Summary: Service design improves the experiences of both the user and employee by designing, aligning, and optimizing an organization’s operations to better support customer journeys.
What Is a Service?
Traditional economics draws a clear distinction between goods and services. Goods are tangible and consumable — pens, sunglasses, or shoes. Services are instantaneous exchanges that are intangible and do not result in ownership—medical treatment, the postal service, or public transportation.
Today, there is no longer a clear distinction between goods and services. A continuum of goods–services exists with a plethora of combined products and services in the middle. For example, a song (an mp3 file) is a product that can be accessed via a service like Spotify or Apple Music. To the user, the difference between a product and service—owning the sound file versus streaming the song—can be close to identical while behind the scenes they are quite different.
As services grow in sophistication, so does the need to support them. Complex user experiences often break due to an internal organizational shortcoming — a weak link in the ecosystem. For example, when was the last time you called a support hotline, gave your personal information, only to be transferred to another agent asking you to repeat the exact information you had already provided? This pain point stems from an internal process flaw that was produced by a lack of service design.
History of Service Design
The term “service design” was coined by Lynn Shostack in 1982. Shostack proposed that organizations develop an understanding of how behind-the-scenes processes interact with each other because “leaving services to individual talent and managing the pieces rather than the whole make a company more vulnerable and creates a service that reacts slowly to market needs and opportunities.”
This is still true today, but the responsibility does not fall on only operations and management, as it did twenty years ago. Practicing service design is the responsibility of the organization as a whole.
Definition of Service Design
Most organizations are centered around products and delivery channels. Many of the organizations’ resources (time, budget, logistics) are spent on customer-facing outputs, and the internal processes (including the experience of the organization’s employees) are overlooked; service design focuses on these internal processes.
Definition: Service design is the activity of planning and organizing a business’s resources (people, props, and processes) in order to (1) directly improve the employee’s experience, and (2) indirectly, the customer’s experience.
Imagine a restaurant where there are a range employees: hosts, servers, busboys, and chefs. Service design focuses on how the restaurant operates and delivers the food it promises—from sourcing and receiving ingredients, to on-boarding new chefs, to server-chef communication regarding a diner’s allergies. Each moving part plays a role in the food that arrives on the diner’s plate, even though it is not directly part of their experience. Service design can be mapped using a service blueprint.
Components of ‘Service Design’
In user experience design multiple components must be designed: visuals, features and commands, copywriting, information architecture, and more. Not only should each component must be designed correctly, but they also be integrated to create a total user experience. Service design follows the same basic idea. There are several components, each one should be designed correctly, and all of them should be integrated.
The three main components of service design are:
People. This component includes anyone who creates or uses the service, as well as individuals who may be indirectly affected by the service.
- Fellow customers encountered throughout the service
Props. This component refers to the physical or digital artifacts (including products) that are needed to perform the service successfully.
- Physical space: storefront, teller window, conference room
- Digital environment through which the service is delivered
- Social Media
- Objects and collateral
- Digital files
- Physical products
Processes. These are any workflows, procedures, or rituals performed by either the employee or the user throughout a service.
- Withdrawing money from an ATM
- Getting an issue resolved over support
- Interviewing a new employee
- Sharing a file
Returning to the restaurant example, people would be farmers growing the produce, restaurant managers, chefs, hosts, and servers. Props would include (amongst others): the kitchen, ingredients, POS software, and uniforms. Processes would include: employees clocking in, servers entering orders, cleaning dishes, and storing food.
Frontstage vs. Backstage
Service components are broken down into frontstage and backstage, depending on whether the customers sees them or not. Think of a theater performance. The audience sees everything in front of the curtain: the actors, costumes, orchestra, and set. However, behind the curtain there is a whole ecosystem: the director, stage hands, lighting coordinators, and set designers.
Though not ever seen by the audience, the backstage plays a critical part in shaping the audience’s experience. In a restaurant, what happens in the kitchen dictates what appears on your table.
Frontstage components include:
Backstage components includes:
Service Design vs. Designing a Service
Service design is not simply designing a service. Service design addresses how an organization gets something done— think “experience of the employee.” Designing a service addresses the touchpoints that create a customer’s journey — think “experience of the user.”
As a parallel, every software application has a user interface, no matter how rudimentary. However, writing code that creates an interface as a bi-product would not be called a ‘user interface design process’. Similarly, even if the user interface were created from a deliberate design process, it would not be a product of ‘user experience design’ unless the experience of the user is taken into account.
Why do we need to care about service design and the “experience of the employee” as UX Designers? An organization’s backstage processes (how we do things internally) have as much, if not more, impact on the overall user experience as the visible points of interaction that users encounter. If a server does not successfully communicate allergies to the chef, a diner could consume food with severe consequences. If a restaurant is overcrowded, but has a systematic process for clearing tables and assigning seating, customers never have to wait or know its overcrowded in the first place.
Benefits of Service Design
Most organizations’ resources (time, budget, logistics) are spent on customer-facing outputs, while internal processes (including the experience of the organization’s employees) are overlooked. This disconnect triggers a common, widespread sentiment that one hand does not know what the other is doing.
Service design bridges such organizational gaps by:
- Surfacing conflicts. Business models and service-design models are often in conflict because business models do not always align with the service that the organization delivers. Service design triggers thought and provides context around systems that need to be in place in order to adequately provide a service throughout the entire product’s life cycle (and in some cases, beyond).
- Fostering hard conversations. Focused discussion on procedures and policies exposes weak links and misalignment and enable organizations to devise collaborative and crossfunctional solutions.
- Reducing redundancies with a bird’s-eye view. Mapping out the whole cycle of internal service processes gives companies a bird’s-eye view of its service ecosystem, whether within one large offering, or across multiple subofferings. This process helps pinpoint where duplicate efforts occur, likely causing employee frustration and wasted resources. Eliminating redundancies conserves energy, improves employees’ efficiency, and reduces costs.
