What great service design clients have in common

I’m sure we’re all familiar with those projects where you just have a natural “click” with your client. These projects tend to be more fun, deliver better results and create greater impact. After almost six years we’ve had our fair share of better and worse clients. Lately I’ve been trying to figure out what it is with our clients (and maybe service design clients in general) that brings out the best in us. Our clients are not unified by function, title, years of experience, department so there must be something else that isn’t explicit.

So, is there something in their DNA, their attitude or do they have some secret skill that makes them, well frankly, better service design clients? And, maybe more important, is this something future service design clients can learn and adopt?

Overcoming the first hurdles

Do you have the feeling that you’re an evangelist within your organization? Are you looking into service design / design thinking because you’ve got a strong hunch that this the way to create value (but can’t “prove” it)? Do you meet fear, criticism, doubt and other conservative emotions? Well, a lot of our clients find themselves in this situation. The good news is that these are the first signs that indicate you’re on the right path! You’re heading in the direction that some call “change”, “innovation” or “growth”. But the question I’m trying to answer here is what makes certain clients more successful in navigating down this road than others.

Can you learn to be a better client?

I dug back in our projects looking specifically at the who people we’ve worked with and for. What emerged is a clear set of characteristics that great clients have in common which lead to better service design projects.

  • They actively participate in the process by joining in on things like field research, co-creation workshops and prototyping.
  • They use different KPIs when they talk about value. They use a vocabulary that strongly links the success of a project to vision where the company wants to go.
  • They have a compelling story that attracts attention. A story that paints an image of the current market, trends and the influence on their company. It’s a story about their future.
  • They build a team and let it grow. Knowing that it’s not about a one-off innovation project but to create momentum for change.
  • They always approach projects with an attitude that there is something to lose and there is something serious at stake. It’s not “just an experiment”, “we’re working on our future here” kind of mentality.

If these characteristics contribute to the success of a service design project the questions is: can we act on them? Are these characteristics something a client can learn? Not only am I confident that you can learn them. I think it’s a must.

We as service designers have the responsibility to make our clients aware how they can contribute to the success of a project. And the good news is that it’s not that hard.

by Marc Fonteijn Tags: , , ,

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