Beyond the Book: A Prose Journey Map of an Important New Volume on Service Design

service design

Beyond the Book: A Prose Journey Map of an Important New Volume on Service Design

How "Woo, Wow, and Win" Became More Than a Book

December 27, 2016
by Ken Gordon
Co-authors Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O'Connell


I started working at Continuum in January of 2015. In March of that year, I observed Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell grill my colleague Toby Bottorf, in our then-studio in West Newton, Massachusetts, about service design. (They had previously grilled my other colleague, Jon Campbell.) Stewart and O’Connell were writing a book. At that time, it was called At Your Service, but when it was published in November of 2016, it bore the title Woo, Wow, and Win: Service Design, Strategy, and the Art of Customer Delight.

Jon and Toby, it turns out, are quoted numerous times in Woo, Wow, and Win. And while Stewart and O’Connell interviewed many fine service designers, for my money, our Continuum colleagues provide the book’s snazziest expert advice. (Exhibit One: “Robots make poor people, but people make terrible robots,” says Toby.) My colleagues have played a serious role in educating me, as someone who previously only understood innovation from a literary perspective, about the subtleties and relevance of service design—and I’m sure this book will do the same for its readers.


So why a book for the general reader on service design? Why now? “In an economy that is 80 percent service, service design is front and center,” Stewart and O’Connell write—which should make a few legacy businesses stop in their poorly designed tracks.

Fact is, customers of every sort, in every industry, now demand well-designed service, and good luck to the organization that hasn’t given this sufficient thought and effort. “Your opportunity to delight your customer can no longer end at the loading dock,” warn Stewart and O’Connell. “You have some responsibility for the customer’s experience—and your customer will insist that you accept it, ready or not. The principles of service design and delivery are not only available to manufacturers; they are necessary.” Preparing clients to design and deliver such service is, in fact, one of our major tasks here at Continuum. We call it developing innovation capability.


One of the things I dig about Woo, Wow, and Win is that it puts surveys in their place. Surveys ask you to rate, say, your hotel’s cleanliness, room service, check-in process, et cetera on a scale from, say 1 to 5. This misses the point. “It should have been about your experience: how you felt about the stay, if you got what you expected, whether it was distinctive or special, or just another night in another hotel in another city—fine, no problem.” Stewart and O’Connell take the idea of customer understanding very seriously, and I appreciate their call to raise the consciousness of business here. Teaching companies to invest in really understanding their customers is something Toby is all about. (Myself, I have little time for surveys. Over time, I’ve incorporated the contextual research techniques used by Continuum into my community-building work, which I’ve come to call social ethnography.)


There is, Stewart and O’Connell point out, a kind of carefully plotted structure to good service design. They write that the customer journey is “not a series of discrete interactions or transactions. It is more seamless, something that makes sense, something that feels, as Continuum’s Jon Campbell put it, ‘inevitable.’ It has a beginning, middle, and end.” There is something pleasantly Aristotelian, story-like, in good service design. As a book guy, and someone who understands how profound service design can be for our lives, it’s difficult not to appreciate this element.


One of the most salient chapters of the book is called “The Full Circle: The Service-Product Connection,” which concerns a word they quote with a shudder: “servitization;” that is, the movement of goods to services. This is an important topic, and one that is relevant to the authors because they understand, as does everyone else in the book-writing game, that producing a volume isn’t, in itself, enough. Today people watch authors appear on the TED stage, at company lunch-and-learns, on campus. And sometimes people who write big books on business topics use them as a launching pad for a consulting business.

A visit to the volume’s website reveals that Stewart and O’Connell are aware that their jobs have only just begun. For instance, this page makes it easy for organizations to imagine the topics the pair might speak on. And the service design GPA might well be a way to attract potential consulting clients. The book’s Appendix provides some exercises that companies might want to try out, and toward the very end of the volume, the authors direct readers to bring their whole leadership team aboard the S.S. Woo, Wow, and Win: “Your senior executives—up to and including the board—should be reviewing the SD2 report card (which we show you how to make in the Appendix).” It’s clear that they’ve learned a thing or two from all this study, and I wish them luck in finding the right customers for their services!


Interestingly enough, part of Woo, Wow, and Win’s move from book to service involves Stewart and O’Connell returning to Continuum—this time in our new studio, in Boston’s Innovation District, on January 9th. We invite you and your colleagues to join us for a lively panel design about service design. Stop by, and see what happens when Stewart and O’Connell take the show off the page and serve up their spiel live. See you at the next stop on the literary journey!

Photo credit: Xanthe Elbrick

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