Bolting on isn’t enough: we need to design for social and mobile

Too many businesses are just bolting social media and mobile onto their existing business offerings. That's not enough - they need to rethink their services, and for that they need digital service design.

On Sunday, I take to the skies to head for Berlin and NEXT Service Design. I’m really looking forward to it, and here’s why:

I spent much of last week at – and liveblogging – various events around Social Media Week – the London version of it, at least. It had much the same feel of previous events – the tension between those who believe that social tools should reshape the way we do business completely, and those who see it as primarily a marketing (or, at a push, a customer support) channel. There was a particularly noticeable gap in language between old-school practitioners, who tended to talk in terms of social tools generally, and the Twitter/Facebook generation, who focus was almost completely on those two tools.

I generally fall into the former camp. I think that denying the fact that creating such new communication technologies will redefine the way we deal with both colleagues and customers is wishful thinking on the parts of those who prefer their world to stay more stable than it’s going to. History bears out that any profoundly new communication technology changes the world around it.

Here’s the problem, though: in most cases, people are just bolting social media onto existing processes and ways of working, even if they’re committed to the idea of a fundamental change in business. That works so far – but any such addition has a weak point at the join. Unless you can push a stage further on, and really integrate what you’re doing into the business, you’re not going to see the value you want. Evidence suggests that many businesses are letting this integration happen progressively, as each department adopts and then assimilates social tools.

This organic approach has its virtues, but at some point you need to step back, take a serious look at the way you’re running your business. You need to figure out how to deeply integrate social media into your services offering in a way that’s fluid, efficient and creates maximal benefit for your company. And that might – just possibly – involve reshaping the services themselves.

That’s why the emergence of digital service design as a disciple could not be better timed. The smarter businesses are just beginning to realise that this integration of social communication into their business is having an impact – and that they need to get it right. Digital service design offers them the toolset they need to achieve that. As more companies pile into the social business space, a more comprehensive integration will offer a better user experience – and, more importantly, a competitive advantage for that business.

Of course, social media is just one factor in that. There’s the increasing prevalence of mobile as a point of contact. That’s bound to shift things, too. Indeed, as the pace of digital change increases – as it seems to be doing – the need for these periods of systemic reappraisal of how and why we interact with our customers will become ever more important.

Something as important as customer touch points shouldn’t be left to random, unstructured development. We need new tools – and we need them now. That’s what I’ll be looking to find in Berlin.

NEXT Service Design is being held in Berlin on Monday. There are still some tickets available – if you hurry.