A while ago I went to the GDS assessor's training workshop. As usual it got me thinking about something else.
It was the first slide presentation by @drtommac that caught my eye; the slide was a warm up to get people thinking about what a service is.
The idea presented was the top row of logos are companies once well known as leaders in their field vs competitors that are now better known for doing the very same thing. The difference being that the bottom row has stayed relevant to their users by having user centred design. Meaning, they listen to their users and constantly iterate.
All good things for the audience in the presentation to consider. But...
It got me thinking about whether or not success is about putting user focused 'service' at the core of their business, rather than the products that are sold? And if 'user centred design' is the main identifier of a good approach to realise success.
I decided to take a look and see if there is any thing in this by comparing topline vision statements, by doing some digging into some well known companies those who used to be at the top of their game compared with their newer, more successful competitors.
HMV vs Spotify
"HMV is the UK and Ireland's leading specialist retailer of Music, DVD/Video, Computer Games and Related Products." — HMV, 2009
"With Spotify, it’s easy to find the right music for every moment" — Spotify, 2014
Blockbuster vs Netflix
"Blockbuster's goal is to be a complete source for movies and the company is continually looking for ways to offer its customers more value, choice and convenience." — Blockbuster, 2009
"People love TV shows & movies. We love being the best possible place to enjoy them." — Netflix, 2014
Yahoo vs Google
"Yahoo!'s vision is to be the center of people's online lives by delivering personally relevant, meaningful Internet experiences". — Yahoo, 2010
"Yahoo is focused on making the world's daily habits inspiring and entertaining - whether you're searching the web, emailing friends, sharing photos with family, or simply checking the weather, sports scores or stock quotes." — Yahoo, 2014
"Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for you to find the information you need and get the things you need to do done."
"We provide a variety of tools to help businesses of all kinds succeed on and off the web."
"We build products that we hope will make the web better—and therefore your experience on the web better."— All Google, 2014
Myspace vs Facebook
"MySpace is an online community that lets you meet your friends' friends." — Myspace, 2009
"Myspace is a place where people come to connect, discover, and share." — Myspace, 2014
"Facebook's mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open & connected." — Facebook, 2014
Its interesting to see from these that some visions are about product and some are about services for people. For example "finding the right music for every moment" is not about selling a particular medium, like a CD, or about making a single product, such as an online music streaming service. It's about delivering a service that helps people listen to music.
In much the same way, "being the best possible place to enjoy shows and movies" is not about where you get them from or what medium. It's about delivering a service that helps people watch shows and movies.
This may seem semantic, but it does make a difference.
Compare the vision statements of Spotify and Netflix with their failed competitors, HMV and Blockbuster; one set is about things relevant to the user, the other a statement of business goals and objectives. (Of note, Blockbuster didn't see value in buying Netflix back in 2000. They chose to pursue downloads and DVD mailouts, not offering streaming until 2011 – 4 years after competitors Hulu and Netflix. For them, not staying in touch with what people wanted was a downfall!)
What is that point of difference?
It is about being an organisation that delivers a user focused service (not just products) and continues to deliver this, even when their products change.
This doesn't mean rebranding to refresh to update your look (you can't hide poor service with a lick of paint.) It means iteration using user centred design. It is the tool to make sure we understand what people want and need from our services. It can help a business change naturally with its users, but it does not replace the fact you still need a bigger vision — of how the service you provide is attuned with your users and ultimately what you deliver.
One thing I have learnt from working with government services is that often the bigger picture vision can be hard to see and connect to the delivery, especially with existing complicated services. But if you don't have this user focused vision it is difficult to understand how to develop your service and and get the best out of your products.