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 😉

Airline Innovation Talk with Alberto Terol Conthe, Head of Customer Experience Design and Development at Iberia

( This is a transcript of the podcast from Diggintravel, by Iztok Franko https://diggintravel.com/airline-innovation-talks-iberia/ )

«What does windsurfing have to do with Marketing and Innovation?»

My friend Iztok Franko started his last podcast with quite an eclectic and inspiring question.

I had a great experience talking to him about my vision as a #Marketing#Strategy and #Innovation proffesional.

If you want to listen to it, here is the link: https://lnkd.in/guENe96M

Some frameworks that we were discussing were:

* Effectiveness / Efficiency
* Real / Win / Worth
* Design the right things / Design things right
* Value creation / Value delivery
* Experimentation / Exploitation

Thanks a lot, Iztok, for challenging me with such though provoking questions

*******************************

“Iztok, I love your new podcast series. You had an airline digital talk. Then you did an airline data talk. What’s next?”

This is what somebody asked me recently on LinkedIn. For me, the next step was obvious: next in line was an airline innovation talk.

Why an airline innovation talk? Because recently when I was thinking about innovative solutions, I started to think, where does innovation really happen? Can you point a finger at one department, one area in a company? Are innovation departments the solution?

In my opinion, innovation happens when you combine insights from different areas and different people: data and analytics, digital experience, UX/UI, experimentation, customer research, customer service, product design, etc. To do innovative things, one needs to know all these areas and understand how they fit together. You need to know how to leverage insights from these areas to understand your customer’s pain points and build innovative solutions to address those needs. And this is what marketing should be all about: how to provide value for your customers.

As I was thinking about all these things, I remembered a great post about marketing and innovation I read a while ago. The article was titled “Marketing Hero“, and it was written by Alberto Terol Conthe. So, the guest for our airline innovation talk was a no-brainer.

Airline Innovation Talk with Alberto Terol Conthe, Head of Customer Experience Design and Development at Iberia

Marketing (Value) + Innovation (Creation)  = Value Creation

Alberto opened his article with one of my favorite quotes by Peter Drucker: “Business has only two basic functions, marketing and innovation.” So, my first question for him was, how do marketing and innovation fit together?

I always have thought that they are all together. I’m a marketeer. I started as a marketeer at 3M. Previously I was working in Accenture consultancy as well. But I would say my main business school was marketing, and then moving into innovation, I think they are very close fields. I tend to think marketing is about value, is about understanding customer needs. It is part of the discovery, the research, and understanding the pains and gains of the customer, and innovation is more about creation – bringing some new ways of doing things and new processes and new technologies.

If you put them all together – value creation, marketing, and innovation – they go so well together. It’s turning an idea based on some customer pain or gain into a solution and executing it and providing value from the customer perspective. So they go together. And I think the skills of good marketeers and good innovative people are quite similar. They are around curiosity, questioning everything, bringing the what and the how and the when and the why to every conversation.

Alberto mentioned that execution is an important element of marketing. Recognizing your customer pain points and figuring out innovative solutions is not enough.

I think a fundamental element, as well, of marketing and innovation is the execution. I have had a lot of discussions with certain designers and people from innovation like, “We created this beautiful PPT, and now it’s a matter of the execution team to execute.” My point is that unless a product or a service is crafted and then deployed into the market and it’s being consumed by a customer, there is no success at all. It’s just an idea.

In Successful Companies, Innovation Sits Very Close to the Business

The way Alberto talked about marketing and innovation made a lot of sense to me. But what I see in most companies, especially the big ones, is that marketing is still mostly about advertising – or, in the digital marketing case, it’s mostly about taking care of the website, ecommerce, and digital advertising. Why do we often see a separate innovation department?

I think marketing is very wide. My background is product marketing. You mentioned all the branding and channel management and stuff, and that’s part of marketing. But maybe what I would compare more between marketing and innovation is product management. There, I think it’s very close to each other.

Another example I would bring to you is that I think innovation teams in large companies sometimes are located in the HR people area because of all the change management needed and all the transformation efforts and so on. I think sometimes, very frequently – and I think nowadays even more frequently – they belong to the IT and technical organization, because it’s very much leveraging technology.

Alberto has recognized a pattern when it comes to innovative companies:

The examples I have seen as more successful normally are those in which these companies put the innovation function – the initial innovation function, because I think it has to embrace the whole organization – but let’s say the team mobilizing innovation from the very beginning sits very close to the business. Therefore, again, I see the link between marketing – which for me is value creation and value delivery, which is basically business – very much related to innovation.

Doing The Right Things Vs. Doing Things Right

One other part of Alberto’s article that I really liked was the distinction between two key areas of marketing. One is execution; Alberto calls it “doing things right.” The other part is more about forward-thinking, strategic foresight, and business modeling, and that’s what he calls “doing the right things.”

That’s a sentence [distinction] that we use very much in our service design team. I think both steps are needed. It reminds me a little bit of the Double Diamond in service design, the divergence and then the convergence. I think these two elements – designing the right thing, for me it belongs more to marketing. It’s discovering the underlying customer need, the pain, the job to be done, and so on. It’s designing the right thing.

Airline innovation and marketing framework

Source: Alberto Terol Conthe (LinkedIn)

When it comes to figuring out what the right thing is, Alberto mentioned an interesting “Real, Win, Worth” framework.

