The Service Productization Process

June 15th, 2011
in Design projects
Productization process - The construction of a pyramid

I’ve been pondering the creation of a website audit service product here at Primordial Soop recently. I’ve talked about why the need exists for such an audit service, and more recently I’ve explored the advantages of productization for both the client and us as a design studio. To design the service itself, however, is no small task.

A factory has little trouble creating its product with regularity and efficiency, but that is only because there was a lot of effort put into the design of the factory and its workings before the first coffee cup, or whatever else, came out of it. This process of setting up the system, part service design, part product design, must be thorough and organised so that the best and most appropriate choices are made as the particulars of the new productized service begin to take shape. This is an exploration of the step-by-step process needed to design the process of a service product, with specific examples for our own website audit service to-be.

Client’s wants Vs. client’s needs

No matter how far removed from reality it seems, if you could get clients to tell you what they really want, it would be to become the next Microsoft, or Facebook, or some other slightly irrelevant big success story. But what they need is something much simpler and more practical; It could involve getting their existing website to work, show results, attract attention and potential customers, and most likely of all, be found in search engines at some respectable level for related terms.

When trying to design a service such as this, it is very important to sort out what you think clients want versus what they really need. As much as it might be a short term gain to promise them what they want, the impracticality of it will catch up with you eventually and ruin your product offering. Concentrate on what the client needs and see how that can be expressed to them in a way that’s compatible with their idea of the problem, and what benefits they will respond to.

How would you normally help?

I’ve spoken before about an informal study I make of new sites I come across, a process to evaluate the effectiveness of a particular site, which doesn’t have any strict rules. Recording the pieces of that process would be interesting in figuring out the most important aspects to concentrate on, since a more comprehensive version of this process will need to be formalised to create this audit service. An account will also have to be made of how many of these considerations are thought of during our more open-ended web design projects, and how many of those issues would be valid to include in our audits as assessments of the site, and also as suggestions for improvement if they are found to be missing. This list of what we already check for, and what we regularly put into websites will be a great starting resource for the itemised list of what goes into the final site audit report.

Research concepts and techniques

Once we have your current list of tricks and techniques to target, it will be a good idea to sort them into related groups and research the best practices and techniques suggested by others in these areas of expertise. For example, there is a vast amount of material out there on such topics as SEO, UX design and accessibility compliance. How much of that do our standard practices cover? What additional extras can be included into our list to make the new service more comprehensive, relevant and useful to the client?

We need to collect all the resources that can help us, and draw from them to create our own standards of compliance to various requirements. Both the list of resources and the compilation of our own versions of what needs to be done and kept in mind will help immensely to keep our service product useful.

Itemising the pieces of the service product

The list that is started in the last two steps must be improved on, because a productized service requires a final output that is well designed, well organised and logically set up. This allows the client to gain the most benefit from it, and allows their technical support staff to make the best of the advice and suggestions that come out of the process.

A master list of tests, considerations and possible solutions, along with links to references and further resources must be prepared, as a detailed manual for carrying out of our service. This is for our own benefit and for the benefit of any employees or other staff on our side who might need to take over the responsibilities, either temporarily or permanently, in the future. A well designed system is repeatable and not easily lost in the inevitable changes of talent and priorities that come to any organisation.

Cost, time-frame, and deliverables

Now that the ideal blue-print of the service is prepared, it is time to bring the practical aspects of productization into the proceedings. A fixed product involves a fixed cost, time-frame and deliverables, and those choices need to be made now. Adjustments and compromises will be made here and that is necessary to create a service product that is a valuable investment for the client, while being a worthy investment of time for the service providers. Items from the ideal list which are of little practical use can be sacrificed at this stage to keep within decided time and budget constraints, or new things can be added to sweeten the deal for the client.

As always, costing is a crucial decision, and a complex one. It must take into consideration the usual element of the time spent by the studio to carry out the audit and create the delivered report. It must also consider how many of these audit clients can be served in a week, or in a month, keeping a low estimate to compensate for the usual low times, and the pressures of other projects and services offered by the studio. The service product must be worth our while to offer, and also manageable at a reasonable pace, with a reasonable level of response from potential clients.

Branding and designing the product

Now comes the time to design another process, and this is the one that the client will experience once this product is live. How will the client order our product? What information will they need to provide and how? How will payment work? How will things be acknowledged and deadlines set? All very important question about the mechanics of how something like this works and feels to the client. Even what the product is called and what personality it conveys come into this, and will change the client experience. Time must be spent on this, because it would be ironic to be advising clients on the user experience of their site when the user experience of your own service is less that adequate.

Preparing information and marketing material

Continuing from the last step, the branding and design of the service product needs to be taken further by preparing those parts of the experience and marketing that can draw people in. There should be enough useful content to encourage people to explore the service and to get potential customers to our doorstep, or home page, as it might be.

It’s not just about marketing but also about education, because clients need to understand the value of what we’re offering before they will agree to part with their money for our product. That list of resources and links collected earlier can come in very handy at this stage, and the possibility of creating our own educational and introductory resources must not be discounted. They will help both the general public with these topics, and also potential clients to better evaluate what we’re offering above other similar services.

Spreading the word

All the pieces are in place, the blueprints and assembly lines of procedure and technique have been set. The product is named, designed and ready to be delivered. Now starts the campaign to spread the word and spread some of the material prepared. Get in front of potential clients with your message, and more importantly with your expertise. In time, recognition within that realm will grow and clients will gravitate towards those who offer value. But this move to spread the word must be comprehensive or at least persistent and consistent. Then you can only hope for the best with your engines running and wait for the requests, enquiries and confirmations to come in. Then this well-oiled machine you have just created can be used, put through its paces, improved and honed into a fine tool, an efficient and rewarding way for you to indulge in what you set out to do while helping clients.

If we follow this general direction, a repeatable product offering will surely result. Its effectiveness, as always, will vary with the choices made along the way, but a product is an unending process and as clients are served and responses are gauged, things can be changed and tweaked and improved. Service design is never done, it is only ever finding a higher effectiveness while providing for client needs and fulfilling a studio’s aspirations.

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