- Forming relationships. Service design helps align internal service provisions like roles, backstage actors, processes, and workflows to the equivalent frontstage personnel. To come back to our initial example, with service design, information provided to one agent should be available to all other agents who interact with the same customer.
The Principles of Service Design Thinking – Building Better Services
he principles here are drawn from the design ethos of Design4Services, the organization that is committed to developing service design and promoting business transformation. These are widely accepted in the commercial sector. There are other ways of approaching service design, which are not as widely used but which may add value to the service designer’s toolkit; we have listed some of these approaches in the resources section at the end of this piece.
When it comes to service design – it can help to remember that “A design isn’t finished until somebody is using it.” Brenda Laurel, designer at MIT.
Author/Copyright holder: jonny goldstein. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0
Service design feeds into creating great customer experiences. This a customer experience map for a utility service.
General Principles of Service Design
The general principles of service design are to focus the designer’s attention on generic requirements of all services. They are complemented by principles that relate to process design, organizational design, information design and technology design – we will come to these complementary principles in a few moments.
The general principles of service design are:
- Services should be designed based on a genuine comprehension of the purpose of the service, the demand for the service and the ability of the service provider to deliver that service.
- Services should be designed based on customer needs rather than the internal needs of the business.
- Services should be designed to deliver a unified and efficient system rather than component-by-component which can lead to poor overall service performance.
- Services should be designed based on creating value for users and customers and to be as efficient as possible.
- Services should be designed on the understanding that special events (those that cause variation in general processes) will be treated as common events (and processes designed to accommodate them)
- Services should always be designed with input from the users of the service
- Services can and should be prototyped before being developed in full
- Services must be designed in conjunction with a clear business case and model
- Services should be developed as a minimum viable service (MVS) and then deployed. They can then be iterated and improved to add additional value based on user/customer feedback.
- Services should be designed and delivered in collaboration with all relevant stakeholders (both external and internal)
Author/Copyright holder: brandon schauer. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 2.0
One of service design’s eventual outputs is the service blueprint which details all interactions with a customer. The service design principles ensure that this blueprint adds customer value when complete.
Process Design Principles for Service Design
Much of service design is found in the design of processes, both internal and external, and these principles underpin this:
- Any activity that fails to add value for the customer should be eliminated or minimized
- Work is always structured around processes and not around internal constructs such as functions, geography, product, etc.
- Work shall not be fragmented unless absolutely necessary. This enables accountability and responsibility from a single individual and reduces delays, rework, etc. It encourages creativity,innovation and ownership of work.
- Processes should be as simple as possible. Focus on reducing process steps, hand overs, rules and controls. Wherever possible the owner of the process should have control over how it is delivered.
- Processes should reflect customer needs and many versions of a process are acceptable if customers have different needs.
- Process variation should be kept to a minimum.
- Process dependencies should be kept to a minimum. (I.e. process in parallel)
- Processes should be internalized rather than overly decomposed (e.g. training is better than work instructions)
- Process breaks and delays must be kept to a minimum
- Reconciliation, controls and inspection of process must be kept to a minimum
- KPIs for processes will only measure things that matter
Organizational Design Principles for Service Design
People are the key to service delivery and some basic principles for organizations can help them realize their full potential:
- Work groups are to be organized so that they match the processes and the competencies required
- Individual workers will be given sufficient autonomy to make useful decisions
- Work will take place in a location where it is done with the most efficiency
Author/Copyright holder: Mschatten. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 3.0
Organizational design is a field all of its own and can become incredibly complex. It’s normally a process managed by HR but there’s no reason that UX and service designers cannot be involved.
Information Design Principles for Service Design
Information flow is key to delivering high quality services; if people don’t know what they’re supposed to and when they’re supposed to know it – service suffers. These are simple principles for information design in service design:
- Data shall be normalized between the organization and its customers and within the organization itself
- Data shall be easy to transfer and be reusable within the organization and within the partner network
- Wherever possible data entry shall be avoided and be replaced by data lookup, selection and confirmation utilities instead
Author/Copyright holder: Data Integration Glossary. Copyright terms and licence: Public Domain.
Data design will normally be carried out by DBAs (Database Administrators) however; UX and service designers should have a large amount of input in ensuring guiding principles are adhered to.
Technology Design Principles for Service Design
Technology design principles are used to support the delivery of service. They include:
- Technology should always be used to enable a service; it should not be the driver of a service.
- Technology should be pulled into a service design rather than pushed into it.
- Technology design is to be flexible enough and agile enough to allow fast modification in the face of changing customer requirements
The Take Away
Service design principles support the development of services which deliver high quality experiences to users and customers. Many of these principles are similar to principles already employed in UX design and it should be relatively easy for an experienced UX designer in products to transition to UX design for services.
The design4services website is a free resource with large amounts of resources for service designers – http://design4services.com/
Moz examine 6 simple service design principles here – https://moz.com/blog/applying-service-design-online
The service design program looks at 10 service design principles for web services here – http://www.theservicedesignprogramme.org/2012/11/guest-post-10-principles-for-service-design/
Hero Image: Author/Copyright holder: _dChris. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0
When backstage problems exist, they have frontstage consequences: poor service, customer frustration, and inconsistent channels. Streamlining backstage processes improves the employees’ experience, which, in turn, allows them to create a better user experience.
Learn more about design thinking in the full-day course Service Blueprinting.
Kalbach, Jim. “Mapping Experiences.” O’Reilly Media, Inc, 2016.
Shostack, Lynn. “Designing Services that Deliver.” Harvard Business Review, 1984.