Interview with Angela Li, GM & Partner at CBi China Bridge
By Thomas Brandenburg
“First, I believe that automotive companies will benefit most from service design. Our company has been working with many car companies. In the future, it won’t just be about the car itself, but comprehensive transportation solutions.” — Angela Li on the next industry to be disrupted in China
What catalysts are helping shape the adoption of service design in your country?
The Chinese government has been promoting innovation in the past five years. The “Made in China 2025” initiative is China’s most comprehensive and ambitious industrial plan to upgrade China’s manufacturing. There is a desire to shift from an industrial powerhouse to a service powerhouse. Companies used to think the traditional method of production was the only way to do things, but now they’re shifting towards a more customer-centric approach.
Lately, China has been experiencing a consumption growth. In the past, people may have wanted products that simply satisfied functional needs, but now they’re looking for a more emotional appeal. Consumers are looking for lifestyle products and services.
What organizations are at the forefront of successfully delivering service innovation across your culture?
Alibaba Group and Tencent, China’s top two digital companies, have been leading the way to change the lives of Chinese people and the business landscape. They have reach across multiple industries: finance, entertainment, e-commerce, online education, healthcare, and localized services.
They’re truly making our lives more convenient.
With Taobao, similar to Amazon, you can buy nearly anything online and have it delivered within one day. Didi, similar to Uber, has provided car hailing services for urban China. However, WeChat (owned by Tencent) and Alipay (owned by Alibaba) has been pushing China towards a cashless society. At traditional brick and mortar stores, you can now use your phone to make purchases. Adoption rates have been astounding as well, with WeChat having 963 million registered users.
Do you know any universities that are fostering the development of service designers in your country?
Tongji University in Shanghai has partnered with Politecnico di Milano to offer a Masters of Product System Service Design. Students spend a year in Italy and a year in Shanghai.
Jiangnan University in Wuxi also has a service design program.
What are the next industries that will be disrupted in the near future in your country that service design can help?
First, I believe that automotive companies will benefit most from service design. Our company has been working with many car companies. In the future, it won’t just be about the car itself, but comprehensive transportation solutions. The top auto manufacturers have been trying to integrate a variety of transit solutions, such as car hailing, car sharing, and public transit, together into one efficient solution.
The other industry I believe will benefit most is finance. The financial industry has been talking a lot about digital innovation lately. They’re looking for new ways to help people with investing and personal banking. Services are going from offline to online to save people’s time and help them more effectively. They’re not just selling a financial product, but providing additional services.
For high-end customers for example, banks are becoming more of a life-time assistant. China’s banking sector has been trying to build an environment for innovation. Our company has done quite a few projects with banks to help them find their next big opportunity to prevent them from being disrupted by competitors and survive in a fast-moving economy. Banks are looking for ways to integrate with different industries such as travel, healthcare, and e-commerce to provide cross-industry solutions.
What are the podcasts/books/blogs that you go to to stay inspired around service design?
I do spend time reading blogs and articles on WeChat from different thought-leaders in the industry, but much of the content is in Chinese. However, I do often look at case studies from the famous service design companies such as Fjord, IDEO, Hellon, Engine, etc. I’ve read Service Design Thinking, but I think everybody has read that at this point. I think service design is really more about practice than theory. I’d rather learn through experience.
Any final thoughts you would like to share on service design in China?
We believe that service design is truly booming in China. As more company leaders are seeing the true value of service design. We are looking to work between the east and the west more by partnering with european companies like Koos and Hellon to offer master classes for Chinese entrepreneurs.
We also enjoy participating in conferences and talks to spread the understanding of service design and help more people see the benefits and outcomes. We’ve recently initiated a CBi Institute to delve further into service design education to teach the value and methods of service design to change mindsets and develop the culture of the organization. It’s an education first, consulting second method.