The Product Is Always Service: Designing Your CX

Category: Strategy & Insights
29 May 2024
Read time: 4 MIN
Written By
MOF Team
MOF Team

If Apple became a hotelier, what would the guest experience look like? Sleek, snow-white architecture? A Vision Pro in every suite? If Fender created a restaurant, what would dining there be akin to? Stratocaster-shaped tables with built-in stereos for patron-specific playlists? Or if Dr. Martens became a café, what would the customer journey manifest as? Reusable flasks only, boot shining while you wait?

Despite wildly oversaturated markets, too many brands are solely focused on their products. Rarely is it the case that a product is so original it possesses no competitor. Research from Intuit Mailchimp and Canvas8 shows that 58% of consumers feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of brands available today, while 69% express a preference for brands they are already loyal to, regardless of whether they have the superior product on paper. 

In a world of too much choice – so much that it can be paralysing for consumers at worst and fatiguing at best – it’s not product specs that drive purchases. It’s interactions and the meaning that comes with them. Product-based businesses need to start thinking of their customers as guests, crafting the experience as though it were hospitality.

The Shift From Product-Based To Service-Focused

So many brands focus on the hype surrounding personalisation yet haven’t even standardised or created an elevated experience. 

The opportunity to have initials engraved on a product means nothing without a wider context of client care and brand meaning. The consequences of thinking in such a siloed manner range all the way from buyer’s remorse and alienation to shattered brand equity and relegation among competitors.

While we’d never discourage innovative pursuits, there’s no need for brands to narrow their thinking to become the best product in their vertical. Being the best (a wildly subjective superlative) is great, but not worth it when the cost is your customer.

Why not debunk personalisation in favour of a united, consistent experience that’s well crafted and on brand – made from a thousand moments that work towards both brand and conversion.

To avoid falling into the trappings of gimmick, prioritise a mindset that approaches innovation across the experiences in terms of brand and competencies.

Ask yourself: What is your founding spirit? Your purpose? Your brand positioning? These answers are the key to crafting authentic experience principles that can inform a service. How might you innovate around these core brand elements? What rituals or moments should be the absolute standard of your brand as a service?

Designing The End-To-End Experience

Before exploring the more creative ideas for moments of surprise and delight, consider the entire map of your customer journey and ensure consistency:

  • Do you know your audience intimately? So much so you can predict their preferences and behaviours?
  • What are your key channels of driving awareness and discovery?
  • Are your comms consistent regarding your brand message throughout the journey, from discovery to post-purchase?
  • Beyond conversion, what is the purpose of your services teams? How is this conveyed tonally and in practice?
  • Is the quality of service the same online, in-store, and via other touchpoints?
  • What parts of your post-purchase journey are designed to turn customers into advocates?

Ultimately, how do you want your ‘guests’ to feel at each stage? Then funnel that same question to each moment.

Pre-Purchase Moments

In a landscape as fast-paced as ours, first impressions are everything. Discovering a good brand should satisfy, delight or surprise even, but should never disappoint.

One best-in-class example, though still in its design phase, is the Bentley Intercontinental Pavilion concept. Designed by Finnish agency Ultra, the pavilions will be temporary and invite-only, made to house an exclusive range of Bentley vehicles called Intercontinental.

Consumers who would like to purchase a car from the special series would be invited to the location that corresponds with the model they are interested in. Final decisions about the automobiles' features, materials, and finishes would be determined in consultation with regional artisans.

More tangible examples of pre-purchase services range in intention from educational to alleviation. German photography company Leica runs a calendar of talks with renowned photographers who are famed for having shot with the brand’s camera models – a subtle in for both long-standing enthusiasts and amateurs alike.

Elsewhere, The Bicester Collection – a global group of flagship retail destinations across the UK, Europe and Asia – dispatch exclusive invitations into their Villages’ private areas. While each Village has its own style, regional flavour and carefully curated mix of boutiques, they are united by the Collection’s indulgent and detailed service. ‘The Apartment’ is a luxury by-invitation-only experience, offering VIPs a memorable visit before they’ve even tapped their card from dining to personal styling.

