My daughter came to a complete stop in heavy traffic recently on a jammed interstate highway when a white van slammed into her 2023 Subaru SUV from behind.  The impact caused her car to rise up several inches, dislodging the bumper and carrying her car forward several feet into the stationary vehicle in front.  A visual inspection revealed her plastic bumpers were cracked.  Other than that the car appeared drivable, even the airbags didn’t deploy.  What she didn’t see right away, however, was significant damage to the engine mounts plus mangled pipes, hoses, and a manifold below the passenger cabin.

The driver in the white van jumped out right away and asked if everyone was okay, then admitting fault he allowed the other drivers to take cell phone pictures of his license, registration, and insurance card.  While this exchange took place a state officer pulled up and wrote an incident report, tearing off copies of a printed stub with a police document number for the drivers to include with their insurance claims.

Like all accidents, it could have been a lot worse.  Besides being unharmed due to the car’s safety features, she was able to drive home.

Putting all that aside, two months later her car was finally repaired through a process that demonstrated how service design helps connect separate services, creates efficiencies, and yields results for providers and users within hours or less.

Service design, a field of practice like industrial design and product design, is used to transform services into user-fulfilled experiences.  Like ordering a hamburger at a drive-thru restaurant and then paying around the other side, finally getting your order handed to you prepared just the way you intended.

Many service providers are now using service design principles to garner ‘user loyalty’ as part of an organizational sustainability strategy (long-term viability).  Moreover, the field of service design can improve service efficiencies by satisfying the needs of users (customers).  Service designers, meanwhile, are skilled at piecing together separate components into functioning services.  Most don’t realize services make up nearly 80% of the world’s economies, way ahead of manufacturing and agriculture economic sectors.

My daughter’s car repair process, initially was quite frustrating due to the difficulty of getting on what could best be described as a virtual conveyor belt.  As with most insurance companies we have dealt with over decades. . .  delay, delay hoping the claimant simply disappears so they don’t have to pay out claims.  Erg.  Our solution this time was to contact our insurance company to force the process.

When the process began rolling along, after weeks, every aspect was carefully scripted for seamless coordination.  For instance, their insurance company coordinated an estimate for repairs through photographs.  That in turn generated a recommendation the car was no longer drivable, which set in motion a rental car service at no cost.

Each provider within service experience – the driver’s insurance company, our insurance company, the automobile repair shop, the car rental agency, and even the state police – became connected by service design in ways that allowed monitoring the repairs, keeping track of the costs, and managing unexpected occurrences including hidden damage and unforeseen delays.  Throughout the process, each new input from any of the providers was logged into a central database and also passed along to providers electronically for them to meet their obligations and resolve the needs of my daughter, the user.  As for the database, should my daughter decide to sell the car, any prospective buyer will have public access to that car’s record of damages and repairs.

The upshot of the entire experience was my daughter, the user, did not need involvement in a system that ultimately delivered the intended results that she found satisfactory – the requirements of a successful service outcome.  In the not-too-distant past, before the inclusion of service design principles, a user had far greater responsibilities for managing and coordinating the entire process, often left alone to navigate unforeseen circumstances and to negotiate services, and fees from unexpected costs and reimbursements.

For providers, service design principles help prevent aspects of the user’s experience from failing, as with not experiencing the desired outcome.  That kind of experience will quickly turn users away from using the service provider in the future.

In this case, with the success of how the accident and repair fulfilled my daughter’s needs, I’m left wondering what other services around us that we often use could be improved with service design.

Courtesy of the International Service Design Institute. 
A career-building organization for service designers.