5 x 5 - Retail Service Design, Jeff Pollard

Interview with Jeff Pollard, keynote speaker at the upcoming SDN US National Conference

by Thomas Brandenburg

Communicating and maintaining design intent at scale without the designer’s ability to physically “touch” every retail location are the biggest challenges. Realizing that every community and physical location can be unique, the challenge is to deliver a modular and flexible system knowing that many hands will be involved in delivering the new experiences.

1.What do you consider as the disruptive trend(s) that are affecting the retail industry that seem most promising?

Shift from big data to data-led. Up until now, traditional metrics and data have been leveraged to measure and “analyze” existing elements of service experiences. The results have tended to be rearview facing and of little use when thinking about new service innovation. However, metrics and analytics employing new digital platforms, sensors, and mobile devices are enabling data-led service experience…by design (ex. Disney “Vacation Management” and “Next Generation Experience”)

I’m now curious to monitor and see how emerging AI capabilities can be combined to enable new proactive service models and experiences that are able to “materialize” as patterns and data are recognized. Service designers still need to provide the frameworks but some early precursors seem to include things like “Robot Lawyer” and “Narrative Science”, a Chicago company that extracts “the story” from data.

2. What are the biggest challenge(s) of scaling services in your specific retail sector today?

Communicating and maintaining design intent at scale without the designer’s ability to physically “touch” every retail location. Realizing that every community and physical location can be unique, the challenge is to deliver a modular and flexible system knowing that many hands will be involved in delivering the new experiences. Design Intent needs to be tailored to different audiences including HR, IT, Operations, Management, Outside Agencies, Supply Chain and front-line employees (just to name a few) knowing that they are ultimately who bring the experiences to life and are responsible for nurturing and evolving them.

3. What brands or retailers come to mind when you think about service innovation in this industry?

Home Improvement: b8ta, Pirch, TreeHouse in Austin. Amazon is quickly accelerating in this area but I share these three because I believe they most fully embrace the idea of “play” and exploration that people expect from an in-store retail experience...usually before they then purchase online.

4. Besides having a mindset and the skill set for service design what other knowledge, experience or skills do you see as valuable for a designer to have in his or her repertoire today?

I have worked with and learned a great deal from service designers employing theater skills, business design skills (think viability modeling) and most recently, new behavior models. Understanding “why” someone will change (employee or customer) is very important to understanding “what” needs to change.

5. What would you like to see happen for the future of service design in retail?

For many of these new experiences to be nurtured and realized, a cross-functional approach is required inside large organizations (think Fortune 50 & 100). More importantly, it would make it easier if those leading cross-functional teams were also design thinkers. Currently, service design appears to be reporting up to leaders in Marketing, IT, Innovation and sometimes HR. But during my recent career search I’ve noticed a desire at the C-Suite level to employ those with design backgrounds in VP and CXO level roles. Organizations need design thinking at the top but while many of us have been perfecting our craft we haven’t necessarily been as interested in broadening our skill sets and people skills. For example, a title of VP, Customer Experience seems like an appropriate role for many of us but in addition to experience design can also be responsible for leading a strategy team, consumer insights team and call center or even ecommerce merchant team.. We pride ourselves on being ferociously curious about the customer or employee. I hope many more of us will expand that to include gaining experience in other functions of the organization so that we are better prepared (and willing) to lead at the top in order to accelerate service design innovation.

Bonus question—What service design strategies would you use to steal customers from Amazon?

Amazon is still very much a self-driven transactional experience. Yes, you can read/contribute product reviews, view related products and they have made transacting business and delivery very efficient. But there is very little interaction or “heart” with the brand any more that makes me loyal. If I can find the product cheaper or need it faster (experienced both this past weekend) you can be sure I’ll look somewhere else. The design strategies that I have employed involve understanding the emotional needs customers value and then designing an ecosystem that surrounds the experience of which “transacting” is just one part. For example, offering multiple levels of advice integrated into online and in-store tools that made the customer feel confident went a long way in surprising, even entertaining the customer but most importantly, building confidence BEFORE making a purchase. 

Some service design strategies are even removing the self-driven transactional experience that Amazon is famous for. Example: GetMagic.com - I literally texted the following last Monday, “Need to locate and purchase a Chinook Summit Bivy Bag, Blue and have delivered to my house this Wed. for a camping trip leaving on Thurs. The service took over and they handled the rest!! I choose that level of service over hunt and click any day!

To see keynote speaker, Jeff Pollard at our upcoming SDN US National Conference register here

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