The Product As Experience

Tailoring is a fairly traditional luxury service. Specially altered clothing, though increasingly mass appeal today, has exclusive connotations. To those in high fashion, “off the rack” is sacrilege.

Both Harrods and Selfridges offer in-store tailoring and styling services, as do many monobrand stores including Reiss, Paul Stuart, Jigsaw and so on.

In London’s Mayfair, Dunhill’s Bourdon House is a reinvention of a century-old heritage store founded on gentlemanly conduct, celebrating product, service, community and expertise in a members-only setting. The ‘store’ (if you can reduce it to that) houses bespoke and made-to-measure services as well as a barber, bar, screening room and humidor where the tobacco is presented like fine jewellery in cases with magnifying glasses. The location also features a cigar lounge that extends into an events space, one-on-one interaction with the master blender, and, for a fee, access to personal humidors. A luxury service to the nines.

Crafting value in anticipation, Le Labo have built creation into their store experience. Fragrances are made to order, measured, mixed and bottled right before your eyes by trained lab technicians (or ‘souls’ as Le Labo calls them). Why? Their manifesto explains:

“We believe that there are too many bottles of perfume and not enough soulful fragrances. We believe the soul of a fragrance comes from the intention with which it is created and the attention with which it is prepared. We believe fine perfumery must create a shock - the shock of the new, combined with the shock of the intimately familiar… We believe in the soulful power of thoughtful hands: hand-picked roses, hand-poured candles, hand-formulated perfumes and handshake agreements. We believe in slow perfume. We believe New York made us this way, with a dose of Wabi-Sabi and a few lines from Thoreau.”

It’s niche perfumery backed by an unwavering ideology. Taking it a step further, Le Labo recommends customers hold off two weeks before wearing their Fresh Formulation to allow the mix to macerate. A branded embodiment of the old proverb ‘good things come to those who wait.’ At hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars a bottle, and no signs of slowed growth, it’s undeniably a proverb to note.

More unusually, a café in Tokyo poses the question: what would a service experience look like without words? Located in Tokyo’s fashionable Harajuku neighborhood, the aptly-titled A Café Without Words maintains a strict no-talking policy. Rather, patrons are directed to utilise their imagination, creativity and hands gestures to order from a menu of drinks.

A key element of the experience is unpredictability: although some customers will get the drink of their choice, other users' gestures might not translate as well. The non-verbal café invites patrons to pause and consider the value of spoken language during routine tasks, transforming an ordinary act into an unexpected yet contemplative excursion.

The Product As Membership

Even in 2024, boardrooms across the world fail to see models like rental, repair or subscription for what they are. Service.  

If brands want to take pride of place on the cluttered shelves of consumer minds, they have to shift their product-centric mindsets. They have to consider the psychology of their clients, their behaviours and lifestyles. Those are the tenets that dictate what they’re seeking from the brands they buy from.

Are they the lifehacker who wants to put parts of their life on autopilot, instead focusing their attention on reconnecting with the world? Are they the new anarchist who never wants to feel like they’re being sold to? Or are they the cultural trailblazer, selective and pioneering, acutely tuned into new ideas and smart design?

Barbour went for a combination of the three when they decided to partner with Oxfam to offer rentals of the brand’s iconic waxed cotton jackets at this year's Glastonbury Festival. For just £45, revellers are given a pre-loved and carefully reconditioned Barbour Re-loved jacket for the duration of the festival, with all proceeds going to Oxfam causes.

