Narratives and metaphors in service development

Anu Helkkula (CERS Centre for Relationship Marketing and Service Management, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland)
Minna Pihlström (Segmento Oy, Helsinki, Finland)

Qualitative Market Research

ISSN: 1352-2752

Publication date: 7 September 2010



The aim of this is to present a new combined, projective technique, the event‐based narrative inquiry technique (EBNIT), and analyze how it adds to traditional interviewing techniques in service development contexts for yielding new service ideas and evaluating current service.


The paper proposes and tests the new EBNIT technique in three service development projects in the information and communication technology field. The technique combines principles from the narrative inquiry technique and critical incident technique (CIT) as well as the use of projective elements in the form of metaphors.


Metaphors combined with lived critical and imaginary events helps to generate creative new service ideas. Customer experiences may be employed to interpret unspoken, tacit knowledge, which is beneficial when companies want to learn and create something new with the customer.

Research limitations/implications

Metaphors are necessary in order to find truly new, customer‐oriented ideas. Through imaginary events, narratives are linked to lived experiences and make new ideas concrete and focused on issues that are relevant for customers in their daily lives in a broad context. In contrast to using solely CIT, narratives result in a dialogue that includes social and cultural aspects of events.


The narrative inquiry technique has not traditionally been used in service development. The paper suggests that when combined with the CIT and metaphors, narrative analysis becomes a manageable technique, which can be implemented in different service and product development settings.



Helkkula, A. and Pihlström, M. (2010), "Narratives and metaphors in service development", Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 13 No. 4, pp. 354-371.

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