Living Services - the third era of digital

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan October 15, 2015
The third era of digital is upon us and it's living, says Fjord's Mark Curtis, and the implications for the 'thinking list' are significant.

coo summit
Just getting used to digital? Well, don’t get too complacent, as it’s time to move on to the next step and that’s the era of Living Services.

That’s the bold prediction of Mark Curtis, Chief Client Officer at Accenture-owned digital design agency Fjord.

Curtis predicates that a third age of digital is imminent:

The first era of digital was the web and the internet. We’re still in the middle of the mobility revolution. There’s still heaps to learn there. But unfortunately - or excitingly - the third era is coming at us very fast. These eras do build on top of one another. The mobile revolution would not have happened without the internet and Living Services will not happen without the internet and without mobile.

Living Services are, he says, the result of two things coming together at the same time:

One of those is the digitalization of everything. What we mean by that is the way in which digital is being implanted in real analog and physical things. The best and simplest example of that is Hilton and Starwood Hotels where they are digitalizing hotel doors.

Hotel doors are pretty stupid things. I can’t think of anything much dumber than a door - they open and close and that’s about it. Now we have important hotel chains investing in digitizing their doors so that you can open them with your smart phone. Presumably it will also reveal other streams of interesting data which is another important aspect of digitization.

So a door moves from being a very dumb thing, to being a slightly less stupid object. What’s interesting is that thousands of travellers will be experiencing slightly less dumb doors. If a door can be made cleverer, what else can be? My coffee machine or my car? It gets people to the zeitgeist that things that were previously not digital are becoming a little bit digital.


The second factor in Living Services is the spread of so-called liquid expectations, which tees up mention of Uber, never far from any disruptive business model conversation in 2015. Curtis says:

This is the transition from competing with other people in your sector - banks competing with banks - to competing with anyone who’s developing a better experience than you on any plain.

The obvious example is Uber with frictionless payments. You get out of the cab and you look nervously behind you because there’s something missing. The something missing is standing in the rain making the payment and trying to get the receipt. That’s gone - Uber zapped that.

The result is you now look at other payment situations, like getting your coffee or buying cinema tickets, and you ask why that can’t be as seamless. So a taxi company has totally changed expectations around payments.

Curtis cites a more personal example of his experience when taking his BMW to his local dealer for an overhaul. While usually such visits end in a phone call around 4.30pm from a mechanic outlining everything that’s wrong and informing you that they can’t get the parts sent from Munich for at least a week, what happened this time was somewhat more transformative:

At 10.30am I got a text message from the dealer with a link in it. I clicked on it and there was a video-selfie of a car mechanic walking around my car, telling me what’s wrong with it and what’s right with it and when I can expect to get it back. This was superb customer experience.

Several things happened as a result. Firstly Curtis’ loyalty to both BMW and the dealer went up. But, more importantly perhaps, his perception of what makes good customer service was changed:

I developed liquid expectations. Does my bank send me video selfies? No. Does British Airways? Does my water company? No-one does, just BMW.

But my expectation now is that this is what superior customer service looks like. This is the world in which we now live, where expectations are transforming across boundaries.


Another element of Living Services of note is that these are services that will change over time. Curtis explains:

This means that things that we are looking at now, will in ten years time, look like early television looks to us now. It will look slow, boring and laughable. If things begin to flex around us, then things today are going to look very static. This is a very big challenge for designers and organizations to manage.

Returning to his earlier point about the various eras building on one another, Curtis does add an important couple of caveats:

These services will change our lives in much more significant ways than the internet has done so far. These are things which will fundamentally change the patterns of our lives, which we will look back on ten years time and say ‘that was when things really changed’.

The paradox here is that these changes will be quite small. It is the aggregation of all these changes that will be very big. Changes like automating the control of the heating in my house via a thermostat, are not that big a change. Automating the way light bulbs come on and off. Or Google sending me maps when it recognises where I am. All of these are not huge changes, but it’s the aggregation of those things that count.

He adds:

I was talking to the CIO of [grocery chain] Sainsbury said, ‘I know what you're talking about - you’re talking about taking things off the thinking list’. That’s a very big thing, If you can take things off the thinking list for you customers, then they will reward you with loyalty.

In the second part of this article, Curtis advises on the action points that organisations need to address to become winners in the era of Living Services. Curtis was speaking at The CDO Summit in London. 

A grey colored placeholder image