Thought Leaders in Business Discussion: 3 Surprising Lessons in Service Design

When we think about the traditional rules of business, general platitudes come to mind like “Go above and beyond,” or “The customer is always right.” However, service design is changing the way we do business. With these changes creating leaner business models and more streamlined sales, we should accept that there are new lessons to learn and new ways of interacting with customers. This quarter’s Thought Leaders in Business featured Tom Steward and Patricia O’Connell, authors of Woo, Wow, and Win! Service Design, Strategy, and the Art of Customer Delight. Tom and Patricia explored some of these lessons in our most recent Thought Leaders in Business, and some of them may surprise you.

Forget What You Learned from Manufacturing

Almost every business “rule” that we’ve learned is tailored to fit a manufacturing business model, but many of these rules don’t fit anywhere in a service design business. Service design is much more flexible because when the product we sell is a service we’re incorporating the human element. Service design customers are incredibly hands-on throughout the selling process. This real-time customer engagement with the service you’re selling leaves room for instant feedback and can cause some hiccups as no interaction is identical. However, this unique flexibility also allows you to maintain a much closer connection with your customers and provide them with a better, more tailored service – for both you and them.

No Heroics

When a customer purchases a manufactured product, it’s finished. The expectation is that that product will be fine-tuned, excellent, and consistent. This heroic sense of excellence has been lauded as the necessary but difficult-to-achieve goal for many organizations. However, when you apply this lesson from manufacturing to service design, it doesn’t translate well. Service design professionals attempt to meet this goal of excellence by going “above and beyond.” The problem is that you cannot maintain any sense of consistency with your customers when you work to exceed their expectations. Service design focuses on lean production and lean consumption – any extra “above and beyond” heroics creates confusion, and adds additional steps to what should be a streamlined, and most importantly, consistent process.

Don’t Surprise Your Customer

Related to this idea of maintaining consistency in your service design business is the concept of surprising your customer. The idea that businesses need to “surprise and delight” their customers is completely wrong for the service design business model. Nobody likes to be surprised when they’re expecting a specific service. Surprises create inconsistency in the expectations of your customers. Have you ever heard of a hair stylist surprising their customer with a new color or style they didn’t ask for? If you have, I doubt the “surprise” story had a happy ending.

Additionally, a customer shouldn’t be surprised when you complete the services they expect from you. In general, surprises don’t go over well in service design. Instead of surprising your customers, focus on delighting them by meeting their expectations. Let the quality of your work speak for itself – no surprises necessary.

Final Thoughts

The rules of business that have been drilled into the minds of business owners through countless seminars, articles, and white papers the world over make sense…for traditional product-based manufacturing businesses. Service design is its own unique business model, and should be treated as such. Whether your service business is B2C or B2B, you deserve to follow “rules” that don’t limit you and your business’s growth potential. The different set of expectations for both service providers and customers in service design are necessary. Tom Stewart and Patricia O’Connell gave an amazing presentation at Thought Leaders in Business. Stay tuned for the video to follow.

Stay tuned for the video capturing this event, and check out the slide show presentation here. 


Woo, Wow, and Win! Service Design, Strategy, and the Art of Customer Delight

Join us at the re-launch of Thought Leaders In Business
at the Yale Club, Thursday, March 9th, 6:00pm
featuring best-selling authors:

Tom Stewart & Patricia O’Connell

discussing their latest book:

Tom and Patricia will reveal the importance of service design for your company and offer executives in services businesses clear, practical strategies for designing and delivering great customer experiences, from beginning to end—the kind of experiences that build loyalty and lasting relationships. The connection between company and customer is very different in services—which represent 80% of the economy—than it is when customers are buying a product. In these businesses, customers aren’t waiting at the loading dock for a product to be delivered; they’re part of the process. You may think you’re selling a service, but what you are really selling is an experience, one you design but your customer helps create and shape.

Service Design links strategy and operations to the actual experience of your customers.

