About Service Design

In 1990, Evert Gummesson wrote an article detailing the so called Service Design and exposed some of its concepts. In this article you will find an overview of these concepts and a suggestion of Service Design strategy.

In the early 90s, this author made it clear that the profession "service designer" was not a profession itself, but pointed the necessity of systematic design as pre-requisite for service quality.

"It is the first stage in which you can prevent errors and avoid repetitious failure costs." — Evert Gummesson

Nowadays we can navigate through Linkedin and find some job postings for service designers. That is great news, it means that the acknowledgement of the subject has grown.

Enough introductions, let's get down to what matters.

Lynn Shostack, who has pioneered the conceptual development of service design declares that in practice, the subject refers to transform an ill-formed and raw idea of a service into a success story of creation and launch of a new service into the market like magic.

That, of course, is not always what happens. In very few situations the results change quickly.

In Sweden, the Service Research Centre research program has found that the service quality is the key to competitiveness and profitability. Bit by bit service design is becoming a master key.

To understand more about this topic, Evert wrote an introduction to concepts of servuction quality and design quality, the two concepts that support service quality.

Servuction Quality

The word "servuction" does not exist in the dictionary, it is the union of the two words "service" and "production", and one of its objectives is to refer to production and service delivery. Another objective, and the most important, is to emphasize that services are different from products and you must not incorporate terminologies and concepts that come from manufacturing.

Let me identify some of the differences between product and services:

  • Services are intangible and products are tangible
  • Services cannot be stored, there isn't a second-hand market
  • Services are activities and products are things

There are numerous differences to be listed here, but one big difference is the fact that the consumer is involved on the process of "servuction" and the service provider does not have much control over the environment and behaviors of the stakeholders. During the manufacture of a product the consumer is not present. What would be the quality of a stove, for example, if consumers were allowed to wander freely around the factory and could intervene as they wanted? What would be the price of that stove?

With the participation of consumers in the process called "servuction" we could see improvements and in some cases challenges.

Servuction quality is the result of combining forces between consumers and service providers and its interactions. It is also the ability to perform the service within their specifications. If the service does not have a good design quality, there are no precise specifications to measure the servuction quality.

Design Quality

Two points: firstly, the service must attend the needs and desires of the consumer and secondly it must be created in a way that is technically feasible to perform the service, at the same time its price must be competitive. In other words, it is a question of how it was designed or better, a question of design quality.

To exemplify, Gummersson tells us this experience:

"After receiving four 'reminders' (or 'threats' if you wish) from a big insurance company for an already terminated insurance policy, I telephoned their customer service department. I pointed out my predicament and asked why they kept pestering me. The conversation took this form:

'I know what you mean,' she said. 'It's a big problem.'

'Then what do you do about it?' I inquired

'I can't do anything!'

'But listen, you are an employee of the insurance company, aren't you?'

'Yes, but my bosses don't listen. They just think I'm a big nuisance if I bring this up.' "

The employee showed total honesty in this situation, but in doing so she opened a window for Evert to see the incompetence of the company.

Bringing this case to my personal experience, I can enumerate how many times I've encountered a situation like this… I am on the phone with a customer service agent and he or she says: "You have to address this subject to another sector, I am putting you on hold…" and suddenly the connection drops. These moments contribute to damage the service culture and company morale indeed.

This kind of experience is the result of flaws on service design quality. What we see many times are people pointing fingers at each other or blaming a software or the managers who made that decision.

Developers today are key contributors inside the process of creating services, there is plenty situations where we find the need to analyze large quantity of data and monitor constant activities.

Sometimes inside a service there has to be improvisation, this improvisation has to keep a mutual relationship with the specified procedures and this makes service design different from product design.

Some tools and techniques for Service Design

There are numerous kinds of techniques and tools to apply in service design, but for now I will present 3 that I consider very interesting:

Actors Map: The objective of this map is to give an overview of all system's actors and their relationships. It delivers a vision of who is involved on the service and its contexts.

Live|Work map to represent a systemic view of a service

How to use it?

  • Write a subject on the center of the paper
  • Each team member lists all actors involved on the subject, all names that come to mind. Use post-its notes.
  • Put the post-its on the map, the most influential actors should be closer to the center and the least influential should be closer to the outer ring.
  • It is a good practice to group the actors and name these groups.

Personas: These are fictional profiles that represent a specific group of people. They should be based on research and often reflect a group that share similar opinions and behaviors.

Personas for a web project by Wei Zhou

How to create them?

  • Gather from 5 to 15 people with good knowledge of their clients (frontdesk receptionists, frontline customer support and something alike)
  • Split them into teams of 2 or 3.
  • Each group has to create 1 to 3 personas that represent their most common clients, clients from extremes, one with the most negative reactions and one ideal client.
  • Then the groups present their personas and put them in a place that everyone can see, preferably on the wall. Try to cluster similar profiles.
  • Let the group decide which are the most common personas.
  • Analyze the results and improve the profiles created with facts, share with other stakeholders, gather their suggestions to make it more accurate.

Customer Journey: This one is famous, it is a map that describes the journey of a costumer showing different touchpoints that characterize your interactions with a service within a timeline. With this tool, stakeholders can visualize the information flow, devices involved and any interaction between the customer and the service.

Radarstation created a customer journey map to OGT's services.

How to use it?

To make a journey map work, it's better if you visualize the service in action and observe user experience before, during and after. If you can't have this kind of visualization, some informations can be inferred, but of course, validate them whenever you can.

  • Choose a persona
  • Define the scope of the journey, collect data for it.
  • Establish a time period. Are we talking about an interaction of 10 minutes, 2 hours, 8 hours or 1 month? 5 years?
  • Identify the stages. Which are the moments and/or sections of the experience? For example: Wondering, Planning, Reservation, Usage, Recommendation. Write these sections in their correct places along the time period.
  • Start to fill by the most important touchpoints of each section. Now fill in the sections with history from customers. Remember, use post-its.
  • Refine and enrich your journey. Review it from end to end and search for gaps to add new data.

These are some of many tools and techniques that can be used to improve your service design process.

As promised, I give you a suggestion of service design strategy with the help of Gummesson:

  1. Use systematic procedures for service design, the objective is to perceive a larger extension than you look today.
  2. Gather inspiration from the manufacturing industry but don't force conditions and design lessons learned from steel mills and pharmaceuticals into consultancy, beauty shops or hospitals. Allow services to grow within its contexts and conditions.
  3. Remember that service design should allow the fact that there are two groups interacting within the "servuction": Employees of the service provider and the costumer. In certain situations a highly standardized interaction, including automated softwares and hardwares is preferable. There are other situations that depend solely on human contact.
  4. Understand that each customer — as well as employees — are different in skills, needs, temper, time, pressure, honesty and etc. The service design has to consider such differences, promoting its positive effects and minimizing the negative ones.
  5. The design should allow the service employees’ to act on the spur of the moment, improvise, mobilize their personalities to solve problems achieving the interest of both client and employer. They should be guided by both results, creating loyalty between customer and service.