Service Design: Key Tools

By Lisa Helminiak

July 9, 2016

Understanding Customer and User Needs

Before (re)designing a service, a design team needs to understand their customers’ wants and needs, as well as the contexts in which those customers encounter the service experience. Human-centered design research, in which teams go to the field to watch customers move through the service experience in practice is the best way to glean these insights.

Focus groups and surveys do not unearth the true customer experience because they remove both user and researcher from the service experience context. Observing real customers engaging in service transactions in real environments reveals those customers’ wants and needs, as well as their thoughts and emotional responses. Designers employ the following service design tools to get these insights right.

Contextual Interviews
Contextual interviews help the team gain a full understanding of touch points around a customer’s service experience. They allow researchers to see, hear, and sometimes experience needs that customers cannot articulate themselves, and also allow teams to dialog with customers about their expectations.

Observation or Shadowing
Observation sessions and shadowing exposes the team to environmental factors that influence the customer experience. Designers observe what’s impacting the service experience, including staff, physical space, communication tools, and processes and workflows. Observation and shadowing put researchers on the ground to see what’s actually taking place.

Cultural Probes
Cultural probes such as customer journals, photos or videos, help customers self-report and self-document their experience over a period of time. They deepen a service design team’s understanding of consumers without the intrusiveness of having a researcher present.

Analogous Research
Because inspiration comes from a variety of sources, service designers also look at service innovations occurring across all environments. Looking to models in use in different industries often reveals new, relevant applications for the customers on which service designers are focused.

Modeling Customer Expectations

Once the service design team understands what their customers need, they need to understand what is working and not working in the current service experience. Tools to model what’s happening during the service experience to understand challenges, diagnose areas for improvement or amplification, and communicate those to stakeholders across the organization, include:

Personas describe the audiences for whom a service design team is designing. They are archetypical user identities based on findings and observations from research, demographics and psychographics. Personas should clearly describe user goals to give the team a point of crucial reference when making design decisions.

Journey Maps
Journey maps, which visualize a customer’s service experience, include key factors that influence customer experiences. Rich, complex documents, they capture routines, activities and chronological touchpoints; communication tools and channels; inputs; triggers; and customers’ feelings and reactions. Journey maps should be customized to each service design project.

Expectation Maps
Expectation maps capture what customers expect when they encounter a service experience. Expectation mapping is a useful diagnostic tool, highlighting service areas that are not meeting user expectations so new strategies can be designed and implemented to meet these needs.

Modeling Stakeholder Motivations and Processes

Service designers also need to observe, model and assess the service experience from an internal stakeholder perspective. The following tools help design teams better understand how the interplay between staff, departments, and partners impact service delivery.

Stakeholder Map
This artifact identifies all stakeholders, customers, staff, partners and teams involved in the service ecosystem. This map illustrates who is responsible for receiving and delivering services and highlights the interplay between these stakeholders.

The “Five Why’s” Exercise
To identify the assumptions and interdependencies around how a service is delivered, and to find root causes of service delivery shortcomings, service designers need to dig deeply. The 5 Whys technique starts with the team asking why a certain outcome is occurring. They follow each answer with another “Why?” to prompt the respondent to think more deeply about the root causes of the issue. After five or so rounds of “Why?”, the team gets past the causal thinking to unearth deeper insights about motives and assumptions that may cloud or complicate the service experience. They are then better equipped to resolve those challenges.

Designing Service Improvements

After diagnosing the positives and negatives of the service experience from a customer and stakeholder perspective, the design team designs the improved experience. Deliverables for this phase of the process will feel familiar to most designers, as they are the same tools used in ideation and design, with a focus on service rather than a tangible product.

Rapid Prototyping and Testing

Rapid prototyping allows designers to generate low-fidelity simulations of service experiences to put in front of real users. Service prototypes might be mapped on paper, or simulations of live events. The goal is to observe customers interacting with the new experience and obtain their feedback about the experience. The mocked up experiences are intentionally easy to change, so the team can test assumptions, assess ideas, and iterate quickly to identify new service solutions before investing too heavily in one approach.

Service Staging

Before an organization spends time and money implementing ideas in a real service environment, it is often best to test them in a staged setting. In service staging, the design team sets up an space that imitates the real environment, but is more like a theatrical stage set. The design team can then practice the experience “on stage” and adapt it based on feedback from customers. This level of testing lets the team explore another level of service fidelity, and experiment with timing and environmental considerations.

Implementing Service Improvements

Once the new service design is explored and tested through the design process, the design team documents the new experience and creates implimentation guidelines to direct roll out of the new service across the organization. The service blueprint is a primary tool to communicate the new design.

Service Blueprint

A service blueprint specifies and documents each individual aspect or element of the redesigned service experience. It details all aspects of the reimagined service experience from the perspectives of customers, stakeholders, partners, volunteers and any other involved parties.

The service blueprint is a high-level document, which often covers interrelated digital and physical experiences, is then used to inform further strategic planning and capital improvements, timelines, responsibilities and staffing for the next steps in the service experience redesign process. Various other documents and projects, including staffing recommendations, training curricula, and communication plans, then flow out of the service blueprint and are used to align the people, processes and resources to implement the new service experience design across the organization.

To stay up to date on the discipline and practices of service design, consider joining the Service Design Network or connect with us at Azul Seven. We’d love to talk about how service design can help your organization become more competitive in the market.

Read related article, “What is Service Design and Why Should You Care?”.

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