Following the talk, please join us, engage, and discuss
at our wine and hors d’oeuvres reception!

Space is limited! Please click here to RSVP!


Tom Stewart is the Executive Director of the National Center for the Middle Market, the leading source for knowledge, leadership, and research about mid-sized companies, at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. Tom is an influential thought leader on management issues and ideas and an authority on intellectual capital and knowledge management.

Before joining the National Center for the Middle Market, Tom served as Chief Marketing and Knowledge Officer for international consulting firm Booz & Company (now called Strategy&). Prior to that, he was for six years the Editor and Managing Director of Harvard Business Review, and earlier served as a member of the Board of Editors of Fortune magazine.

He is the author of two other books, Intellectual Capital: The New Wealth of Organizations and The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the Twenty-first Century Organization. He has published articles in Harvard Business Review, strategy + business, Fortune, Business 2.0, Financial Times, and elsewhere.

Tom is a graduate of Harvard College and holds an honorary doctorate from Cass Business School, City University London.


Patricia O’Connell is president of Aerten Consulting, a New York City–based firm that works with companies to devise content strategies and develop thought leadership for top management. Her interest in service design expresses a lifelong pursuit of the idea that “there’s got to be a better way.” She is the writer, with author Neil Smith, of the New York Times bestseller How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things: Breaking the Eight Hidden Barriers that Plague Even the Best Businesses.

Patricia is twelve-year veteran of, where she served as news editor and subsequently as the management editor. There she worked with writers and thought leaders like John Byrne, Marshall Goldsmith, Dov Seidman, Bill George, Ben Heineman, Don Tapscott, Bruce Weinstein, and others, while overseeing the design and launch of new channels and services.

A graduate of Boston College, Patricia has worked with such organizations as the Project Management Institute, the Association of Management Consulting Firms, Strategy&, Boston Consulting Group, Hay Group (now part of Korn Ferry), Stephens Inc., Savannah College of Art and Design, and T. Rowe Price.


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New York Architecture 2.0 What Urban Planning and Design is Possible for a Livable City

with Kent Johnson

October 6, 6:00 pm, Yale Club

Kent Johnson PicNew York is experiencing significant growth in the real estate sector with a number of competing entities seeking to live and work here.

Some may argue that this trend is a spur to the continued viability of the city as a desirable economic marketplace.

Others would say that the quality of life is at risk, with development run amok, placing the desires of a few ahead of the life style interests of the many.

All can likely agree that the long term architectural planning and design of the built environment has been largely ignored for the sake of the short term building goals.

Kent Johnson, Principal of milktrout, an architectural firm, has a unique take on the future of New York real estate that weighs the demands of real estate developers with the goals of environmental and human interests.

His talk is an inquiry into the viability of current architectural ideas and their impact on a livable urban environment.

Milktrout designs for residential and commercial spaces and has as one of its goals the re-purposing of buildings to effect sustainability of the built environment.

We look forward to seeing you at the Yale Club. 

Please check with the front desk on the exact meeting location when you arrive. 

Creation of Abundance as Daily Reality

with Charles Biderman

September 1, 6:00 pm

Charles Biderman - photoAbundance grants us freedom, security and the energy. The on-going question remains: How to create abundance as a daily reality when worries, anxieties and concerns from the past and present intrude.

Charles Biderman has developed Abundance as a Daily Reality, a practice based on ontology, the science of being present in the areas of life that are important to us. Charles shows us how to be fully and consciously engaged to create the abundance we seek.

As part of this process, we will examine any and/or all unwanted practices based upon self beliefs that we have created. We will learn how to master our past conditioning and adopt practices that lead us to reaching our abundance goals.

Since 2009 Charles has created and led a Money & Success seminar for Landmark Worldwide to some 700 people. In addition, Charles uses this methodology to transform the lives of former foster youth through a special program, Biderman’s Practices of Success, most recently presented at Los Angeles City College.

