The Continuum service design team ended our year with a series of short Service Safaris where we set out in small teams, pith helmets in hand, to immerse ourselves as customers in a range of what we perceived to be interesting service businesses. Apart from treating ourselves at the end of the year, the Safaris were intended to inspire by exposing us in a personal way to the qualities of great services.

Our teams investigated a diverse range of services including an innovative new barbershop concept, a tarot reading, a restaurant reservation service, a digitally enhanced private taxi service, and a sneaker customization service. I was part of a four-person team that indulged in the latest of barbershop care. It was a tough assignment but the four of us were up to the challenge of straight-razor shaves, massaging shampoos, layered and buzz cuts, hot face towels, and shoulder massages.

The service we enjoyed was provided by a national chain of barbershops that prides itself on delivering “an unbeatable customer experience” and “great customer service, delivered by the best hairstylists and barbers in the business, in a fun, high-energy environment, at a great value.” It aims to differentiate on the a few key factors…the ambiance within the shop, the simplicity of the services, the transparency in low prices, and the quality of personnel.

What is interesting about this service is the upfront statement of intent to provide a great customer experience. They make no secret about this and go out of their way to provide great, fun, and different service. What is even more interesting is that they focus on very specific details upon which to deliver on the promise. My impression is that they realize that their business is very traditional and inherently simple. They want to keep it simple, and understand that if they focus on those key elements they will be a success.

The ambiance was achieved by piping in rock and roll music via their own radio station and plastering the walls with classic rock and roll photography. Prominently listing and pricing a fixed set of services on a wall-sign helps achieve the simplicity. The actual styling and shaving services feature an excellent massaging shampoo and the closing shoulder massage, leaving the customer feeling completely revitalized at the end of the experience. Though reservations are only taken on a same-day basis, customers can check the stylist’s schedules online to choose the day their favorite stylist is working.

Not many companies have this degree of focus and intent. When it works it has the benefit of empowering a diverse staff in many locations to consistently deliver the service promise. This is also potentially the most difficult aspect of the service business… how to build this staff-driven culture and maintain a consistent high-quality and personable staff of hairstylists. When you look at their online presence you get one clue into how this is achieved…they also treat their stylists as rock stars, showing sharp photos and bios that give personality to the teams around the country.

One final observation from the team was that though the overall service was very good it could have displayed greater innovation. Though the service is certainly different, it is more of a well-branded experience than an innovative service experience. This begs the question… Is it possible to balance delivering a simple traditional service with contemporary service innovation? Beyond that it also sets a challenge for future personal service innovators to consider the future of health and beauty for men, beyond a shave, a haircut and a shampoo!

Originally posted on the Continuum blog on 1/9/13

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