Service Design — 7 great tips for improving your customer experience

One of the key challenges for businesses in 2016 is to deliver digital services that are fit for purpose and provide a great customer experience. In this article we provide some quick tips for developing a Service Design capability within your organisation to ensure that customer and operational services are aligned to deliver a great customer experience.

1. Understand the Customer Journey

A customer journey is the physical and emotional route that a customer takes when purchasing a product or deciding whether to consume a particular service. It can be broken down into five key stages: Awareness, Interest, Evaluation, Decision and Retention.

Customer Journey Canvas — Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider

A customer journey may be designed for anything from free advice from a local council through to a significant purchase such as a property or car. For most people, our daily routine includes multiple customer journeys (e.g. buying a coffee, parking the car, visiting clients), some of these experiences will be well designed and others will just be a selection of systems and processes that don’t work well together.

2. Start to design the Service from the right place

When designing new services, organisations often start the design process from the decision (purchase) point as opposed to considering the whole journey. Understanding ‘how’ customers engage and purchase is as critical as the ‘what ‘ and ‘why’.

In large corporates, service design activities are often focused on designing the customer experience (front stage) and the operational excellence (backstage) is overlooked or designed at the end of the development lifecycle. For a customer experience to be truly excellent the front and back stage activities must be designed as a single customer journey.

Roberta Tassi’s infographic to describe the origins of design methodologies and tools.

This is particularly evident when designing digital services — 80% of the effort goes into the user and customer experience and the operational excellence design is often an after thought.

3. Understand your Customers

The key to great service design is understanding your customers in detail thus allowing you to consider their needs, behaviours and emotions at each stage of the customer journey. There are lots of ways to approach and develop this understanding from data analysis through to observing customers as they experience the service.

One of the most effective and popular approaches is to develop customer personas and use these in a way that allows you to bring a certain customer demographic to life. A persona is the creation of an individual profile which has certain characteristics, emotions and fits a certain lifestyle category. The benefit of creating personas is that everyone in the team has a common understanding of whom you are designing the service for and can associate with the behaviours or needs of that individual.

4. Remove the barriers to great Service Design

Whilst ‘Service Design’ as a practice is relatively new, the principles grew out of product design which has been around for many years. Those industries that have experience of product design (e.g. automotive) are often more design focused and have a culture that focuses on design principles and embedding quality at each stage of the design process.

The key barriers to success in a large service organisation are scale, culture, and operational design. To overcome these barriers organisations are starting to look at development and operations (DevOps) as streamlined processes and are even setting up new brands to develop products and services in a low risk environment outside of their standard operating model.

The key to removing barriers is getting individuals to think differently about the role they perform and to help them understand how their actions either move you closer to or further away from a better customer experience.

5. Keep it simple

Designing a service can be extremely complex but the outcome needs to be really simple. Easy to use effective services provide a better customer experience and will usually lead to better retention of customers. When delivering a new service it is critical that the user experience is simple, well designed and guides the user to a successful outcome. Organisations often try to design services that are over complicated and meet the needs of a business unit as opposed to a group of customers.

Service design is focused on delivering something that is fit for purpose for the customer and the design adoption of design principles allows the designers to understand how ‘good’ it needs to be. Adopting an agile approach and delivering phases (minimal viable products) often allows you to deliver something that is good enough for the customer and adds real value to the organisation.

6. Design Services not systems and processes

Most organisations have experience in designing systems and processes, and these capabilities still act as key building blocks in the overarching service design process. By developing a Service Design capability organisations can integrate system and process design to deliver great customer and operational experiences.

When you have lots of people involved in the design of systems and processes, it is critical to have an owner of the service (from an early stage) to ensure that the focus remains on the customer experience and that design principles are applied in a consistent manner.

Kuudes.fi service design concept for Helsinki City Library

7. Work with the experts

Service Design principles are being adopted across all industry sectors and many organisations are actively placing service design (along with customer experience) at the heart of their culture.

For those organisations that are just embarking on this journey, I would recommend working with some of the consultancies that have developed expertise in this area. This will help you to over come the barriers to change and learn the appropriate techniques through partnering.

As a starting point I would recommend Liveworkstudio and Enginegroup.

Check out this video from Yosef Shuman — What is Service Design?

Service Design — Key Takeaways:

  • Understand the customer journey to allow you to create a great experience
  • Take the time to understand how your customers engage and understand the emotional and behavioural state of the individuals who use your services
  • Use language and tools that match the needs of your customer
  • Adopt design principles that flow through the organisation
  • Remove silos and encourage all teams to be represented in the Service Design test and learn phases
  • Deliver a service that is fit for purpose and adds value (it doesn’t need to be award winning!)
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