Charles is the Chief Executive Officer of Trim Tabs Asset Management, portfolio manager of TrimTabs Float Shrink Exchange Traded Fund (TTFS-NYSE) and TrimTabs International Free Cash Flow ETF (FCFI- NYSE).

We look forward to seeing you at the Yale Club. 

Please check with the front desk on the exact meeting location when you arrive. 

How 3D Printing Will Rock Your World

with John Hornick

July 7, 6:00 pm, Yale Club

JohnHornick Photo3D printers are the most powerful machines humans have ever invented because they can make finished products, with all their parts, fully assembled.

Driven by a digital blueprint of the finished product, they do so by building up layer upon layer of plastic, metal, or other materials, which are fused with heat, lasers, electron beams, chemicals, ultrasound, or glue.

John Hornick, a prominent IP lawyer, explains where this disruptive technology stands today and where it is going, and how everything will change when you can make anything. Highlights include:

• the Disruption Checklist, which shows how business and personal life will change
• the effects of 3D printing on the ability to make almost anything without anyone knowing about it or being able to control it
• how the human drive to make things will help drive adoption of this technology
• how 3D printing will lead to the merger of science and nature in product design
• how and why 3D printing could replace mass production with mass customization
• how 3D printing may lead to new kinds of crime

John Hornick has been a counselor and litigator in the Washington, D.C. office of the Finnegan IP law firm for over 30 years. John advises clients about how 3D printing may affect their businesses and frequently speaks and writes on 3D printing. He was the only IP attorney selected by the U.S. Comptroller General Forum on Additive Manufacturing.

We look forward to seeing you at the Yale Club.  Please check with the front desk on the exact meeting location when you arrive.

Future Focus: How Successful Companies Stay Relevant by Continual Innovation

with Jeff Loehr

June 2, 6:00 pm, Yale Club

Jeff Loehr PicBusiness success and failure depend on decisions leaders make; they are not a result of changes in the market. However, the market is changing more quickly than most people realize so making these decisions requires that leadership find ways to overcome their biases, focus on the future and continuously reinvent to keep up.

Logically managers and leaders may know this but still struggle to manage the change. The reason for this, based on our observations working with clients around the world, is that as people we become stuck in our mental models of past success. To respond to changing market conditions managers, leaders and founders work harder at doing what they did before. Eventually, when this doesn’t work they look for silver bullet solutions that could come from innovating revolutionary products or even restructuring, but these can make the problem worse.

Future focused companies avoid this crisis by thinking about what the future could look like and preparing for it. They continuously reinvent and evolve rather than look for silver bullet solutions. In our practice we look for and build three key aspects to future focused companies: flexibility in the development and execution of their strategy, foresight to break mental models and discover new opportunities and focus to both build the core and also develop new options in the periphery.

Jeff will talk about the mental model challenge and the key aspects of a future focused company.

Jeff Loehr is a partner at Stratalis Consulting. He has experience working with teams of all sizes and at all stages of company development from developing a strategy for tech startups creating an innovation program for the world’s deepest mine. He works with teams and companies to help them break out of their mental models, explore new options and develop successful businesses.

We look forward to seeing you at the Yale Club.  Please check with the front desk on the exact meeting location when you arrive.

It Does Matter: The Details of Self-Presentation Are the Message

with Oona Chanel 

April 7, 6:00 pm

1cbcde2Everyone in business is always in front of people who can and do make a difference in our professional lives. Much of their impressions is based on our self-presentation.

Studies show that business people who dress to represent themselves as managers of a particular business sector provide the best cues that they are authentic and believable.

Oona Chanel is a renowned expert in the discipline of self-presentation. She will demonstrate how visual signals impact corporate decision makers, team members, prospective clients, employees and the media.

Details are telling. And that does not mean expensive jewelry or hair styles. More often, small and simple things can make a big difference in the eyes of those around us.

