The 'Soul' of Your Service

(From the December 2011 Issue)

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” – Steve Jobs

This is one of the quotes that circulated the office when Steve Jobs passed away last month. It gives words to the fundamental passion upon which Jobs worked. His intense focus on design is because he was giving us all a way to see the soul of an inanimate object, whether it was a product or service. And what an amazing job he did. Who would have thought that machines could have souls?

They do. They reflect the souls of those who work on them and use them. The design is critical in letting us find both reflections. We are indebted to Steve Jobs for many things, but this insight might be his most lasting legacy.

Since the advent of Apple’s resurgence in the late 90s, design has become one of the most critical positions for which to hire in Silicon Valley. There are lots of examples to provide but the most obvious financial application that has delivered on elegant design is Mint. Why did Mint acquire millions of customers while Quicken Online failed to acquire near that many? Simply put: Design. As each year passes and each new Apple product goes on to great success, the importance of design has become more and more clear.

How does this relate to accountants? Well, your service is your work product — your machine. Your customers interact with your service on a routine basis. Every interaction, whether it is via paper, the web, phone or email, is the place where your customer interacts with your service. It is where they get an indication of its soul. This is why it is so important to care about the details. Have you ever thought about the experience your customer has with your service? Better yet, have you ever asked your customers about the experience they have?

What can you do?

I can only speak for my company, but I waited too long to look at our product with that singular focus of design. It was too easy for all of us to say, “we understand the product” and then assume that our customers would as well. We realized we needed help last winter and hired a great designer, and we just recently rolled out a new user experience for our customers. It is extremely motivating to hear from customers that they are discovering new features when in fact the features have been there for months if not years.

While the service you offer your customers is different than the web application we are building, there are a number of things worth examining. Everything from the font you use to the way you answer the phone to the technology and tools you use to engage your customers makes a difference. The most important thing you can do is to guide your customers through the experience. This is exactly what Apple does. When you go into a store or go to the website, you are guided and aided at every step along the way. Only you can decide how to guide your customers and the level of assistance to provide. Just don’t assume that your customers are capable of a self-guided tour with no map provided.

Perception is critical to our world. It’s how we make decisions in an instant. So why leave it to chance? Go design the perception you want into your service and gain the loyalty and customer satisfaction you deserve.