How to Design Better Customer Service
Is service design just a new catchphrase or does it deliver meaningful results? Buzzwords can be both good and bad. Within a tight-knit group of specialists (or even an industry) they can carry significant meaning, but to outsiders they can create barriers to understanding and participation.
This frequently happens when business leaders are bombarded with such messages as adopting human-centered design, or design thinking, or an Agile approach to design, or user experience design, or even service design.
The all-encompassing description for these design development descriptions is Design Thinking. Design Thinking is a human-centered, highly collaborative, and iterative process. In fact, based on the 6-step model for designing, it goes beyond just thinking to actually getting the product, or service, to market faster and more efficiently.
So it is Agile and Lean, and like both of them has a learned process all successful adherents follow. In spite of its title, Design Thinking should not be considered applicable to only designers—all great innovators in literature, art, music, science, engineering, and business have practiced it.
Like most innovative and efficient methodologies, it has the ability to adapt to many different scenarios—including service.
While described in some literature as far back as 1980, Design Thinking began gaining traction around 2000. Nor should it surprise anyone that the first iPod hit the market in 2001. With the help of a book published in 2009 titled, “Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation,” Service Design began to gain momentum.
What is Service Design?
Service design is targeted at improving both the customer and employee satisfaction. Its methodology is based around organizing service provisions targeted at interactions with users, touchpoints, service personnel, and backstage actors. Backstage actors are any policies, procedures, and fulfillment processes that impact the customer but are hidden from their view.
This approach focuses on the inter-relationships of all connected parts (people, infrastructure, communication, etc.) to understand the underlying structure. Service design teams not only consider system changes addressing a specific problem, but will also analyze the impact of all elements as part of one big system.
As with UX design, service design is also based on an iterative process which can be grouped under the four steps of exploration, creation, reflection and implementation.
To be successful, UX design must be user-centered. However, service users include more than customers—they also include employees. As a result, a required first step in exploration is to make sure you clearly know the culture, organizational structure, vision and goals of the company providing the service.
User personas and journey maps are a great way to gather relevant data around customers and employees after the company baseline has been properly defined.
Exploration should also include more than identifying problems to be solved. In addition, it must also include questioning if the stated problems are the cause, or only a symptom of an underlying issue.
Creation can also be referenced as ideation, or design conception. The key principle here is that creation does not equal a final product or service. Sustainable solutions require that all primary stakeholders are included as either subject matter experts (SME) or team members. Stakeholders should include customers who represent targeted segments, service employees, engineers, risk and compliance representatives, accountants, and management.
Bringing this variety of backgrounds together will result in challenges during the creative process. Those with personalities and responsibilities that require precision and accuracy (engineers, compliance, and accountants) will struggle at the beginning to understand that the goal is not to create a final product. This is because they have little margin in their professional duties for error, and as a result this will be a new concept for them.
There are usually two approaches for incorporating these critical people into the creation process. One is to select those who will be team members and focus on training before the team is formed—and then constantly reference the training when they focus on mistakes or risks.
A preferred approach is to provide a training class as part of the team kickoff. Then when members fall into focusing on eliminating risks and mistakes during the creation process, make sure their points are recorded and then move on with the creative process. You’ll discover you want to know their concerns down the road.
If you’ve selected your team properly, these bright perfectionists will learn to voice their concerns at the appropriate time as they realize their expertise is appreciated and will not be discarded. Once they experience firsthand the value of embracing mistakes (prototyping) as a means to identifying problems early on, they will become key generators of ideas.
The reflection phase prototypes and tests a variety of different ideas and concepts. There are substantial differences in prototyping and testing services rather than products. For instance, you can’t just put a service in the hands of a customer and ask them what they think.
There are usually two scenarios in service prototyping:
- You are attempting to redesign an existing service—either because of customer complaints or a need to increase efficiencies for cost reduction and/or improved customer service.
- You want to introduce a new service for new fee revenue and/or increased market share.
Both settings require the ability to create a mental picture and guide customers and employees through some role-playing mockups. However, with the second situation you will probably start role-playing without any technological infrastructure, as you may not have enough data in an early pilot to tell you what the infrastructure will likely require. Even without real protocols, you can set up a simulated environment in a pilot situation.
In the case of the first scenario, you can frequently use the existing service (and its infrastructure) to create a prototype of the improved service. This provides some reference points for the customers and employees you involve in the prototyping, but will likely still require role-playing at some point.
Fortunately there are various methodologies that can be used singly or together, to assist with the reflection process.
Reflection Process Includes:
- Use Cases. These are typically used to develop interaction flows as they allow the team to rough draft the functionality of the service. If service blueprints haven’t been mapped before, this is time to create them. Service blueprints diagram the relationships between different service components — people, props (physical or digital), and processes.
- Service and/or Experience Prototypes. These are basic role-playing prototypes that allow the team to observe customers and employees interaction with each other and the service in situations and conditions that simulate the real, or perceived future environment. It allows verification of what happens when external factors interfere with the service delivery, and reveals errors that were missed previously. This can also be done with the users not aware of the team’s observance.
- Constructive Interaction. Interaction is an enhancement to the service/experience prototypes by having the user think out loud about why they are doing what they are doing and how they feel about the process.
- Heuristic Evaluation. In a heuristic evaluation, usability experts review the service and compare it against accepted usability principles. The analysis results in a list of potential usability issues. Such analysis is very helpful, but it should not replace user testing, as the issues found in this evaluation will differ from those found when directly engaging with users. It can serve as a first step to receive quick feedback at the beginning, or used as the final step to catch any undiscovered weaknesses or compliance issues.
Implementation is moving the service beyond reflection and into production and rollout and should align with a company’s change management process and procedures. If this is an organizations’ first step into Agile, Lean, or Design, then there may need to be some adjustments made.
Implementation should be considered at the start of the designing process. This means this should not be the first time the team begins discussing it. At the very least, leadership needs to have been in agreement with the need to change before the team was formed.
All stakeholders need to agree that change is a process, not an event, and that implementation is a key activity, not the conclusion. Change management is therefore less about delivering an end result, and more about facilitating the change.
While this paper will not dive into the change management process, there are key steps in implementation that should be listed. They are:
- Establish clear communication channels and messages
- Create an accurate timeline
- Assign accountability to team members and stakeholders
- Identify measurements of success or KPIs
- Design and incorporate training
- Construct feedback loops
- Produce evaluation mechanisms
- Iterate, iterate, iterate
Service design has matured significantly since its emergence in the early 2000’s and provides many competitive advantages to companies who use it. Benefits include; better understanding of customers, better idea generation, better innovation practices, processes and capabilities, improved decision making, better service experience for customers, lower development costs, and reduced development time.
In summary, service design supports sustainable business model innovation by uncovering strategic as well as operational synergies within businesses, industries, and technologies.