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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Service innovation wears a straitjacket.

Last night I watched a rerun of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations Vancouver episode, drawn in by images of familiar restaurants and street corners from my 4 years living in on Vancouver Island. In the episode, he visits Sooke Harbour House, a renowned restaurant unique in its commitment to local ingredients, sourcing 95% of ingredients from within a 30 mile radius.

Bourdain makes an interesting comment to chef Ed Tuson, observing that their self-imposed straitjacket must be creatively enabling. Tuson provides an example of having to "create" coconut for a dish using shaved carrots, ginger root, flavors from petals of some local flowers and a few other ingredients.

A severe self-imposed restriction forces him to see ingredients not as they are, but in new terms of what they could combine to become.

Businesses have the ability to do the same thing.

Yesterday I wrote about how great service companies win fans by choosing one service attribute to be absolutely obsessive about. Obsessive focus on that self-identified business model driver is the same sort of obsession that Bourdain talked about using to enable creativity.

Consider Southwest, whose early obsession with minimizing gate time by turning planes in 10 minutes forced them to look at their ground operations completely differently than other airlines. When Southwest had made all the productivity improvements they could from its employees, they turned to their customers as productivity coproducers. Cattle call seating, travelers helping tidy the planes, the online check-in process, even the plug-ins and club chairs – all are intended to get travelers to help Southwest turn a plane as fast as possible.

In return for productivity gains, Southwest is willing to provide coproducer value. Southwest knows that separating the loading of luggage and travelers speeds the departure process. In return for the inconvenience of checking, they reward travelers with no fees for checked baggage. (And flights that arrive on time)

It's likely that few of these innovations and productivity gains would have been realized if they hadn't obsessed about service model to the point that it forced them to think creatively about expanding their productivity resources.

For great leaps in service innovation, embrace the obsession straitjacket to creatively look at the service model the way that those without it can't.

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