Innovating in services

Everyone loves a nice shiny new product – the latest great novel, or a chef’s tantalising recipe book, or an exciting new mobile game. Services might seem dull by comparison but they’re at least as important, and crucial to get right.

There’s nothing quite like having the latest book land on your desk, except perhaps discovering the readership download numbers on your latest app. (Assuming things are going well, of course!) But product isn’t the be-all and end-all of life.

The question of how we actually create those products are just as important. And, perhaps even more so, the question of how our users will really use the product – which may turn out to be quite different to what we expected.

Getting these right means means thinking about services.

 What is a service?

What I mean by ‘services’ here are things we buy (or sell) that make life easier. One classic example is the use of freelancers; the in-house editor is buying a service from the freelancer so that some of the editor’s work is dealt with without the editor needing to spend so much time. A more 21st-century service is the conversion house that takes print files and returns EPUBs. Or even the software you use to write content that can be output in either PDF or EPUB form, depending on your need.

The point is that services are what make it possible to do our jobs effectively. In particular, a good service takes part of the job away from you and gives you more time to do the important things.

Fairly obviously, then, innovative (by which I mean new, useful and cost-effective) services are a good thing because they make lives easier.

 Both sides

When we think of services, it’s tempting to think of only half the picture, however.

Some people think only of the new services they need – XML workflow tools, perhaps, or ways to manage social media more effectively. Others think of the new services they want to provide to their own customers – perhaps an ebook platform with embedded learning management, or a way to talk to their favourite authors.

The key is to bear both sides of the equation in mind.

It’s unarguable that we need to be creating new services for our customers. The world is changing and we have wonderful new opportunities to connect directly with our readers that we’ve never had before – and their expectations are also changing. The key here is not to allow the conversation to be controlled by single voices. (For example, don’t let a single retailer, even a huge one, decide how much your products are worth!)

But it’s equally clear that we need to keep improving our own processes. Making use of the best services we can find (both people and software) is a key to doing this.

The biggest thing, though, will be giving ourselves the space to create the right services for ourselves. No one understands our business like we do, so no one else is as well placed to know what we need. Don’t let big tech companies (or small ones!) tell you that they know best. Hold out for the right solution, not just the obvious one!

Posted on 13 Jul 2015
Written by John Pettigrew

Hat wearer, recovering editor and now CEO & Founder of We Are Futureproofs, John Pettigrew has 20 years of experience in educational, illustrated and academic publishing, and a history of successful print and digital product development.