Service design: the process and the effects on customer service

A recent blog article I wrote for a Government conference I was presenting at on  improving Customer Service for Criterion Conferences. 

The big digital platform providers are telling us we have moved into an experience economy. One only needs to look at the growth and impact of user experience on businesses to know the emerging impact of service design.


Service design is the idea that all business processes and customer interactions are designed to fulfil customer goals across all channels, from face-to-face to digital. The objective is to present an even experience across all channels. A sign of success is a customer’s ability to start an interaction in one channel and move to another, seamlessly.


This is not a pipe…

The 5 Ps

Price, Place, Promotion, Product and the later Position have become known as the 5 P’s. The 5P’s or marketing mix is still key to the concept of online merchandising.  In traditional retail, merchandising is the display of products and the way that these products are displayed to ultimately move the consumer from consideration to purchase.  Online presents merchandising as an acquisition funnel – people research, become aware, move to consideration and then purchase, if convinced.

In bricks and mortar we are limited by physical space and the way we control space. Even with the shopping-mall design concept of the Gruen Transfer, that deliberately confuses consumers by providing them with distracting stimulus to take them away from their original shop purpose, we cannot ultimately control their journey.

Online seeks to take away the confusion by identifying consumer behaviour and desires. The aim is therefore not to confuse but deliver a simple experience that allows consumers to move through a sales funnel with confidence as they are presented relevant content and the right product. This typically is the eCommerce experience. One only needs to look at Amazon to see the pure merchandising experience; Search as the Hero Feature; Featured Products; Offers and Product Categories allow consumers to browse or quickly move to their purchase objective. This is supported with a relevance engine that will target product to a consumer, based on their browsing habits.

Key to the success of merchandising is that ability to sell production that is needed or wanted. One only needs to look at good affiliate marketing campaigns to realise this is key to success; examples include low interest rate credit cards and iPhones.

Changing Behaviours and Customer Experience Design

 Change and the ability for consumers to change their behavior is accepted. In banking consumers have changed from banking from a single branch (location), to linked branches; And signatures in passbooks, to electronic cards linking banks across the globe. Accelerated changes in banking supports the view that consumers are able to change and change quickly if there is benefit.

In digital the discipline of creating effective change is delivered through User Experience (UX), now also commonly referred to as Customer Experience (CX). UX engages a User Centred Design (UCD) approach to deliver an experience that also supports change. The limitation of this research in the UCD approach, if too puritan is that Consumers/Users only know what they know. New thinking or innovation therefore needs to be inspired.

The first commercial user interface for Computers was DOS, based on the constructs of  using a keyboard (such as a typewriter), to enter commands. This was followed by a Graphic User Interface (GUI), that used a mouse to issue commands in a graphical environment. The benefit to the User was that they would not need to remember commands but would interact with icons. The objective of this change has always been to create a simpler experience for Users to meet their objectives.

In User Experience this has included refining the Information architecture and User Interface or what UX would call the interaction model to allow users to quickly and intuitively complete their task. Most recently UX design needs to take into account multiple device that allow a seamless experience. The ultimate is to move towards what is called a Service Design experience that will present an uninterrupted experience across multiple touch points. In short the consumer will be able to start an experience in any channel with the same brand experience across offline or online; And complete this purchase path through any channel seamlessly through hands-offs.

Self Service in the age of bots

 Self Service

We live on a spinning rock. It catapults us at 1,600 km/p/hr. It’s speed is a constraint reminder of the rate of change we live with. Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book Future Shock tell the story of a man becoming lost on a trip to the corner store because the environment has changed around them. Change is so rapid  they can no longer recognized their landmarks. It is a warning not necessarily of the rate of change but our ability to absorb it.

This is now the world we live in. The way customer interact with us has changed, they now expect to engage with us 24/7 and government is no exception. Gone are the 9 to 4.30pm open hours.

“Go digital or fall behind” is true for the simple fact that digital is always on, it is the way we can meet our 24/7 objectives.

But this was not always the case. In the early days of electricity homes only had access to in the evening. This limited innovation for machines such as refrigeration. It was only when electricity become “always connected” that we were truly able to innovate.

In the beginning of the internet we dialed up and connected with limited download speed and access. We were fixed to a desktop and immobile.

With the evolution of broadband we moved into a world where we are always connect and with mobile internet and wireless we are no longer constrained to a desktop but are mobile.

This has seen us move beyond physical and digital spaces into what I call phygital, the use of digital in physical spaces and combined customer experiences.

If you’ve been into a Service NSW or Medicare you can see it with the use of a concierge directing/assisting people to resolve their problem. Sometimes they direct them to a Agent and sometimes they direct them to a self service kiosk or PC to resolve their issue.

The experience is something that comes from the growing movement towards Service Design. What is Service Design – the idea is that all business processes and customer interactions are designed to fulfil customer goals across all channels from face to face to digital. The objective of good design is to present an even experience across all channels. And a sign of success is a customer’s ability to start an interaction in one channel and move to another seamlessly.

