Service innovation is often perceived as the poor cousin of product innovation. It is less tangible, less visible, less explicable, perceived as easier to duplicate and is often less rewarded by business and Government as exemplars of great innovation.
But service innovation is none of these things. The essence of service innovation lies with the focus on the customer need, customer experience and then aligning the service culture of your employees and the execution of the organisation that supports them to deliver to the customer need with the right customer experience.
A good example is aged care. Aged care facilities mass produce meals for residents at set times each day. It is more convenient and less expensive for the meal provider and aged care staff to do it that way. Never mind how the residents, or family, friends or visitors feel about it.
A meal provider wanting to expand thought differently. They received permission to ask the residents (and their families and friends) what they wanted (I won’t say expected, but you get the picture!). No surprise! More of a restaurant style experience. A menu choice, better quality food, flexibility of meal times, choice of meal location. This created a logistical challenge from creating menus, ordering meals, ordering ingredients, preparing meals, plating meals, delivering meals. This worked and improved the residents’ experience. But the food quality and presentation still wasn’t right.
Then the light went on. The business owner connected the cooks and the residents so they could put faces with names, and asked the cooks to dine with the residents and experience the meals they cooked. This empathy gave the cooks a purpose that was missing from the kitchen. And it galvanised the organisation to invest in the kitchen experience for the cooks. It provided the reason to review every structure, system, process, and employee function in the business to improve the eating experience of their residents. Everything that did not enhance that experience was ruthlessly pruned. Presentation and quality improved. So did the bottom line. And residents’ families and friends were happy to eat a meal at the aged care facility.
Service innovation has three elements: Identifying the customer need, creating empathy with the customer and their service experience, and ruthlessly aligning people and culture to serve that experience. Try and copy that!