The making of a Service Design Hero

Alberto, what do you think about the current war for talent?” a good friend asked to me.

Wow, that’s a big topic and I’m afraid although I have hired, trained and coached many talented teams in my life, I would only have a partial view on it. So, what I proposed him instead, was that I would approach his question from within my area of expertise:

1.   I would start a series describing the skills and mindset needed for several roles where I have expertise on. The first post was about becoming a “Marketing Hero”. Today I’ll be touching on what’s needed to be a great “Service Designer”, and soon I’ll be reflecting on how to become an excellent “Product Manager”.

2.   I would then try to close the loop by describing how a team of Marketers, Service Designers and Product Managers would address the global talent issue if they were responsible for it.

So, let’s talk today about “Service Design”:

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Service Design sits within the fundamental architecture of a company

Service Design is not a function, a role or a department. It is ultimately a collective team sport where small decisions taken by many stakeholders within a company result in an experience for customers interacting with that corporation.

Eventually, in any organization, you will see there is a “Customer Experience” unit, or a “Service Design” team. Although they will play a fundamental role in shaping how a product or service is delivered to customers, the real experience that they will enjoy or suffer will very much depend on a wider stakeholders footprint. From the training that front line agents interacting with customers had, to how the payment process was wired or how human resources hired employees, all those activities will have a fundamental influence on the service the customer experiences.

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So, what is exactly Service Design?

A service is something that your company provides to a customer to deliver value. It very often includes a core product/service which is the fundamental element of the value proposition, but has many “satellite value drivers” as great usability, streamlined payment options, excellent delivery, outstanding customer care support, fabulous onboarding, …

A first challenge that companies face when crafting a new service proposal is that they need to reflect on a few topics:

·     Who are the customers (customer base)?

·     What are the core needs from those customers (pains/gains)?

·     How those customers would like to engage with my service (channels)?

On top of that, services are made of things that customers experiment themselves, but they are also supported by a huge amount of processes that are just below the tip of the iceberg.

In this circumstances, Service Designers are the professionals at the cornerstone of service definition, from the pure customer experience perspective as well as how the company craft such a value proposition and deliver it to the customer in an efficient and effective way.

Service Design is responsible for the overall end-to-end experience that customers have over time, where bites of value are delivered along their journey.

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You never start with an empty white sheet

Unless you are launching a company from scratch, chances are high that Service Design practice must be adaptative, playing with the existing assets and processes that the company already has.

Whenever we start thinking about how to deliver as product or service, several decisions have been made already in the company, from the organizational chart, to budget allocation or strategic initiatives definition or the culture style. All of them have a massive influence in which services can be delivered, how they are offered, and the value customers can get out of them.

Although this is quite frustrating for inexperience service designers, having some kind of restrictions very often is a nudge to creativity and great service designers embrace them as an advantage.

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What are the building blocks of a Service?

There are five elements that define a service:

1. The “Core” Service: this is what we as a company offer, the technical characteristics of our service, the price and commercial conditions, the range,… In my view, it has three fundamental elements that a great Service Designer should address:

·     Value proposition: how our service relates to addressing the pains that the customer has or the uplift in the gains that the customer can get by using our service. (e.g. in an airline it would be for example the flight schedule or the seat comfort).

·     Quality / Reliability: how solid our service performs, how strong our reputation is, why customers should work with us. (e.g. in an airline, the punctuality).

·     Customization: how customers can embrace our service, plugging it within an existing routine, customize it to make the most out of it. (e.g. in an airline, the flexibility to change the flight).

2.   The “Delivery”: this is about how our service arrives to the customer, and very often has a more relevant impact than the core service itself.

·     Speed: how effective we are delivering the service where and when the customer needs it. (e.g. in an airline, how streamlined the checkin at the airport is).

·     Usability / Accessibility: how easy it is for customers to interact with our company and get access to our services (e.g. in an airline, how easy it is to book a flight in the website).

·     Friendliness: how we let customers feel when exposed to our services (e.g. in an airline, how responsive customer-facing staff is).

3.   The “Processes”: services do not happen “out of the blue”. There is a massive work to be done around creating an operative model that supports the value delivery.

·     Technology: which technological tools we use to operate the service (e.g. in an airline, the booking management tool).

·     Governance: how different departments interact along the customer journey (e.g. in an airline, how Handling suppliers and Ground operations work together).

·     Data: how customer information is shared among different business units to support a consistent experience (e.g. in an airline, the Customer Relationship Management CRM tool).

4.   The “Support”: no matter how strong the service design is, disruption will happen sooner than later. Internally generated disruptions are normally easier to control and manage (e.g. internal systems degradation), but there are hundreds of potential external phenomena that can impact how our service operates (e.g. weather, regulatory changes…).

·     Channels: which channels are we offering to our customers for attending them when in a disruption (e.g. in an airline, call centers, chatbots, online formularies, agents at the airport…).

