18th September 2014

Service design: everybody's doing it

Last month the US Government took its first major foray into Service Design, with the launch of The US Digital Service. The Digital Service’s job is to “improve and simplify the digital experience that people and businesses have with their government.”

They’re not the first large organisation to do this. Tesco has been operating a service design and digital division for years. Ryanair has one too. Even McDonald’s has started its own digital and service design agency. And countless other organisations are hiring external service design agencies.

So why service design?

The service sector is one of the largest and fastest growing in the world. But inefficiencies cost companies (and economies) dearly. The OECD reports that improving the service sector’s efficiency could significantly improve a country’s economic performance (not to mention companies’):

“Improving the performance of the services sector is important to enhance aggregate economic growth. This is primarily since the service sector has become the quantitatively most important sector in all OECD economies.”

Poor service design doesn’t just cost brands financially; it can cost them in their customers’ loyalty (as a colleague of mine discovered).

Yet, no company tries to create a bad customer service. In most cases poor service design comes about as companies grow and expand. New products and services are added, while legacy products linger.

How service design works

Benson Street, Dublin, IrelandInstead of looking at a product, service, department, or physical store in isolation service designers research how a company’s staff, customers, contractors, digital services, and competitors interact. After collecting data and interviewing relevant parties, they then work with clients to improve how each of these work together; during this process they can also identify new services and products that may satisfy previously unidentified consumer needs.

And when done right, service design can improve a company’s bottom line by making their existing services more efficient, and by identifying possible new markets.

Some causes of poor service design

Most companies want to deliver great services to their customers, but often the structure of project deliveries doesn’t lend itself to cross-team service design analysis. This means new products and services are constrained by processes, legacy IT or siloed communications. This can even reach the extreme when departments are competing with each other for sales.

Modern customers easily jump between social media, phone, email, and storefront and expect to receive consistent customer service while moving between each of these channels. When a customer rings a call centre they expect that the advisor will know that they have received an email, and what that email was about.

How service design is done

co-creating As the old cliché goes, there’s no one-size fits all solution. But there are common approaches; the most significant of which is to place the user (be they a customer or an employee) first.

The second principle of service design is to co-create. No one wants an external agency to tell them how to run their business. And it would be foolish to expect that an agency would have the required knowledge to redesign an entire company’s infrastructure. This is why it’s so important that agencies and companies work together.

Generally, this is done by gathering a select few people from each slice of the organisation - from front-line staff to the big-wigs – and helping them work together to find solutions. The idea is to gather a broad stroke of people who both know the customer, and have the power and make decisions.

This leads us on to the third principle of service design, which is to prototype the experience early and often. The only way to test if a service design will work is to test it on actual users in a setting that is as real as possible. This can be very quick and dirty to begin with, but can build up to something more polished as the iterations progress.

How do service designers work?

Service designers borrow lots of tools from other design disciplines, such as ethnographic research, interviews and observations. Some methods that are a little more unique to service design include,

Service safaris

This is a great tool for inspiration. A service safari requires you to go and experience another, sometimes seemingly unrelated service from the point of view of the service user. On this safari clients become aware of all the little interactions that make up the experience. This is great input into a design workshop as it gives lots of inspiration. A great example is the lunch service safari - what is the experience of ordering lunch at Dublin’s various takeaways?

Journey mapping

This is one of the key tools used by service designers (and it’s never used the same way twice). It can be used to map a current experience highlighting pain-points and magic moments, or it can be used to document the service that you are about to design.

Service blueprinting

This is really an extension of the customer journey, which explains not only the front stage (the part the customer sees), but also the backstage, which is what needs to happen behind the scenes to deliver the service to the customer.

Experience prototyping

In UX design we use paper or clickable prototypes to mock-up a digital experience. In service design we use experience prototyping, which can be basically any way to communicate an experience of a service to a potential service user.

Service designs that work

Good service design goes unnoticed - customers (as well as employees) expect things ‘will just work’. When they don't, companies risk losing the goodwill of their customers as well as potential sales. However, service design isn’t just concerned with improving existing services, but identifying new ones.

We can work with you to uncover the pain points in your current service offering and help figure out how to solve them. Or we can work with you to create new and innovative service offerings. Using a service design approach can help make every interaction with your brand not only easy, but memorable. This will help you create a competitive advantage and ultimately increase your bottom line.