Service Innovation – The Experience Is Not Enough


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I just got off a flight from Indianapolis to Chicago. Checking my email, I see a survey from American Airlines. They want to know: “How was the flight experience?” I’m on a flight right now from Chicago to Montreal. Guess what will be in my email inbox when I arrive?

As a consumer, like you, I am inundated with satisfaction and service quality surveys. Get a repair done. Get a survey. Have a meal. Get a survey. Stay at a hotel. Get a survey. Many companies have clearly bought into the idea that it’s important to get feedback from customers on the service experience.

Though I applaud the effort to get customer insights, there is a problem with using such insights to guide meaningful service innovation. And many companies do just that.

While customer satisfaction and service quality initiatives seem to be customer-centric, their fundamental weakness for guiding service innovation is that they seek to answer questions that are actually company-centric: How are we doing? How did our solution perform? In contrast, true service innovation and true customer centricity requires getting insight into different questions entirely. To the customer, we must ask: How are you doing? How well were you able to achieve your goals?

This is more than just semantics. When the questions we ask customers anchor around a current experience, the insights we get will be constrained by how things are done today. This provides an important perspective for improving the service we already offer, but it is insufficient for gaining insight into new service opportunities.

And here’s why: No one hires your bank, your lawn care service, your consulting, or any other service you offer so they can have a good experience. Rather, we hire a bank to help us buy a home. We hire a lawn care service to get rid of weeds. And we hire consultants to make better decisions. A nice experience is the icing, but it’s not the cake!

The cake is the customer job-to-be-done. It’s the fundamental goal a customer is trying to accomplish or a problem they are trying to resolve when they buy, use, or otherwise rely on your service. It’s the reason you are in business. As such, it must be the primary focus to guide meaningful service innovation.

Consider how this plays out in practice. An online travel agency such as Expedia might field a survey that gets customer ratings of ease of website navigation, the speed that pages load, appearance of the website, and the amount of available information, along with a half dozen other aspects of the customer experience. The problem is that these aspects of the experience are not tied to the reason travelers hire an online travel service. As such, the best they can do is support incremental improvements in how things are done today: return search results faster, make the site more attractive, and so on.

The reason travelers hire an online travel agency –the job for which the service is hired– is to make travel arrangements. The very fact that this job can be done without the use of a website is a key indicator that the experience attributes in a typical survey are insufficient to guide service innovation.

With a focus on this customer job, the insights we seek from customers are very different, and much more helpful to service innovation. We can now get customer inputs on solution-independent needs the traveler has when making travel arrangements.

As shown in the table, for example, travelers want to spend little time reviewing flight options that don’t meet their needs, be aware of potential issues with a flight option such as cancellations and delays, ensure that a comfortable seat is available before choosing a specific flight, and quickly determine which flight is best based on individual preferences for airline, flight time, connections, and so on. Unlike customer experience needs, the service innovation possibilities for helping the customer better satisfy job-focused needs are limited only by company creativity and the value they deliver.

Solution-focused Job-focused
Ease of website navigation Spend little time reviewing options that don’t meet needs, such as connections with a high probability of delay
Appearance of the website Being aware of potential issues with a flight option such as cancellations and delays
Amount of available information Ensuring that a comfortable seat is available before choosing a specific flight
The speed that pages load Quickly determining which flight is best based on preferences for airline, duration, connections, and so on

A focus on the customer job for which your product or service is hired is the basis for redirecting attention away from how things are done today –including the customer experience– to the value customers are really seeking. In other words, a focus on the customer job enables a company to ask the most fundamental questions that should guide service innovation: How well is the customer able to get their job done? and How might we be able to help?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Lance Bettencourt
Lance A. Bettencourt, PhD, is a service innovation consultant and speaker with many of the world's leading companies. He is the author of Service Innovation (McGraw-Hill 2010) and several papers on service and innovation best practices in Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, California Management Review, and others.


  1. Hello Lance,

    It occurs to me that your argument stands provided one assumes that the customer experience is distinct from the ‘doing the job that the customer wants done’. If that is the case then the customer experience is a layer that is added to ‘doing the job that the customer wants done’ and as such is merely secondary.

    Now the question is this, what is it that the customer experiences? Does the customer differentiate and separate the ‘job to be done’ from the experience that goes with ‘getting the job done through another’? Or are these two actually one?

    What did Steve Jobs point out? That for Apple design is intrinsic to building a great product. It is not an afterthought, something added on top of the product to make it look pretty. Given that customer experience can be thought of as customer experience design, is it the case that customer experience is intrinsic to the process of ‘getting the job done’ or simply lipstick added to that which is involved in ‘getting the job done’?

    Whilst many, out there in the field, do see the customer experience as being distinct from the ‘product’ or ‘job that customer hires the firm to do’, I choose not to see it that way. Why? Because my lived experience suggests that I experience these two as one distinct phenomenon. If a company does the job that I hire it to do and treats me badly-indifferently in the process (e.g. shows up as ‘cold’) then I do not like to do business with it. If on the other hand a company treats me really well and turns out to be incompetent at doing the job that I hired it to do then I label these ‘nice guys and hopeless’ and look for another supplier. In the real world I look for those suppliers that provide the whole package.

    And I do agree with your bigger points around the lazy and inside-out surveying. As if genuine insights can simply be picked up that easily.


  2. Hi Maj.

    Thanks for the comments. When a customer evaluates their experience, they are certainly thinking about both how well they were able to get their job done and the quality of the experience. For a given service, these two become intimately intertwined. You and I are in complete agreement there. My point is not whether or not these get experienced together or whether or not each is important – they both are. Rather, my point is that you must intentionally focus attention on the customer job-to-be-done or you won’t get the insights that can drive meaningful service innovation. The final ‘best’ service solution must combine in a synergistic way elements of getting the job done and a valuable experience. However, the needs are distinct and can and should be understood separately before innovation and service design bring them together. Just as you indicate that you won’t give your loyalty to a service that gets the job done but provides a miserable experience, the opposite is also true, which is precisely why we need to focus on both to be successful. ~Lance


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