To architect the experience we need to create a customer experience platform both as a process and technology platform. The power of technology is its ability to bring the channels together (Contact Centres, Digital – web, email, chat, social and In-store) to manage the customer experience by connecting the technology platforms – Contact Centre Platform, CRM, Order Management, Payments, Knowledge Base etc. By doing this, in some cases we’ve grown the possibilities of self-service to allow customer to complete a transaction end to end.

The degree to which we move customers from service to self service varies from product or service to the ability of our customers to change but the benefits are clear, reduce cost to service, increase speed to service, empower the customer, etc

At DoE we are at the very beginning of the journey.

We are putting the foundations in for our digital platform as we roll out a new content management system and redevelop public website and intranet.

A key part of the approach is to use user centred design (UCD) that includes research (e.g. best practice reviews and ethnographic or behavioral studies) and concepting or ideation with a broad range of disciplines to create designs and validate these designs through Proof of Concepts and user feedback.

6 Key Factors to Self Service

  1. Self Service is something that the customer needs to choose but a well designed service can be directed customer to self serve. This can be achieved in any channel from IVR/NLRS (Natural Language Retrieval System) to digital.
  1. The use of a virtual assistant is being used to promote customer self service and can guide people to use such tools as a knowledge base without being aware of it. This is most often done via a chat window.
  1. CSR/Agent Knowledge Bases are being opened up to customers to ensure the service and self service experience are the same.
  1. Self Service Help needs to be contextual. Essentially if someone is filling out a form or transacting and needs help, support should be within the page and context of the transaction.
  1. Video support is increasing in use to allow customers to self service and resolve support issues. Ideally this would be available in context and in a customers environment. For example Xerox enables the technical support workforce to learn at the moment of need by accessing specific video from their mobiles (triggered from the copier devise)
  1. If self service fails a customer they should be handed off smoothly to a real agent along with their browsing history. Handoffs are also being heightened with the use of co-browsing (allowing the agent to connect up to a customer’s browser window, see the customer’s web page and mouse cursor, and interact with the web page in real-time). This also includes the ability move between channels and self service to service.

User Centred Design and defining the narrative

The process

The research and concepting phase is key to delivering a solution that solves a customer or business problem and User Centred Design (UCD) has become the best practice approach. This is largely due to the use of field/ethnographic studies in the research phase and the validation of concepts through User Testing and feedback. The first incarnation of UCD could be seen in Design Thinking (developed in the 1970’s) that argued for a shift away from analytical thinking to creative thinking in an attempt to innovate and problem solve. The approach encourages people to think outside the box. The process includes engaging a broad range of disciplines from accountants, creatives, technologists etc, within the organization in concepting workshops (often referred to as ideation). The workshop starts with broad ideas and narrows these down to the best ideas that solve the problem, with a focus on the end user. This is driven through the user research that promotes empathy during the concepting phase. Finally, designs are validated by testing a proto-type with users and seeking feedback.

The narrative

The use of narrative and organizational storytelling is on the rise. CEOs and Thought Leaders have turned to it as a way to communicate a vision. The reason for this is that stories evoke emotion and empathy that inspire people, partly as they can put themselves in the shoes of the story’s character(s). For CEO’s and Thought Leaders storytelling has the potential to generate buy-in and motivate people to deliver the vision, and good UCD is a way to identify these stories. This is partly because of the authenticity that comes from the UCD process and its approach to validating the solution.

Creating the narrative

Effective user research captures stories about people, their thinking and behaviours in the context of their environments. This raw data is typically used to create personas (a character with attributes and behaviours) and map journeys and customer touch points to help design solutions for customer or business problems. This is inline with the classic art of storytelling depicting character(s) and their journey to overcome conflict, set against locations and events. In organizational storytelling conflict is replaced by a business problem and the happy ending achieved by solving the problem and as a result the customer achieving their goal(s).

Creating stories through UCD

There are 4 steps to creating a narrative from UCD.

1 – Use the narrative construct or framework to tell your story, that is i) there are character(s), ii) set against a series of events, iii) as they try to reach their goal by resolving conflict. In additional stories use a 3 act structure, they have a beginning, middle and an end.

2 – Use the customer or business problem as the story’s conflict and the user goal as the character(s)’ goal.

3- identifying the character(s) through the personas. Personas are key outputs of UCD research. They are used to assist with design by User Experience Designers and typically contain – i) the character details (name, age, back story, goals and frustrations), ii) attributes, iii) their relationships and iv) specifications such as technology awareness, touch points etc

4) – Kraft their journey, this will come from the customer journeys, another output of the UCD process.

In conclusion

The vision presents the future or end state and its benefits. It therefore cannot be fact but must be based on fact to support its possibility. This is where UCD can be used as it creates personas/characters people can relate too, and builds scenarios to capture an “as is” and “to be” state that present the future vision. In doing so UCD creates stories that are the basis of change within organizations.