Customer experience is an end-to-end process encompassing all touchpoints, digital or physical. It’s the foundation upon which successful customer-centred companies organise themselves.
Service design is the underlying logic for visualising, critiquing and organising the elements necessary to deliver great customer experience and the interplay (or lack of) between them.
In this article, I explore the premise behind service design and how it can enable truly scalable and human-centred design to flourish.
Service design, why is it needed?
Customers come to brands in the hope of fulfilling a particular need or want. They have certain expectations driven by your brand’s promise. They’ll pass judgements based on everything they see, and do, in their every interaction with you.
If customer experience is what the customer comes across when interacting with your brand, service design is how this gets created and maintained – planning and organising the people, processes and technologies that align to deliver it.
The problem with thinking about customer experience without service design is that you risk creating gaps in the delivery and maintenance of your service or product. Unless your organisation is set-up and working to deliver a consistently great experience for all customers problems will float to the surface, with inconsistencies and customer frustration the unintended consequences.
In large organisations there will be multiple teams responsible for designing and delivering what in the end should feel to the customer like one, unified, experience. Service design as a practice ensures the customers’ experience is unified, and that the organisation is in a position to deliver it.
Service design, how does it work?
So, what kinds of things might we look to achieve when applying a service design lens to design work and organisational structures?
The bulk of the work is in unifying all of the different service components into one system, which exists with the sole purpose of helping customers achieve their goals.
In order to serve customers well, we need to understand the bigger-picture and what it is that our customers really want to do with our help (in the grand scheme of things this is unlikely to be “signing-up” or “checking-out”).
A customers’ experience with your service is only as good as its weakest point. Optimising the ‘booking a train’ journey but relying on customers to phone the call centre as the only way to edit a booking will call the quality of your experience into question.
Whilst you don’t need to overhaul everything in one go, teams should work towards viewing and innovating their products and services from the perspective of what their customers’ want their help to do. But, how do you ensure that’s the case?
For one, by mapping the customers’ lifecycle step by step, including all of the unique points in which they come into contact with your offering as it currently stands. These touchpoints can be digital, physical or human.
Remember that your customers’ journey begins before they formally ‘sign-up’ – consider:
- How do they notice your service exists?
- What drives or prompts them to use it?
And doesn’t necessarily end once they achieve their goal – think about:
- Do they return or move on to another service you are offering, and if so how?
Mapping your customer experience helps you understand what an ideal journey would look like for your customers. This opens your business up to working on new possibilities and not to solely optimise legacies.
Service blueprints: the one true source
Next, you’ll want to overlay what goes on outside of the customers’ view: the interactions with your employees, the processes, teams, tools and technologies that allow for each step to happen.
This map is often referred to as a service blueprint – it’s a visual representation of the relationships between your service components and directly ties to the touchpoints in a customer journey.
Service blueprints are a powerful tool for flushing out inconsistencies, redundancies and ‘choppy’ workflows and critiquing each back-stage activity on the basis of whether it serves the customers’ needs. Where an activity is imperative for the business but currently unnecessary for the customer, it articulates a challenge for making it relevant or losing it altogether.
It’s also a great starting point for organisations to see how and where they are missing the mark and a mandate for delivering and maintaining a service that your customers love to use across all touchpoints. This helps different teams work together towards one goal and challenges organisational silos.
Visualising and connecting up the intangible processes for the first time will often prompt organisations to review the way in which they organise themselves, and the systems and tools they use. Whilst also providing a clear rationale and guide for simplifying things for both you and your customer.
Looking at your offering from your customers’ perspective also helps open doors to growth and innovation in a human-centred way. Your customers are experiencing your service in a non-linear way alongside other brands in the marketplace. There may be a natural break in their experience journey, for example - between booking a ticket and boarding a train. This is what service design helps you to understand.
You may want to consider your customers’ needs in between current touchpoints, and whether you are able to (and have their permission to), meet some of them. To complement this, you could look at other brands to partner with to help the customers you share to offer a better overall experience.
Service design in a time of flux
Service design should be your first port of call when designing new processes or rethinking entire ways of doing things; and as such is more applicable now than perhaps ever before.
Take the problem of testing and tracing COVID-19 as an example. Many countries struggled with getting this right. Most jumping to solutions (an app!) before mapping out the layers that would help it work effectively to best solve the problem at hand including, the tools and systems needed to support something that people wanted to use, and knew when and how to use.
Thinking about the immediate future, returning back to the office feels like a challenge that needs tackling with service design. Here, it will be down to the operational teams to understand the needs of their colleagues and map out the entire transition from the current state to the desired new normal; continuously adapting this blueprint in line with evolving government advice and the needs and wants of their people.
Service design at its best
Organisations that deliver great experiences see it as much more than designing effective yet disjointed customer journeys. They have working groups responsible for safeguarding the overall customer experience by improving existing processes and structures through using service design; with any changes or new developments seen in the context of what it adds or removes from the entire customer landscape. This allows these businesses to scale while remaining truly human-centred.