Alternatively, The Mulberry Buy Back scheme, also known as "The Mulberry Exchange," is an initiative by the luxury fashion brand Mulberry aimed at promoting sustainability and circularity. The program allows customers to return their pre-loved Mulberry bags in exchange for store credit. This credit can then be used towards the purchase of a new Mulberry item, effectively encouraging customers to recycle and reuse their old bags rather than discarding them. It works like this:

  • Assessment: Customers submit details and photos of their pre-loved Mulberry bags through the company's website. The condition of the bag is assessed to determine its value.
  • Credit Offer: Based on the assessment, Mulberry offers store credit. Typically, this credit amounts to 25% of the bag's last known selling price if the customer provides proof of purchase, or 20% without it​​.
  • Redemption: The offered credit can be used towards purchasing new products from Mulberry, either online or in-store.
  • Restoration and Resale: Returned bags are then refurbished by Mulberry's artisans and sold as pre-loved items in select stores and online.

Mulberry's initiative aligns with its "Made to Last" ethos, focusing on creating products that endure and can be passed down through generations. It’s furthered through dedicated pop-ups and collaborations.

In 2023, at the fashion house’s SS24 show, Stefan Cooke artfully reimagined pre-loved Mulberry pieces. The 27-piece capsule saw archive Mulberry icons and rare treasures reimagined by the British design duo, incorporating the pair’s signature design codes: from bold bow appliqué to statement slash motifs. A pop-up followed to give more context to the collaboration, inviting customers to “discover a destination dedicated to all things pre-loved”, alongside a line-up of events from panel discussions to poetry evenings and live DJ sets.

Post-Purchase Moments

An afterthought for too many, post-purchase is often the most overlooked stage of CX – at least by those who only care about the sale. Perhaps the most effective examples of post-purchase moments are those that actively work against buyer’s remorse or disillusion with a product.

In Paris, a trial by Le Poste (France’s postal service) allows customers in their select stores to immediately try on the clothes, shoes or accessories they have just collected. Implemented across seven locations, bright yellow, standalone private cubes act as fitting rooms for online shoppers. If customers decide not to keep an item, they can return it instantly without needing to go home, try on and then find time to return to post.

The fitting rooms, which are modelled after La Poste's iconic yellow mailboxes, are a component of the company's larger modernisation initiatives for its locations. Each store also offers packing tape and return label printing, alongside ‘duo’ lockers for fast collection and shipping – an added element of comfort and convenience.

In automotive, Audi are attempting to elevate the humble manual – the only thing in the world read more than T&Cs. Because very few people actually read car owner manuals, Audi Spain decided on a creative approach to coincide with World Book Day. The German carmaker and Penguin Random House collaborated to combine technical documents that are dry and boring with engaging short stories. Novelas de Manual is part creative anthology, part manual in which seven Spanish authors have crafted works of fiction that use specific words and phrases from Audi’s technical language.

The end result is a collection of stories that span from World War II anecdotes to reflections on contemporary relationships, all punctuated with highlighted words that let the reader quickly jump to descriptions of each vehicle's attributes and capabilities.

Designing post-purchase moments doesn’t have to be revolutionary or out of this world. Both of these examples are creative solutions that do the very thing most consumers are seeking from their brands: alleviating the mundane. 

Brands are the sum of every interaction they have with an individual, yet the focus of every boardroom debate seems to be exclusively concerned with product. C-suites are becoming increasingly insular, unable to see how underwhelming their CX really is. There are endless possibilities for brands to add new moments of excitement, charm and engagement to their journeys, but sometimes the best place to begin is finding the existing touchpoints that have lacked investment and care. 

Once again ask yourselves: What would your brand offer if it was stripped of its product? What is a signature service, moment or ritual only your brand can craft? 

After that, it’s as simple as creating it. 

Or have us create it for you. Matter Of Form is a design consultancy specialising in brand strategy, CX and digital innovation for timeless brands. Get in touch via to speak to one of our consultants. 

MOF Team

Published by MOF Team

We are a London-based Brand & Experience Design Agency delivering second-to-none experiences for forward-thinking luxury brands with something to say.

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