In 3M we had a heuristic that we used very frequently in designing the right thing, which is Real, Win, Worth. Every time we wanted to address if an opportunity was worth it for 3M, we would first envision if it was real, if there was a market, if there was a customer pain or need to be addressed. Is this opportunity real? The second one was, can we win? Do we have the capabilities in our company to achieve a successful business out of this opportunity? And the third one would be worth. Is it worth it, or would it be so costly or I would have to hire talent that I don’t have? Okay, so there’s opportunity, we could potentially win it, but it’s not worth it. Or it would not support our strategy or whatever. So for me, that’s the designing the right thing – deciding what you’re going to design and what’s out of scope as well, which is also very important.

And then we moved into designing things right. There is more the world of service design, designing a product and service that matches those needs that you have discovered in the designing the right thing. It has much more to do with UX, UI, choosing the right platform for delivering that product or service, choosing the right partners. It’s more the delivery part of the value. You can be very strong in value creation, but you can be very poor in value delivery. Again, execution becomes fundamental in the second part. We always, as service designers, try to keep both areas balanced – designing the right things, choosing the right fights to fight, but then deciding something that was worth it for the customer and appealing.

Top-Down or Bottom-Up?

To me, this concept of doing the right things and doing things right was really interesting. My background, my experience, and also our Diggintravel Airline Digital Optimization research is more about doing things right – how to be agile, how to do growth marketing, how to do digital optimization and conversion optimization. But if you do systematic digital optimization right, with agile loops of analyzing customer needs, managing data, doing structured analytics, trying to find solutions and designing digital products to address those needs, you’re basically moving up to doing the right thing. So, I asked Alberto: how are these things connected?

It’s iterative. You could eventually start defining an arena that you want to fight for. That’s the design the right thing. Then you move into design things right, and then you discover that it’s impossible to deliver value in that field. Then you may decide to reassess if you are fighting for the right opportunity, or you could move into an adjacent opportunity or so on.

I think it’s an iterative process, and moreover, I think when you launch a product – and this is something we very often forget as service designers; we forget about the product when it’s being delivered. I think especially in those first weeks and months and even years after the launch, they should be in hyper-care, and we should be reconsidering every time, every week, following the KPIs, the metrics, and improving the product.

Alberto recognizes the value of applying the principles of experimentation and being agile to the overall business model and overall products, not just the digital side.

I had once a boss that always came with the question, “Are you 100% sure that this product will be successful?” I said, “Come on, I’m not, but this is the Pareto principle. I’m pretty sure that’s the case. I would say I’m 80% confident that it’s the right product for the right market segment. But let’s launch and let’s learn on the go and adjust and adapt.” So I’m very fond of experimentation and agile launching of new products. Otherwise, it’s paralysis by analysis.

Finding new solutions versus optimizing existing ones

A systematic loop of digital optimization is great for incremental improvement, but you have to know whether you’re optimizing the right things.

I think the other element – because you start with A/B testing and improving and these incremental improvements – the reason I was mentioning that designing the right thing is so important is because very often, especially these days, there’s obsession with efficiency. “We have to deliver efficiency gains.” My point is that there’s nothing so useless as doing something very efficiently which is not usable at all, or that we shouldn’t have done at all. We can be executing something beautifully, it’s very efficient, but there is no customer need or there is no market to be addressed. I think therefore we need to keep balance on both aspects.

But experimentation, rapid prototyping and so on – in fact, we had a discussion earlier this week about prototyping. We were discussing research and we want customer research in which we would envision what customers want for a specific product segment. My point was that customers would never come with a solution. That’s the job of the product owner, of the marketeer. Eventually, by prototyping and showing them some mockups, we can show them, “This is the size and the color and the shape that this would have. Are we working in the right direction, or is this something that doesn’t resonate with you at all?” I think all this rapid experimentation makes perfect sense with any product launch.

Connection between design thinking and experimentation

Source: Visual Summary of “Testing Business Ideas” by David J Bland and Alex Osterwalder

Innovation Is More About Attitude and Culture Than It Is About Skills

One of the key insights Alberto shared in our airline innovation talk was in regard to his key learnings. The first thing he mentioned was attitude:

I thought that innovation was more about skills. I think over the years, I’m discovering that it’s far more about attitude. That’s the approach when I’ve been hiring marketeers in 3M, or now service designers at Iberia: bringing people with curiosity, with this sense of observation, with customer obsession – and when I say customer obsession, it’s spending a lot of hours with customers, interacting with them. Not focus groups, which is a controlled environment, but observing customers dealing with our products and services.

Then Alberto mentioned another interesting aspect of innovation and culture.

I would say another totally different topic which is relevant for progressing with innovation in companies is how managers get measured. Maybe in the vision statement in a company, it says that “we would like to be the most innovative.” Okay, let’s go into the KPIs that managers are using. Are they being measured by the business as usual or by exploring the next big thing? Very often, that tells you the culture of innovation which is happening in the company.

I mentioned culture. For example, something I loved about the American approach to innovation – and I experienced that in 3M, but I’ve been talking with friends from HP, Salesforce – I think in American corporations, there’s emotional safety within the teams for putting some time for exploring and trying to discover things out of business as usual. The famous rule of the 15%. There are many different mechanisms for making the teams work on something which is enriching the total knowledge within the company, and they can openly share their findings, and mistakes are allowed and so on. That cultural aspect is fundamental as well.