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Service Design for Capital Goods Producers June 22, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in service design.
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In Germany, we have a wonderful inspiring, non-macho business magazine called brandeins. In their last issue they featured an example for service design for capital goods producer (Investitionsgüterhersteller): they describe the example of a medium-size company called Zwick/Roel AG, which produces mainly specialized measuring devices.

So far, Zwick/Roel terminated their relationship with their customers after selling their product to them. Today, after designing their service offering, more than 70 % of the customer sign long term service agreements in the moment of purchasing the product.

There are a couple of interesting insights in this article:

First of all the fact that a producer of machines changes his self-image from a “manufacturer with additional service offerings” (“dienstleistender Hersteller”) to “service company with attached manufacturing” (“herstellender Dienstleister”). This is a huge shift – but also an important one: It leads to a more holistic product development and a closer relationship with the customers – and through this to a better situation in the market and new forms of income.
The final quote in the article is a nice illustration of the service design concept:
“Ein Mann geht in den Baumarkt und kauft eine Bohrmaschine. Dabei will er nur ein Loch in der Wand haben. Vielleicht denken wir noch zu viel an die Maschine.” (” A man goes into the hardware store and buys a power drill. But all he really wants is a hole in the wall. Maybe we have been thinking too much about the power drill in the past.”)

Then I learned about the Fraunhofer IAO, which offer “service engineering” to its clients. Fraunhofer is Germany’s biggest research organisation; actually my colleague Frank Heidmann was working with them. They have a department called “ServLab“, which describes its offering as follows:

“As a holistic platform, the ServLab is not only used to develop and design new and innovative services, but also offers a wide range of modern methods, techniques and technologies for testing, modelling and simulating these services in a realistic context.”

I think the idea of testing services is really interesting. As a designer I strongly believe in prototyping any design and then evaluating it. One way of doing this is to work with what ServLab calls “Unternehmenstheater” (“company theatre”) : to stage this experience in a role play. We at my University and at IxDS have been doing this approach for many years and find it extremely helpful, fast and cheap – it is kind of the equivalent of paper prototyping, but for services. I like to use this method not only to test but also in the creative process as suggested by Jane Fulton Suri and Marion Buchenau (they call this method “body storming” in their paper “Experience Prototyping“, Proceedings of DIS’00, 2000)


(image source)
One of ServLabs’s other heavily advertised methods for such testing of services is to do this in VR.


(image source)

Sounds to me like a lot of effort for little insight. Technically they are using Second Life for the service modeling and they argue that this method is “cheap, fast and globally accessible” and furthermore provides a “high social touch”.
One of the application for VR is to find out where the check-in-desk should be positioned within a hotel lobby. While I follow this one, the other case, where they claim to additionally use VR avatars instead of actors, I am not convinced: Is it really cheaper than doing lowfi testing through role plays?
(Unfortunately all scientific publications by Fraunhofer related to this topic are with costs – so I cannot really find out more about how they evaluate the deployment of VR in service design…)

Sumarizing, I think that the community needs to develop more strategies to test services. We at IxDS are currently developing a generic enviroment to test location-based services in real life. I will keep you updated…

The described project was part of a publicly funded research project called “Services Made in Germany“. I requested their final publication – please stay tuned…

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