·     Response time: how fast we are reacting to the disruption and offering an alternative to our customers (e.g. in an airline, accommodating customers in an alternative flight).

·     Empowerment: how easy can customers adapt the service to the new environmental conditions (e.g. in an airline, self-management tools to choose alternatives).

5.   The “Ecosystem”: a company never operates in isolation. Competition and collaboration are the bread and butter of business, and that is great because it requires Service Designers to never stop innovating and envisioning what’s next.

·     Competitors: not only the most obvious ones delivering similar services but also alternative ones competing for the same “share of wallet” (e.g. in an airline, other carriers or high-speed train providers).

·     Partners: other corporations delivering services in adjacent territories from the customer point of view that could help us to craft superior services by merging complimentary value propositions (e.g. in an airline, hotel accommodation providers).

·     Suppliers: other companies providing services that we can integrate within our core service definition (e.g. in an airline, inflight entertainment suppliers).

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What tools do Service Designers use?

There are hundreds of tools that Service Designers can use, and I believe the most talented ones are great choosing from the whole toolkit, those tools that are more effective for the purpose. Although the service design process is iterative, there are some fundamental steps that are great to follow. The tools used for each step are slightly different, but ultimately oriented to designing the right things and designing things right:

·     Researchingcard sorting (organize content in a way that suits users’ mental models), empathy map (share key assumptions around user attitudes and behaviors), journey map (describe how the user interact with the service, throughout its touchpoints), personas (narrate the different types of users, based on clusters of behaviors and needs), stakeholders maps (identify the role of each stakeholder, and relation dynamics).

·     Ideationexperience principles (identify a set of guiding principles to inspire the design of a specific service experience), brainstorming (first diverge and generate as many idea as you can, then converge around solid concepts), evaluation matrix (prioritize ideas based on the most relevant success criteria for the project).

·     Prototypinguser scenarios (explain the envisioned experience by narrating a relevant story of use), user stories (detail the features that need to be developed in the form of user interactions), rough prototyping (quickly mock-up ideas using simple assets and materials, already available on the spot).

·     Implementationbusiness model canvas (plan and understand in advance the business model and constraints of the service you are designing), value proposition canvas (describe the value offered by the service in simple words), service blueprint (map out the entire process of service delivery, above and below the line of visibility), service roadmap (plan the service execution over time, from a minimum set of functionalities to delivering the full experience), success metrics (define a set of KPI to measure the project outcomes and service success).

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So what skillset is needed to become an outstanding Service Designer?

Well, we have covered what Service Design is, the building blocks of Service and the toolkit that designers should master. But what makes a great designer, orchestrating all of it together?

They need the capabilities to navigate the organization, diagnose the parts that are blocking a service meeting user needs, and collaboratively craft a strategy alongside domain experts on how to improve this and execute it fully.

Depending on their role within the organization (individual contributors, team leaders), the balance between different skills may vary. I would say although individuals could be spiky, teams should be well-rounded.

I will divide the skillset in four different clusters:

·     Cognitive skills: The ability to leverage user feedback in all its forms (from casual conversations to formal research) to understand how customers engage with the service, make better decisions and drive meaningful outcomes to the business. Define an overall vision of the service that connects to the strategy of the company and deliver a clear roadmap of highly prioritized features that deliver against that vision.

( System thinker / Process orientation /  Research pro / Financial literacy / User Centered Design / UX Fundamentals / UI Fundamentals / Problem Solving / Experimentation / Strategic vision / Bias free )

·     Social skills: The ability to connect with customer needs, empathizing with their pains and gains and translating them into actionable and high impact service features. Proactively identify stakeholders and work with them building services that deliver meaningful business outcomes. Manage and mentor direct reports with the goal of enabling them to continuously improve against service design competencies.

( Facilitation / Empathy with users / Story telling / Stakeholders management / Mobilization across the organization / Team building )

·     Technological skills:  The ability to understand how technology can support crafting services with a strong and positive customer footprint while they improve overall operations within the company. Embrace Data as a key element of service continuous improvement.

( Technology acumen / Data literacy / Agile software development knowledge )

·     Self-Management skills: The ability to understand and contribute to the overall business strategy, making the most out of the company assets and position Service Design as a fundamental workstream to survive under high volatility and ambiguity.

( Citizen of the world / Massive curiosity / Fast decision making / Growth mindset / Comfort with extreme ambiguity / Resilience / Results driven / Business outcome ownership )

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Putting it all together

Well, who said that Service Design was easy? It is rare that you can find everything above in any single individual. I was lucky enough to work with a number of them during the last years, and when it happens, the progress made in an organization towards customer centricity is massive.

If you are lucky and find one of these “unicorns” ever, try as much as possible to keep it, support the development and create a cultural safe environment for them to flourish. Your customers will very much appreciate it 😉

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