Service Design

Why it’s Paramount to Successful Organizations

Deanna Glaze

Whether you’re reading this on a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone, you’re probably focused right now on the words you’re seeing inside a bright, glowing rectangle. It’s only natural: these screens were intended to capture your attention. When companies navigate the customer experience of their products or a service, they need to look beyond the borders of those rectangles — which is why service design has become such an important discipline.

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For many organizations, exploring opportunities in service design may follow their adoption of user experience (UX) design, which has become table stakes for anyone creating digital apps or websites. Getting UX design right – through generative and evaluative research – is vital to making a digital product successful, and it depends in part on thinking through the journey someone takes when they’re interacting with a digital product.

When you step back a bit, though, you realize that our behavior and goals are not so simple; we are influenced by so many things like our physical environment, our loved ones and even our health. If we reduce the customer journey to the moment after a person has fired up our app and the moment they complete a purchase, we may have lost an incredible opportunity to understand their motivation and influencers. What if we’re building the wrong digital product for their needs, or leaving out an important feature that could improve their experience? This is where the principles of service design can make a big difference. 

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Service design vs. UX design

User experience design has traditionally been the domain of digital design (i.e., websites and mobile apps). Service design considers the entirety of a customer journey – not only within a digital experience but also the physical world that influences an individual’s behavior. Nielsen Norman Group describes it this way: “User experience is focused on what the end user encounters, whereas service design is focused on how that user experience is internally created.”

At Loft, our multi-functional design team of UX designers, industrial designers, data scientists, and mechanical engineers, considers ecosystem design as we work to solve our client’s complex problems. In other words, we look at the product experience holistically, from hardware to device interfaces to web and/or mobile apps to marketing websites that promote the ecosystem and brand. Applying a service design lens helps us understand that holistic landscape so that we can create consistent and empowering products and services for our clients.  

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Service design principles

Service design principles can be applied to any problem; any organization or initiative can leverage them. Orchestrating these principles in a way that provides a consistent and empowering experience requires literally looking at the bigger picture. Here are some service design principles that can be applied specifically toward solving customer and organizational problems:

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1. Humans are at the heart of the service or product

Imagine a company is developing an innovative healthcare solution that includes a digital product of some kind. The UX design – how a person engages with the digital product and whether they can successfully complete their tasks and goals – is important. Looking across the healthcare ecosystem, however, will give us more detail about patient behavior, their environment and influencers (i.e., a nurse, family member, or health portal) that impact the patient experience. This allows us to create better experiences for both patients and practitioners. 

Service design starts with understanding user behaviors and the needs of those engaging with a product or service. One’s emotional state (how they feel) and their environment (physical, cultural) can provide invaluable insight into how we can better help them on their journey. In our healthcare product example, we may achieve this by shadowing a nurse practitioner to understand her workflow, or interviewing patients to understand how and where they interact with health practitioners and their systems. 

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2. There’s a clear storyline that reflects the entire journey

From the earliest myths to today’s biggest blockbusters, audiences are enthralled with the hero’s journey. This is the template on which stories are built: by not only describing how a character gets from A to B, but what happens to them along the way.

Where UX design uses journey mapping to understand a person’s journey within a digital experience, service design considers the entire experience a person has with a product or service. A service design blueprint is the go-to tool with which to understand our hero’s journey within a particular ecosystem. 

What makes a service design blueprint different from a journey map is that it maps the front stage (everything a person sees and experiences) to what needs to happen behind the scenes (called back stage) for the person’s experience to be positive and successful. 

The front stage of the blueprint includes all channels and touchpoints (e.g., online appointment scheduler, a receptionist at a dentist, a mailed appointment reminder) across a person’s journey. It then considers how one channel or touchpoint harmonizes with another to complete the experience. This is where we will find gaps that cause pain points for our hero.  

Regardless of the experience you’re designing, there’s probably a physical component. An airline might offer an app to help passengers digitally manage their flight information, but also still offer a printed ticket. A healthcare experience might enhance the use of personal medical information, but it might still depend on a nurse who inputs that data into the system.

The back stage part of the service design blueprint includes all of the systems and processes required along the journey. It might be the application programming interfaces (APIs) that connect an app to a third party database server, or a customer service workflow. These are all things which might be invisible to a user, but essential in the success of the journey. This part helps us understand technical and operational requirements needed for success.   

Having a clear narrative of a person’s journey and how their front stage experiences map to back stage systems and processes can help break down silos within an organization and unify different teams around common objectives.

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3. Service design is a team sport

Forget the old adage from the film Field of Dreams that, “If we build it, they will come.” Service design requires collaboration. Through structured participatory design sessions, our end users are active partners in the design process, alongside cross-functional teams like engineering, marketing and customer service. Bringing in a diversity of participants early into the design process will bring a range of perspectives and experiences that will better inform our design solutions.

A common worry that companies sometimes have is time. Who has time to take a day (or three) to go off and sketch or ideate design solutions with customers? That’s what your product team is for, right? The answer is “Yes” and “Maybe.” For smaller projects, where a lot of user research has happened (through qualitative and/or quantitative research, for example), collaborative sessions with customers might not be necessary or even feasible. However, when working on products or services with a fair amount of complexity, you will save time by bringing your customers into the fold.

You might be surprised to find that your customers are eager to be involved. How do you recruit participants? One common strategy is to create a customer insights panel where you recruit customer participants who are willing to engage in a variety of activities such as surveys and participatory design sessions. Ideally there are enough participants to not put undue burden on any individual. 

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4. Test and iterate

Continuous testing and iteration to ensure that the product or service meets the needs of end users is a hallmark of service design. One key difference between service design and traditional usability testing is how the former involves creating an environment that simulates the real world environment and conditions in which the services and products are being used.  

Going back to our healthcare service and digital product above, how would we validate our design solutions for a product and a service experience? It might mean setting up a test account with mock data or a test device or low fidelity device prototype, or staging a room that simulates a healthcare provider’s reception area.  

The key here is to consider your participants – their goals, mood and environment – and designing tests that get at the best insights and outcomes. Your service design blueprint can help identify which touchpoints, processes or stakeholders are necessary. 

Lastly, analyze and iterate. Analyze the results of your testing, list and prioritize opportunities for improvement and iterate on the design. Repeat the testing until the solution successfully addresses the needs of the end user.  

Build Stronger Relationships and Products

By employing these service design principles, organizations can really raise the bar for how they empathize with and create better products and experiences for their customers. In order to do this, organizations should consider gaps within their teams, from expertise to the time and resources necessary to carry out service design successfully. 

Today, a single organization might work with an array of industrial designers, UX research firms and digital agencies, but not a single entity with a track record in both physical and digital service design. The right partner can make a huge difference – not only in how you ideate a new innovation, but how you launch and continuously improve it.

Contact us to discuss Loft’s perspective and approach to service design, and how we can help you leverage these principles and others to future-proof your organization.

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