100 Years of Advancing Destinations

What Service Design Tells the Destination Marketing Organization

Author: Guest Anand Pallegar
Posted: February 06, 2014
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Don’t let the experience just happen. Design it.

Destination Marketers, around the world, are being introduced to a new way of thinking that can deliver closer alignment between them and their audiences. They are able to present their destination through a bespoke blend of technologies, emotive storytelling and visuals that are packed with such vast insight, which provides deep value to their visitors. 

The linchpin that makes it all possible are the principles of Service Design.

Why is Service Design making big waves in the Travel and Tourism industry?  What does it mean to be a destination marketer?  What are the steps to adopting this way of thinking for your destination?  Well, let's discuss....

What is Service Design?

Anand Pallegar of At Large Inc.

As a destination marketer, how have you promoted your location to your visitor? You may have focused on the more traditional promotional elements such as ‘hot’ attractions, price, or the partners that were scheduled for promotion that month.

Service Design doesn’t care about these individual elements alone. Instead it cultivates focus around the overall experience.  It's about making the whole greater than the sum of its parts by making sure the individual parts work together seamlessly.  It's all about the experience.  Service Design cares about the customer or visitor, their journey, stage-by-stage emotions and how, as an organization, it is possible to create the right experiences to cater to their needs at each stage. It’s an interdisciplinary approach that utilizes diverse teams within your organization to create a holistic experience for the traveler.

One of the greatest strengths of Service Design is that it has not settled on a single definition. You can only define a concept once it remains static, and static Service Design surely is not. However, here’s one way of understanding this broad concept:

“When you have two coffee shops right next to each other, and each sells the exact same coffee at the exact same price, Service Design is what makes you walk into one and not the other” - Marc Fonteijn, 31Volts.

That said, here are the core principles as defined by Marc Stickdorn, considered the guru and go-to on all things Service Design, in his book This is Service Design Thinking:

  • User-Centered: Services should be experienced through the customer’s eyes
  • Co-creative: All stakeholders should be included in the service design process
  • Sequencing: The service should be visualised as a sequence of interrelated actions
  • Evidencing: Intangible services should be visualised in terms of physical artifacts
  • Holistic: The entire environment of a service should be considered

What does Service Design mean to a Destination Marketer?

Chances are that you’ve already been using elements of Service Design in your destination marketing, but by incorporating the whole concept into your efforts, you may transform the way the visitor perceives your destination.

If we broaden the spectrum to include travel marketing, we can already see brands, such as Virgin, innovating within the Service Design space, and, ultimately, their industry. They started by asking the right question: “How can we create better experiences for our customers?”

Often brands will package experiences within marketing efforts. They may focus on meeting competition through the right pricing, through the right packaging and yet, miss out on the most important elements of customer loyalty: the experience, the service, the emotions. Virgin carried out in-depth research to understand the journey of its customer, from pre-flight to post-flight. The company tried to understand the annoyances and the ‘wow’ moments, and they observed emotions throughout each stage. Virgin collected information and digested it in the format of a customer experience map. It culminated in changes to services, small tweaks that they may not have noticed before but have made a mountain of a difference to the overall customer experience.

Now lets think of this in terms of a destination marketer. How can we create a better experience for the traveler who has plans on visiting our destination?

What steps can I take to begin transformation of my destination?

Get close to the customer:

Customer participation is the first stage of the Service Design process. Without a visitor-centric approach, how can we perceive the visitors journey? Services are created through interaction between service provider and customer, and similarly, to create a great customer experience, we need to speak to the customer to understand their emotions to then create the right experience. It can be as easy as having a conversation about the insights on your destination, culminating in insightful itineraries posted to the visitor a week before they travel. In all eventualities, the customer must be at the center of the Service Design process for it to succeed.

Involve the stakeholders:

Okay, it may not be as simple as having the same customer grouping. You may have multiple groups.  For instance, let’s think of Amsterdam. Controversial, yes, but it is false to assume the visitors will be interested in a single experience bucket. Furthermore, in destination marketing, there are various stakeholders involved, from who manages the non-human interfaces, such as copywriting and websites, to who manages the human interactions, such as the front-line staff.

If we think of all the stakeholders involved in creating stories, providing accommodation and activities, if they all speak the unique language of the customer, together they can enhance the experience at the touchpoints they are a part of. Different perspectives will join to create an environment that has the customer experience at forefront.

Think of the sequence of events: 

Experience Mapping

When we design a destination to a traveler, do we break down the shorter experiences into single touchpoints and interactions? Every service process follows a three-step transition of pre-service period (getting in touch with a service), the actual service period (when the customers actually experience a service) and the subsequent post-service period (Marc Stickdorn, This is Service Design Thinking).

Within these stages, think of the mini-journeys the traveler will have. For instance, the journey from the airport to the destination, or the 10 minutes taken to source reading materials while at the airport. Smaller experiences come together to form the bigger picture, the overall customer journey. Those small moments equate to service moments, and when combined, create the overall customer journey. If we can locate these smaller experiences and enhance them, we can provide an overall service that exceeds customer expectations.

Make customers aware of intangible services:

Think of the services you provide to the customer that are intangible. Do they go unnoticed? For instance, the research you put into the recommendations you make on your sites or the hours that go into sourcing the right activities for your customers. Maybe it’s the housekeeping service in the hotels you list. Are there any ways to make these physical? We’re not talking additional paperwork for instance, a bill payment or list of charges for their stay at your destination. Those will be the wrong memory association. We’re talking about smaller souvenirs that will build association to the good experience they had long after the trip is over. Service evidence can prolong service experiences beyond the mere service period far into the post-service period. If utilised effectively, it has the power to increase customer loyalty and recommendations.

Incorporate all of your disciplines

It’s about the customer, but also about your team, your stakeholders and your people. Service design supports the cooperation of different perspectives to come together and really create a new service for the customer, while also focusing on employee satisfaction, corporate wants and more. One element cannot be made happy at the expense of another. Instead, when we think of customer journeys, let’s create multiple scenarios with countless eventualities, and let’s include all of these teams within the conversation.

About the author

As founder and president of atLarge, Inc., an award-winning a global consultancy focused on digital business strategy and design with offices in Sarasota, Florida and Manchester, England, Anand directs online strategies for clients including BBDO, Chevrolet, Detroit Regional Chamber, Ford Motor Company, IMG Academies, J.D. Powers & Associates, Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau and The State of Michigan. Under Anand’s leadership, atLarge, Inc. has earned numerous awards for its creative work, business leadership, and contributions to the community. These include the overall Award of Excellence from the Sarasota County Economic Development Corporation, two International Davey Awards, the Association of Film Commissioners International Honorable Mention and countless American Advertising Federation ADDY Awards.

Check out this article on Digital Approaches to Service Design in Travel for a more in-depth look into travel and tourism, or, as always, link up with us on our social media pages to be kept in the loop about further information pertaining to Service Design.