One of the key changes being driven by the web is the movement away from products and towards services. Today, the product is in the Cloud or wherever. We don’t care. We want the song, not the CD. We want a place to store and easily access sales leads, not the Customer Relationship Management software. We care much less about the product and much more about the service the product delivers.
A service culture is different from a product culture. When customers buy products they are open to the complexity sell because people are very bad at predicting their future needs. They don’t need feature X and Y and Z right now but they might need them later. So they buy them, just in case.
When customers buy services, on the other hand, they are driven far more by immediate need. "This is what I want to do now. Can you help me?" When customers are influenced by immediate need they tend to care more about speed, convenience and simplicity. We thus move from the complexity sell to the simplicity sell.
But most organizations think in products -- things they produce -- and I mean this in the broadest sense. Developers and programmers think in tools and applications. Customers think in booking flights and checking the weather. Content professionals think in documents, pages and words, but customers want to know what this rash on their child’s arm could mean, or which of these models has the best fuel consumption. Nobody is looking for the installation manual because they like to read or want to "engage" with your content. They want to install the product.
As members of organizations we inherently see ourselves as creators of things (products), doers and producers of things. It’s all so Industrial Age, but it’s a very deeply engrained mindset. Rarely will you hear a programmer or writer say: "I serve customers." We don’t like to serve, do we? "Oh, service, that’s that low level activity we have to provide to people who have bought our stuff, isn’t it? Any chance we can outsource it?"
Service and support is the new sales and marketing. It is the new branding. Service is the future.
Online represents a particular type of service -- self-service. If you think face-to-face service management is hard, self-service is ten times harder. Online changes how we can deal with customers by letting customers deal with themselves. The empowered customer wants to do things for themselves quickly and easily. Self-service design is absolutely obsessed with speed, convenience and simplicity. Online, speed doesn’t kill. Complexity kills.
Traditional organizations were often made up of intermediaries who channeled customer requests. Sales people talked to customers to understand them better. Administrators added customer details to internal systems. Rarely did the customer have to deal with the "backend" systems. These complicated backend systems and their related "backend" content have now become frontend.
Self-service design requires very particular skills. These begin with empathy. You need professionals who like to serve, who enjoy observing customer behavior, who don’t make the fatal mistake of saying: "Well, I love using Advanced Search…" (Critical rule: You are NOT your customer).