In today’s guest post, The UX Agency’s Kevin Fitzsimons shares some practical advice on how to bring about positive change when it comes to service design and delivering a better experience for your customers.
Recognise these? Lots of phrases like this have appeared on the business radar recently, all of which include the word ‘Design’. For someone working in business, just trying to serve their customers better, it’s getting hard to absorb. How do these differ from each other? What’s relevant, what’s not, and how does someone who isn’t a design specialist make sense of this? Are they things that should just be left to design specialists, or should you get involved, and if so to what extent? Perhaps more importantly, what does it mean for your customers and for how your business could evolve? And what practical steps can you take right now to get started along the Service Design path?
Firstly, it’s worth highlighting that all of these have one thing in common: they focus very clearly on customer-centricity as a cornerstone, and indeed can’t be effective without it. They all recognise the fundamental importance of a deep understanding of real users, and how their engagement with your product or service can develop and improve.
So how does this play out in Service Design?
It’s clear that user expectations for service delivery are rising, fed by an ever-more sophisticated set of (largely online) experiences that your customers are exposed to on a daily basis. But the services delivered to them are currently often fragmented and lack cohesion, leading to frustration, irritation, notable pain points, and outright failure. Typically, the root cause of this can be, for example, an organisation’s service reflecting their internal organisation rather than the user needs, and/or individual silos within an organisation delivering their own pieces of the overall service without adequate coordination.
Why is Service Design key?
Because increasingly businesses are seeing their service offer as what they actually sell in the marketplace. And ‘brand’ is more and more being thought of, and expressed as, a service rather than a visual design or the vague offer of a ‘promise’. Take the Kindle for example: sold as a product, but considered by Amazon to be simply one piece in an overall service ecosystem:
”We don’t think of the Kindle Fire as a tablet, we think of it as a service”
Jeff Bezos, Founder & CEO, Amazon
Thinking in terms of a coherent, designed service brings clear benefits for business, notably in building the retention and loyalty necessary for building relationships with your customers over an extended period of time.
As with so many design aspirations in business, this all sounds great in theory. But how does a business practically make the change? Let’s look at the main underlying principles of Service Design:
Everything is based on deep understanding of, and empathy with, the users
Designers, stakeholders, technical staff and users work together to create a shared deliverable
Rapid creation of mock-ups and prototypes
Testing with real users; feedback & insights fed directly into the design process
The service is designed as a complete, end-to-end and back to front entity
So a key question would be: where is your organisation with respect to these? And what challenges might your organisation face when trying to implement these?
Some good news: many organisations are already doing some of this as part of other design initiatives (for example, user personas or journey maps). A useful initial task could be to identify & audit such activity, assessing what’s available and putting together a plan to fill the gaps.
‘Holistic’ is a crucial consideration here and often the most difficult part for organisations to address. In practical terms, this really means putting in place strategic oversight and stitching together disparate service elements, and the groups responsible for them, into a strategic, unified view. This can be challenging, but pays dividends; often this is the first time anyone in organisation has had the opportunity to work on – or indeed see – the complete, end to end service. Typically, this is expressed in a shared deliverable known as a Service Blueprint.
What this adds up to is an opportunity to own and manage the overall design of the service your organisation offers, rather than just letting it happen. It means that implementing point solutions for individual problems can be prioritised, coordinated and (using the Service Blueprint as a touchstone) harmonised to the strategic context to maximise their impact on the user’s experience, kick-starting to realise the benefits of Service Design immediately.
Service design is a skill that helps your organisation to a better position in today’s service-oriented marketplace. You can use it to build seamless and efficient experiences that delight users, and increase loyalty and engagement. There’s no doubt that this is a valuable outcome, and increasingly organisations are now building teams solely dedicated to Service Design. Going down this route can take time, but there are pragmatic steps you can take right away that can have an immediate impact on your service delivery:
- Understand your current situation. What’s already happening?
- Understand where you need to get to. Exploit user insights to help define and own a vision for your service
- Establish contact with the people involved, and start to collaborate
In summary, by keeping the overall vision in sharp focus and having an appreciation of the design process, it’s possible to take initial steps, and make immediate improvements, through targeted practical action.
Kevin’s work in the field of customer experience has embraced such diverse fields as Information Architecture, usability testing, service design, design management and field research.
Kevin has developed complex interfaces for consumer ecommerce, large-scale B2B enterprise software, mobile data capture applications and public bodies during his time working with organisations such as AON, Pitney Bowes, British Airways, T-Mobile and The British Council.