Designing the Organization from Service Design Perspective

An inside look at 2 User Experiences that constitute the basis of Service


Aesthetics and the Ideology of Service and Service Design

The term “Service Design” is said to have been coined in early 1990s where educational program dedicated to Service Design firstly appeared in Köln International School of Design. Later on in 2004 the Service Design Network was founded, and since then various discussions on Service Design have been conducted. There are in fact several definitions of the term, but first I would like to familiarize reader of this article with Service Design and Service before proceeding,

Service Design is an approach that takes interaction in its entirety between customers and a service provider, existing behind the scenes of a Service, as its design subject with the aim of optimization and utilization.

In other words, it can also be referred to as Communication Design between customers and a service provider as they interact through points of contact.

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Communication occurring in Service arises from the continuity of interactions between the service provider and recipient of that service. For that reason, if communication problems occur at even a single stage, the service recipients overall estimation of the brand in question is negatively affected.

This is because regardless of the point of view of the service provider that communication takes the form of 1:N (N being an unspecified large number of people), for the recipient, interaction is seen as being 1:1. You often see a similar question to “How was the service you received?” in customer satisfaction surveys, but the answer is given as a kind of overall evaluation depending on the individual personality of a customer.

Above-mentioned communication problems are a serious issue. There was an incident last year in Japan where a certain hotel restaurant served dishes with different ingredients to the ones indicated on the menu. The cause of this was revealed to be flaws in the operational process and interdepartmental communication system. These kind of problems eventually come to a head and run the risk of entering the customer’s field of vision and being exposed. I believe it is this difference in point of view between 1:N and 1:1 that is a primary factor in the occurrence of communication problems.

If Service Design is defined as above, Service can be thought of as a Social System created and configured through the occurrence of interaction between a service provider and customers.

This is based on the mindset of Service-Dominant Logic in which all goods and operations are seen as “Service”. Service exists in different fields such as Education, R&D, Healthcare, Insurance, Logistics, and B2B / B2C Business, but the Service characteristics common in all of these can be categorized into the 3 characteristics below:

  1. Intangible: Something that cannot be touched as an object
  2. Simultaneous: Production and consumption occurring at the same time
  3. Heterogeneous: Value differs from person to person

In other words, Service exists between a service provider and each and every customer meaning it is a company’s intangible asset. From the view that Service is an intangible asset, the approach of efficiently utilizing this asset is Service Design.

Front and Back Stage Experience and Design

From here I would like to take a look at the approach focusing on the design of the front and back stage experiences, often referred to when explaining Service Design, from the 2 points of view of service provider and service recipient i.e. customers.

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At the Facebook developers conference f8 held last year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote speech provided particular food for thought.

To summarize, he has stated that calling the people that use a service “users” as if they exist only to use said service is equivalent to insolence. In order to create a Human-Centric Service, it is first necessary to recognize that these people are people with their own lives and tastes.

“People First” was a key phrase at Facebook’s f8, and from it, I believe that we can learn the importance for an organization to consider how best to communicate with the “People” that use its Service. Turning our focus to the “People” offering a Service, it is necessary for them to view and consider the Service they offer with a truly Human-Centered outlook from both points of view in a comprehensive and detailed manner.

Back tracking a little, the experiences that occur at the front and back stages can in the example of a drinks and food establishment be sorted as below:

CX (Customer Experience)—The experience at the front stage.
This refers to the customer’s sequence of experiences from entering the establishment to leaving it.

EX (Employee Experience)—UX which occurs at back stage.
This refers to the sequence of experiences from taking the customer’s order to completing the dish in the kitchen.

There are several representative factors which are the focus of Service Design in both front and back stage, and those are such things as customer journey, touchpoints, product, and operation.

“User” in UX (User Experience) often signifies the end user or customer, and it has come to be debated how many points of contact should be created with the user in mind, but in reality there exists another “user”, the service provider or organization, which also needs to be considered.

  • Not being able to grasp what is going on at a user or business location,
  • Not being able to determine the cause of this,
  • And not being able to predict the effectiveness of policies,…

…are some of the issues that exist and inhibit communication with the user, and these are affected by such things as silos within the organization, a deficient means of information transfer and acquisition, and ambiguity of responsibilities. To find a solution, it is necessary to turn an eye to and consider the experiences at the back stage in addition to those at the front.

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This is true Human-Centered Design. As a matter of fact, many of the projects I was involved and would introduce later, are classified as Communication Design among back stage considering approaches to do such things as improve policy and governance, User Experience Design, and develop systems in an effort to solve the 3 issues above.

Case Study

The design of the experiences at both the front and back stage, the 2 points of view of Service Design mentioned thus far, was no simple task. The project took over a year, and involving numerous stakeholders meant it was a lengthy battle.

I cannot go into detail, but I worked on improving the workflow, falling under the “operation” category mentioned above, at a certain audiovisual home electronics manufacturer. From organizing intermediate products and defining occupational categories and obligations, to promoting the optimization of the decision-making process, I gave consideration to the personification of ”identity”.

In another case at an office equipment manufacturer, I promoted the development of official documents such as guidelines that give form to organizational culture. I stipulated the policy accompanying the construction of touchpoint based on their brand messages, including on the website, for the entire company (overseas branches included), and worked on the details of an end user communication plan that included the reorganization of back stage operations.

By turning our attention to the rest of the world, the importance of back stage experience design becomes evident.

In order to foster a shared sense of purpose among its 300,000 employees, GE introduced Colab which makes use of collaboration, big data, BYOD, and cloud technology. GE is currently devoting itself to improving productivity within each products.

Airbnb, an organization recently in the spotlight, introduced “One Airbnb” as its brand concept, and has created a team that exists exclusively to improve employee engagement throughout the workforce—spoken at SDGC14. From improving recruitment activities to maintenance of the work environment, the team is making great efforts and taking measures to raise each individual employee’s level of commitment to service. Consequently, a questionnaire yielded the result that 88% of employees would recommend working at Airbnb to a friend. Making varied efforts, Airbnb’s ultimate goal is improving customer loyalty.

Why Service Design?

In a large number of cases when User Experience Design is employed, it regrettably goes no further than measures aimed at the end user.

Featured Image Credit: fergusbisset

However, from the point of view of Service-Dominant Logic, once Service takes its desirable form, my view is that attention should then be given to improving the experience on the service provider-side (back stage) and that further in-depth discussion is necessary.

Subsequently, contributions can be made to improving User Experience value from the position of the end user. I believe that exceptional Service can only come from an organization that is itself exceptional.

An organization, no matter how well designed, is only as good as the people who live and work in it. — Dee Hock

Organizational design is of course no easy feat and unless in an official position to do that, it is difficult to realize. Having said that, there are people like the CEO of Yahoo! Marissa Mayer who is driving management reform with an ideology based on Service Design. Even without being a CEO, by recruiting similar-minded people, planning approaches from different angles, and if you can amass fait accompli, you will surely become more persuasive. In order to do this, the sharing of information is the first step to it all. Do this and others will get involved or be involved, and this will enable you to move closer to realizing your ideas.

That is also the reason for writing this. I hope it will be of some use, no matter how small, in encouraging discourse on matters pertaining to Service Design.


This article originally appeared in my personal blogpost—written in Japanese.

Any comments or feedback?
Drop me a line on twitter @mariosakata

Mario Kazumichi SAKATA