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Integrating Service Design Into Retail Environments

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Digital devices are making our lives easier by the day, almost to the point that we don’t even notice it anymore. Think about it: when you can’t remember your way around a city, GPS navigation is everywhere; when you want to take a note and learn more about an object, Amazon’s Price Check is available at the push of a button to do it for you. The list goes on and on.

The advancements are making retailers scramble to play catch up as consumer expectations grow. The question is quickly becoming how to plan and prioritize digital investments in this ever-changing and complex new world. By engaging all of the stakeholders — designers, managers, planners and leaders throughout the company — retailers are taking control of the experience as they tie the digital to the analog world. Eliciting an increased level of brand loyalty by constructing a seamless integration within a multi-channel environment isn’t our future; it’s our current reality.

In the past, we could afford to design an object or service by itself. Once we built it, we would then rely on the user of that system to cross an information bridge, filling in the missing links on his or her own. Retailers are joining a great legion of service designers using concepts to engage their customers in new ways that take much of the previously required work out of their hands.

This is the chance for retailers and brands to make a new, better and lasting connection with individuals. Using the power of today’s interconnected devices, we are now able to provide an integrated experience system across all touchpoints that delights and provides meaning.

Drafting possible user stories that people can experience when interacting within a store or with a brand is an approach for business stakeholders to get on top of this complexity. It allows retailers to see both the necessary details as well as the big picture. Some of the tools of the service design trade:

  • Customer Journey Maps — Illustrating the arc of engagement as to how end users will engage with the brand or product through all touchpoints.
  • Stakeholder Maps — Identifying, analyzing, planning and engaging the all-encompassing audience — customers, the corporation creating the service, the technical provider and any other providers on the corporate side.
  • Field Ethnography — Understanding the values, interactions and perspective of the end user in how the product will affect its everyday life.
  • Co-Creation — Realizing the value of the end user-company relationship through new forms of service, interaction and learning.
  • Service Blueprints — Linking employee’s contact activities to support functions to see how the service experience is pictured and adding evidence of service for each end user action.

There has not been an expectation for retailers find ways to package complementary items into one unique shopping experience, but there are signs that a shift is taking place. An example: We go to a store and buy a new box spring and mattress. Generally, the expectation has not been to have it packaged with a frame and headboard, sheets, a comforter, pillows, bedside tables and lamps. Until now, retailers haven’t put these items all together in a pre-packaged way, but they’re seeing the utility it creates for customers. Instead of looking for a single product solution, they’re beginning to focus more on the whole system. It’s elevating the customer experience in the process by skipping Point B and taking customers on a journey directly from Point A to Point C.

In an ever-more competitive environment, customers have a desire to be delighted. Sharing a completed task with a friend on a social network is only half as rewarding as sharing delight and excitement about an experience. It is no longer enough for retailers to fulfill a customer’s need. They are in the business of entertaining the customer. In the end, it has turned into finding what will make the strongest connection and many times that means across multiple channels.

Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication is creating autonomous, smart and sometimes even predictive connections among different devices. It is aimed at making the experience as seamless as possible. One way early-adopting retailers are taking advantage is through indoor navigation. Having an app that includes geo-positioning allows retailers to push a coupon or special deal to the consumer as soon as it gets within the confines of a store. In some cases it’s even assisting in the shopping experience as the app can help customers find products by showing it which aisle it can be found in or even allowing for self-checkout while still shopping. The relevance shows through by catering to the physical proximity of the customer, elevating the experience.

Life’s tasks are hectic and multi-faceted. Often we complete the day without knowing exactly what we have accomplished. In all this noise, a strong desire is emerging: people want to find a purpose in their actions and experiences. As technology continues to push the boundary of our imagination, people are expecting it to become reality sooner than later.

Leading designers — both in-house as well as service providers — are skillfully combining the right tools and approaches to design intricate and meaningful retail experiences in interconnected systems. They are taming a complex system by crafting short and long-form stories for the user that relate to their life situations and provide a greater utility than customers have ever seen.

In the past, there were objects to design. Then, designing touchpoints became a focal point. Today, retailers have to design complex systems with smart agents that are location and situation aware. The opportunity is nearly limitless. The bad news? These systems are becoming more complex than ever and it will only continue as consumers demand more and more. The good news? Computational brain power, sensors and connectivity are more available than ever to put powerful tools in our hands.

Now, we just have to design for the long run and start predicting how we will get from point A to point D while we’re at it.

This article was original published on Retail Touchpoints

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