Clive Grinyer, Head of Programme for Service Design at Royal College of Art (RCA) and speaker at our 2019 Customer Engagement Summit, gives insight into his case study and role …

Can you give us an introduction to your organisation?

I lead the service design course at the Royal College of Art (RCA), the world’s oldest highest ranked art and design college. With two London campuses the school teaches all types of art and design at master’s level – the School of Design I am part of has an amazing track record of producing the world’s fashion, car, product and service designers. It has an incredibly international student body from diverse backgrounds – my service design students come from digital and product design, fashion, architecture and management consultancies.

Can you provide an insight into a ‘day in the life’ of your role?

I run a stand up with my students at the beginning of the week where we share news of events and exhibitions we may have visited or people we have heard speak about issues we are working on. I go round each team for an update their project progress. Students work in teams on projects with an amazing diversity of project partners. Our partners include service industries, financial services, technology companies, government departments, local authorities and charities. They share the desire to be challenged and have new thinking bought to them. During a normal day I balance student conversations and lectures with visiting and talking to practitioners who are out there transforming the world, inviting them to talk to the students and engage in projects with us. We run up to five projects a term with or first and second years students so writing briefs, preparing seminars, inviting guest lecturers and talking about design to the outside world happens every day. After 30 years of working in the corporate world, I appreciate and love every day at the RCA.

What motivates you?

I am motivated by how poorly the world works. Despite great improvement in the post Apple, Google and AirBNB age, we still put up with terrible customer experiences that are poorly thought through and don’t work. People put up with stuff, but they shouldn’t, and I want to help organisations of whatever type do better for their customers and for their own people.

What do you think is the most important factor affecting Customer Engagement today?

Although organisations are much more focused on customers and how to engage with them than they have been in the past, they are still very slow to transform the way they work and how they operate. Customer centricity is not a training session. It’s a total mindset and system view that orientates everything you do around customer insight and knowledge. Companies may say they are customer-centric, but they are not. They may have mountains of data, but rarely do they have insight. Customer experiences are still an accident of technology, systems, operations, processes and poorly understood employees. Organisations need leadership to take customer engagement seriously and not leave it to one department – it covers everything and when done successfully, the rewards of loyalty, of customers and employees, are enormous.

How much has the industry changed?

The channels have changed and the awareness of design-thinking and service design has gone up. Many companies are still very siloed and although they may have maverick pioneers for better customer experience, it’s still difficult to find really excellent companies.

What is your best advice for increasing engagement?

Talk to customers. Without your ‘in the office’ hat on. What are their motivations? Context? needs? What do they really say when your back is turned? Then put yourself in their shoes.

How have customers changed?

Customers are much more vocal and have much higher expectations. They now have the channels to say what they think and this has driven quality up.

What do you think the future looks like for Customer Engagement in your industry?

The power of data and AI can produce incredibly tailored effective services and experiences, but the danger of mistrust and slow adoption is a threat to a vision of connected world delivering what each individual expects and wants. The future is definitely bright, but only if we talk with honesty and authenticity – and not treat people as stupid. Brand, tone of voice, principles of interaction – these are the tools that will enable the possibilities opened up by digital capability to be successful.

What has been your biggest success?

Biggest success has been launching the 24/7 Design Demand program at the Design Council, where designers spent one day with a company and transformed it. Thousands of companies have been through the programme and there have been amazing success stories, from sink un-blocking chemical manufacturers to innovative technology companies.

What are the biggest challenges facing your industry?

Working at scale is always a killer of customer experience. It’s too easy to start saving money when you’re big and complaints go up and customers walk. Start-ups sometimes show the way, but will they be able to keep service levels high as they scale up?

Can you give an overview of your case study from the Customer Engagement Summit?

At the Summit I talked about the role of design in humanising technology. People might be surprised that an art and design college should be talking about technology, but the iconic products of the future won’t be made of plastic, or metal, or glass, they will be made of data. I looked at examples of where AI is making simplified assumptions based on past data – in the legal system for example – and the problems and unfairness that is resulting in. I also highlighted where design and technology marries well to create innovative new services, from car-hire, medical and security services. At the RCA we create students who go on to transform the companies they work for with human centred ethos applying research, creativity and pragmatism to deliver change. For us, AI and machine learning is the bed rock of magical, personalised and sensational services – if we design with care and listen to the people who will use them.

What did you enjoy most about the event?

I had a great reaction from the audience and several follow up leads afterwards. The audience were knowledgeable, asked great questions, and laughed at my jokes. I hope I get invited back.

Can you give us any insight into what we might see next from your organisation in this area?

The students of the RCA are increasingly at the heart of organisations who want, or understand that they need, to change. Service design practitioners will help governments act more rapidly, businesses transition to new business models and smaller organisations to reach further and have impact. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be working with these types of organisations and see amazing people come to the course to learn how to change their world.

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