Experience Innovation: How to Think in “Service Ecosystems” to Scope Any Research Challenge or RFP
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Experience Innovation: How to Think in “Service Ecosystems” to Scope Any Research Challenge or RFP

February 27, 2020

Mark Micheli

Kelton's VP of Experience Innovation explains what service ecosystems are, why they matter, and how they can help you think through any research challenge.

Why service ecosystems are important for market research

At the core of every research effort — whether it’s market research or UX research — is inquiry. 

“Inquiry?” you might ask yourself. To which I say… exactly! Great question. Keep it up. 

Inquiry is the art of asking questions, specifically questions that unlock new knowledge. And across careers in journalism, government, innovation, and design… I’ve had a lot of practice thinking about my own approach to asking questions that reveal new insights or innovation opportunities. 

For me, it’s rooted in the flexible rigor of “service ecosystems.”  

New research challenge? Scope it with a service ecosystem mindset

Think back for a moment to the cautionary tale of the Segway — the personal transportation “revolution” that captured the media’s imagination way back at the turn of the century. It was a great product, (some) people wanted it, and it solved real problems — but it tripped over a range of contextual and cultural issues. From the fact that it would be hard (if not unhealthy) to replace walking, to the social stigma associated with riding it, to the fact nobody could figure out how to regulate it (sidewalk vehicle or street vehicle?) — it was a product that was poorly matched to its ecosystem. While Segway was initially envisioned as a consumer product for everyone, it turned out to be much better suited for industry environments (for better or worse, being a mall cop has never been the same). Great product, terrible context. And that’s why service ecosystems matter.

I come to the innovation and insights world with a human-centered design lens. Specifically, a service design lens. Service design is a newish discipline in the design community that says we can’t just design things — we have to design their context too. That’s where the ecosystem comes in. 

The “flexible rigor” of service ecosystems will give you a mental framework for thinking through any research challenge you face. It starts, as all things should, with your customers, and expands steadily outward from there to help you think about your entire innovation landscape. 

If you send an RFP to Kelton, you can bet our Experience Innovation team starts here to scope the best methodologies to tackle your problem. Below is a look at the ecosystem I use — then we’ll unpack how to use each layer to guide your team’s thinking:  

Layer 1: People

Whether you call them customers, consumers, users, fans, or guests — at the end of the day, they’re people. And people, while complex, tend to have a few core attributes we need to understand: (1) attitudes, (2) values, (3) beliefs, (4) identity, and last, but perhaps most important, (5) personal experience. By understanding these elements, we can get at…

Key questions:

  • Who are our users, really? 
  • What’s true of all people vs. the people we think we’re specifically targeting? 
  • What defines them as people and their view of the world? 

Great ways to unpack this:

  • Ethnography / Contextual Inquiry
  • Job Shadowing / Employee Embeds 
  • In-Depth Interviews and Focus Groups 
  • Persona Development and Segmentation

Layer 2: Product/Service/Brand

Products, services, brands — most of us are in the business of creating, refining, or positioning one of those three things. When you try to understand this layer, you’re looking very specifically at what you’ve put out into the world to-date, and that means understanding the (1) functional, (2) aesthetic, (3) emotional, (4) symbolic, and (5) social values your product delivers to your users. You can learn more about this in our Jobs-to-be-Done eBook, but the key questions to ask are: 

Key questions: 

  • What unique problems do different technologies actually solve for users today? What job are they being hired to do?
  • How can we improve not just the UX of the individual touchpoint but how all those touchpoints work together?
  • How might we optimize the intangible (emotion, symbolism, etc.) as well as the tangible (function, aesthetic, etc.) of our product/service/brand?
  • What does our brand — as a symbol and as a promise — actually communicate both to our customers and, crucially, our employees? 

Great ways to unpack this:

  • Heuristic Evaluation and UX “Think Aloud” Testing
  • Concept Co-Creation & Testing
  • Shopalongs & Secret Shopper 
  • Low-to-High Fidelity Wireframing 
  • Service Pilots / Prototype Testing 

Layer 3: Tasks

Tasks — or jobs, if you’re a subscriber to the Jobs-to-be-Done theory — are crucial for understanding whether a product or service actually does what it was intended to do. Does it work for your users? Does it work better than competitors’? Are users’ lives better because of it? If you’re struggling to differentiate in the market, tasks are a critical area where you might be falling down relative to your competitors. 

Key questions: 

  • What do users actually need to accomplish — and what alternatives/competitors do the same job for them? 
  • How are users leveraging a patchwork of technologies in unexpected ways — and what does that tell us?
  • In the minds of our users, what is our brand a “shortcut” for — does it make tasks easier or instill confidence while completing them? 

Great ways to unpack this:

  • Experience Mapping — Customer Journey Maps + Service Blueprints
  • UX Task Analysis
  • Jobs-to-be-Done Analysis & Intercept Interviews 
  • Exploratory Play Creations/Play Testing 
  • Message Testing and Content Audits

Layer 4: Environment

Environment is everything — it is the context that shapes perceptions of everything we’ve talked about before. People behave differently depending on their environment — and they use different products to accomplish unique tasks based on the context. Does your product need to be consistent regardless of context, or might it need to do different things at different moments in the experience (e.g. at home, during a commute, at work, etc.)? You can’t build better experiences without understanding the environmental context.  

Key questions: 

  • Whether at home, work, or in between, how do technology needs change from one environment to the next?
  • What does the environment communicate to our customers and our employees? 
  • What in the environment do we have control over? 
  • How might our product or service be able to better adapt to different contextual needs?

Great ways to unpack this:

  • Experience Mapping – Customer Journey Maps + Service Blueprints
  • Stakeholder and Ecosystem Mapping
  • Participant & AEIOU Observation
  • Spaghetti Diagrams

Layer 5: Culture

Finally, what does culture today — and in the near future — tell us about the value of using our product or service? Are there issues — like sustainability, privacy, or evolving societal norms — that redefine the entire ecosystem and market we thought we were competing in? Heed the example of the Segway: if your product isn’t a fit for the culture — or if the culture is rapidly shifting under your feet — you need to study this level particularly hard, as it informs every other level we’ve discussed prior. 

Key questions: 

  • How do trends and societal forces influence the way we experience brands, activities, our social circle and, ultimately, our decisions?
  • Where has the culture been — and where is it going? 
  • How can we get ahead of cultural changes on the horizon — and what implications does that have for our innovation pipeline? 

Great ways to unpack this:

  • Cultural Landscapes + Category Deep Dives
  • Semiotics
  • TrendScans
  • Cultural Immersion Workshops 
  • Social Listening 

Seeing the Whole Picture

To build better brand and user experiences, we must see the whole picture. It’s not enough to look deeply at only one layer of the service ecosystem — in a dependent system, where one domain influences and impacts the other — everything matters. There’s no silver bullet for building experiences that solve real-life problems, but with the holistic life of your users at the core, you can look across the entire experience ecosystem for actionable opportunities to drive brand differentiation and experience innovation.

Kelton’s Experience Innovation team applies this type of service-system lens to all engagements, and can help you too. Let us know how we can put design thinking, service design, or a service ecosystem approach to use for your next research and innovation project.

Mark Micheli

Vice President, Experience Innovation & Product Strategy

With a career spanning digital journalism, content marketing, product management, and UX design, Mark uses multiple perspectives to elevate the voice of users and unite cross-functional teams around...

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