Oona has the creds: high end runway editorial model, serial entrepreneur, and internationally acclaimed fashion consultant who has worked for major European fashion houses.

Recently, Oona founded and is the Editor-in-Chief of a new fashion magazine to be published by Scandinavian Media Ventures.

Advance registration is required, as seating is limited.

Please RSVP to Chris Moschovitis at RSVP@TMGR.COM

All Possible Worlds: How Data is the Real Engine of Creativity

with Alex Toplansky

March 3, 6:00 pm

Alex ToplanskyIn the information economy, creative thinking is emerging as a key survival skill for leaders. But while it is often made to sound like an innate talent, creative thinking is a learned discipline. Successful creative professionals have learned that organization, communication and data, not ideation, are the cornerstones of actionable creativity.

For the past 10 years, Alex Toplansky has designed and produced interactive products ranging from B2B analytics tools to blockbuster video games. Today, Alex works as a Senior Writer for the award-winning game studio Deep Silver Volition. He’ll show you how science and systems thinking inform industrial-strength creativity, and how these methods encourage cultures of success in any industry.

You will learn new tools to break down complex problems into navigable steps and isolate useful solutions, the building blocks of the creative process.

This event will help you zero-in on successful ideas and create with a purpose.

Advance registration is required, as seating is limited.

Please RSVP to Chris Moschovitis at RSVP@TMGR.COM

Add this event to your calendar

Stand and Deliver: How to Use the Power of Executive Presence in Every Conversation to Fast Forward Your Business

with Jan Nolte

February 3, 6:00 pm

Jan Nolte PicPublic Speaking occurs every time you speak to someone other than yourself.

Yes, you are perpetually presenting.

How you sound and look has more impact on getting attention and keeping attention than what you say.

Executive Presence is critical to moving your business forward.  Executive Presence leverages your credibility in every interaction for optimal influence.

You have got to make every conversation count; meetings, phone calls, teleconferences, sales pitches, networking, presentations, media interviews, panel discussions, emails and more.

Jan Nolte, Leadership Communication Specialist and founder of The Influential Voice, will show you how in this interactive event.

You’ll learn and practice key skills that will get you noticed and remembered – for all the right reasons!

Jan provides leaders with the communication skills that exude confidence, authenticity, smarts and vision in their organizations and the marketplace.

She is a certified professional coach who utilizes decades of theatre experience in her work with a broad range of private and corporate clients in the US and abroad.

It is time for you to be heard above the din out there and this evening will show you how.

Advance registration is required, as seating is limited.

Please RSVP to Chris Moschovitis at RSVP@TMGR.COM

Add this event to your calendar.

How Collaboration, Shared Values and Work Culture are the New Black in Corporate Growth Strategies

with Phil McKenzie

November 11, 6:00 pm

Phil McKenzie PicCorporate culture is under significant stress, as employers and employees struggle to find common ground in identifying and maintaining focus in achieving business goals.

Phil McKenzie, the Founder of InfluencerCon, understands these challenges and has developed an approach that identifies and supports cooperative culture that delivers value to multiple stakeholders.

Phil sees the next generation of leaders as those who pursue influencer culture.

Influencer culture is based on the pursuit of creativity, open and fair exchange, passion, collaboration and a commitment to rich and  authentic personal experiences.

By bringing together corporate innovators and game-changers, InfluencerCon has established itself as the leading consultancy for those managers who are seeking to establish vital, dynamic and flexible workplaces.

The InfluencerCon methodology breaks down traditional silo-directed thinking and encourages cross-functionality and cross-pollination of strategies, concepts, customer interfaces and, ultimately, corporate growth.

Prior to founding InfluencerCon, Phil was Managing Partner of FREE DMC, an influencer marketing agency that specializes in integrated marketing strategy, digital content creation, and experiential events. He graduated with an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

Advance registration is required, as seating is limited.
Click here to register on-line, or:

Please RSVP to Chris Moschovitis at RSVP@TMGR.COM