Usability Matters
May 19, 2015 · 7 min read

Download the entire Service Design Heuristics infographic.

Last week we were delighted to introduce our Service Design Heuristics to the world![NC1]

This week we’re diving into a bit more detail for 3 of those heuristics, providing illustrative examples and analysis.

Address real need

Solve people’s problems while providing value that feels like it’s worth the effort.

Base service models on needs identified from contextual research with people.

A good service should make life easier. Understanding how actors (any person involved in the creation, delivery, support or use of a service) interact with a service in the real world is the best way to understand how well the service performs.

Things to consider:

· Is the value the service provides to actors worth the effort of interacting with it?

· What real needs does this service address?

· What needs could be better addressed?

Service example: GOV.UK

In 2013 the UK government set out to redesign 25 of their major services to be simpler, clearer and faster to use. These are services that people interact with every day and in are in many cases mandatory (such as visa applications and prison visit bookings).

One of the guiding design principles the Government Digital Services (GDS) team adhered to was to “start with needs” (and further clarified “user needs, not government needs”).

Screen-capture of Government Digital Services 10 guiding design principles

This guided a shift in approach from providing “articles” from each government agency explaining how to use the various services they provide, to structuring all communication based on user needs (or “tasks”).

Screen-capture of the GOV.UK website

This shift meant that user needs could now be grouped and prioritized, which led to a service experience that is much more user-centred (rather than government-centred) and that allows people to find the information and go through the transactions they need with considerably less cognitive effort. The team used traffic and search data to determine which needs people were trying to meet. Understanding needs in context using available data was a key input into the grouping and prioritization of needs.

Using the new GOV.UK site certainly feels worth the effort when the answers a user is looking for can be found with a few short clicks. It also meets strict accessibility standards, so that as many people’s needs as possible are addressed.

Clarity of service offering

Provide a clear service offering, in familiar terms. Actors should easily grasp if a service is right for them, and what they are trying to deliver.

This heuristic asks how easy it is for an actor to understand what a service does and whether it is right for them. Clarity comes from demonstrating a clear value proposition.

Things to consider:

· What can this service do?

· How might an actor interact with it?

· Is it clear if the service will be a good fit for an actor and vice versa?

Service example: Actors’ Fund of Canada

The Actors’ Fund provides aid to individuals in the cultural or entertainment industry who are in need of emergency assistance. The process is initiated when a request form is submitted. This process requires detailed review and a quick response to ensure that eligible applicants get the critical funding they need and that the disbursement process meets due diligence criteria.

Prior to the redesign, it was unclear to applicants if they were eligible to receive aid, and what types of costs the aid would be able to cover. This led to much frustration and wasted time for both applicants (who might go through the whole application process only to find out they were never eligible), and for caseworkers (who spent too much time discerning if an applicant was eligible and following up).

The redesigned Actor’s Fund application form

The redesigned application form clearly outlines what eligibility criteria must be met to apply and what costs the Fund can help right up front before the application process begins.

Results from initial testing showed the number of incomplete or ineligible applications were considerably reduced. By clearly communicating the service offering upfront, the service experience is much smoother for applicants and service providers.

Build lasting relationships

The service system should support appropriate interactions, allow for flexibility of use, and foster ongoing relationships. The right level of engagement supports an evolving service experience.

The quality of the interactions that actors within a service system have with one another throughout the customer lifecycle, and how they build on each other to result in an overall positive service experience forms the basis of this heuristic.

Things to consider:

· When is it appropriate to provide self-serve options?

· When is a human interaction more appropriate?

· Does the relationship between actors evolve over time or does it start at square one with each interaction?

Service example: Apple My Support Profile

Apple provides My Support Profile, an online tool that allows customers to keep track of the products they own, any service cases or repairs related to those products as well as communication preferences.

The profile allows Apple’s customer service team to build an enduring relationship with customers, having access to all previous service cases and outcomes as well as providing customers with a better sense of control and visibility of their relationship with Apple support.

Screen-capture of the apple support/profile website

Apple’s VoicePass functionality in the profile eliminates the need for lengthy explanations from customers about a technical or service problem each time they call. Customers identify the issue or type of service required through the web interface and the customer can choose at what point they would like to initiate a human interaction with a service representative by either phone, SMS or live chat.

Screen-capture of the apple support options page

Alternate service example: NYC 311

Many municipal governments around the world provide less than stellar service experiences via their non-emergency hotlines.

Residents must usually call interactive voice response (IVR) systems to get information or lodge complaints and must often sift through lengthy lists of options and re-explain their situation to several city staff members as they get passed from one department to another.

Screen-capture of the NYC 311 website

The City of New York overhauled their customer service experience in 2013. The revamped service includes an improved web interface and a mobile app that allow residents to, among other things, better triage and track complaints to NYC service staff.

Residents who have a complaint with the city can self-select from common categories or issues and provide further details to the city support staff. A unique case number is generated, the resident gets a confirmation email and they can check back on the status of their complaint at any time.

Screen-captures of the NYC 311 iPhone app

Residents no longer need to re-explain their complaint or even remember convoluted case numbers as a continuous, evolving relationship is fostered between residents and NYC service staff. NYC 311’s customer satisfaction ratings now surpass even the highest-performing private-sector call centres, according to a study conducted using the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Mitchell Moss, director of the Taub Urban Research Centre at NYU explains the impact of this service:

“For the first time, we now have a real handle on what troubles New Yorkers. And New Yorkers have a place they can communicate without having an intermediary. In a city as large as New York, knowing who to turn to is the most difficult challenge there is. It’s amazing how fast it’s become part of the city’s culture.”

We hope we’ve provided you with a deeper understanding of these 3 Service Design Heuristics.

Stay tuned for next week’s post where we’ll explore:

· Leverage existing resources
· Consistency across channels at any scale
· Graceful entry and exit
· Set Expectations

The next post will discuss the following four heuristics from our original list of ten.


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