens’ placed an urgent call to Disney’s toy rescue hotline. From there, word spread across the parks, alerting hosts, characters, totaling a possible 70,000 staff, to fan out across the 1,100 acres of the world’s largest theme park resort. This kind of human tsunami is what goes on behind the scenes to make visitors’ happy, no matter their age. Not to make them satisfied, but to make them happy.

Disney’s business model revolves around a service concept for making people happy. A service concept is not a slogan, nor is it clever branding, it’s much more; it is an organization’s purpose, the reason for its existence, a compass heading for goal-setting, and a parameter setting for innovation. The service concept is partly why employees work for an organization. It sets the tone and cadence for the organization, helping establish norms for culture, including how staff should interact with others, such as customers and stakeholders. At the same time, everyone connected to the organization is responsible for maintaining its service concept, particularly service designers who are on the front lines of an organization’s offering.

The Disney service concept-making people happy-is the focus of everything the company produces, from the design of its parks and rides, to the conduct of its people, and to all the other familiar products and services Disney offers. Other consumer-based companies have adopted service concepts into their businesses, including Southwest Airlines, whose service concept is spreading love; Starbucks, whose focus is to merge with customers’ lifestyles; and Ikea’s, achieving savings for those willing to complete the set-up on their own.

For service designers, a service concept provides a framework to ensure that service creations, improvements-and the resulting experiences-mesh with the organization’s DNA. Therefore, it seems logical that service designers have a central role, including creating an organization’s service concept if none exists.

Academics describe a service concept as an image in the mind. When the image is distilled into few words, the notion can be more easily transferred through broad communications (touchpoints, branding, scripts, talking points and the like) and through service delivery. In this way, designers can achieve successful services by satisfying the needs of their organizations while meeting users’ expectations, i.e. the substance of quality services.

Developing a Service Concept

Service designers are inherently leaders, which we at the International Service Design Institute firmly believe. Their role in shepherding services from idea to design, and to implementation and later improvement requires leadership skills and abilities. Further, we offer the following template as a guide for service designers’ to help lead a service concept workshop.

Academics describe a service concept as an image in the mind.  When the image is distilled into few words, the notion can be more easily transferred through broad communications (touchpoints, branding, scripts, talking points and the like) and through service delivery.  In this way, designers can achieve successful services because they satisfy the needs of their organizations and meet users’ expectations, I.e. the substance of quality services.

Developing a Service Concept

Service designers are inherently leaders, which we at the International Service Design Institute firmly believe. Their role in shepherding services from idea to design, and to implementation and later improvement requires leadership skills and abilities. Further, we offer the following template as a guide for service designers’ to help lead a service concept workshop.

Requirements of a Service Concept

  1. It needs to sum up of the organization’s purpose (for startups, the service concept can be aspirational).
  2. It has to have a meaning that is easily understood and jibes with the organization’s existing activities.
  3. Is credible and feasible.
  4. Is appropriate and relevant throughout organization.
  5. Can be lasting—able to withstand environmental factors for change.

Who knows how long Disney’s service concept has been in place, perhaps it goes back to its original creator, Walt Disney. No matter, the idea has been studied and practiced over decades as an empirical tool for organization growth and stability.

And as for the Stephens’ little girl, less than 36 hours after the initial alarm, she found her teddy bear on her doorstep. It arrived by priority mail, carefully packaged and wrapped. Inside was her teddy bear nestled inside a padded box with the note: I missed you!

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