Service Design: From Insight to Implementation by Lara Penin provides a guide to thinking through the business context and problems of service design. 

This book is mostly good for people who are only familiar with tools and methods but haven’t deepened yet.

Key Takeaways

  1. Products designers should deal with many moving parts, but service designers should design systems that adapt well to continuously changing parts. Networks, organizations, and technology evolve daily, but the service still needs to deliver a powerful customer experience. 
  2. Network thinking: Service design grows out of a digitally professional native generation bred on network thinking. The focus has moved from efficient production to lean consumption, and the value set has moved from standards to quality. When we make smart use of technology and people networks, we can simplify complex services and make them more powerful for the customer. 
  3. How to create a service: When we build flexibility into the design, services will adapt better to change and perform longer for the user. When we apply design consistency to all elements of a service, the human experience will be fulfilling. When we measure service performance in the right way, we can prove that service design results in more effective employment of resources. 
  4. Service mindset: Applying the same mindset to designing a service as to designing a product can lead to hostility rather than user-friendly results. 
  5. Products are discrete objects: Product-centered companies tend to be separated into departments that specialize in one function and operate in silos. The division of the silos makes sense to the business units but not to the customer, who sees the entire offering as one experience. 
  6. Holistic experience: There are times when bits of the service are well designed, but the service itself hasn’t been designed. The problem is that customers don’t just care about individual touchpoints. They experience services as a whole and base their judgment on how well everything works together to deliver them value. 
  7. Interactions, motivations, and behaviors: The industrial legacy of treating services like products means that services often underperform and disappoint because they cannot be fixed in the same way with products. Services are about interactions between people, and their motivations and behaviors. Understanding people is at the heart of service design 
  8. Value only when using a service: A fundamental characteristic of services is that they create value only when we use them. Product-oriented organizations often fail to see the potential of using their customers to make a service more effective. For example, you cannot use the services of a dentist until you open your mouth and say where it hurts.
  9. Users are co-producers: Services are co-produced between the provider and users. Most customers have a keen interest in getting as much as possible out of the services they use, and by enabling users to step in and co-produce, providers can create win-win solutions. 
  10. Service design as competitive advantage: To an increasing degree, we see that the design of services is becoming a key competitive advantage. Physical elements and technology can easily be copied, but service experiences are rooted in company culture. Some of the greatest opportunities are found where a business model can be changed from a product model to a service model. 
  11. The three core values of services: Most services provide customers with at least one of these three:
    • Care for an object: Service providers provide care for money, freedom, and happiness 
    • Access: Generally, the services for which access is the primary value are services that give people access to large, complex, or expensive things that they could not obtain on their own. These services are fundamental and are typically noticed only when they are disrupted. People expect those services to always be there for them. As individuals, we understand that we all have our own experiences of the specific access we have to them. This is the service layer that enables us to access our bit of the larger whole. 
    • Response: Services that respond to people’s (often unforeseen) needs. These services are usually a mix of people and things that can assist us. In many respects, the response is the default understanding of what service is and created at the moment in reaction to a request.
  12. Behind the scenes: Service designers frequently need to make the invisible visible by showing customers what has gone on behind the scenes, showing staff what is happening in the lives of customers, and showing everyone the resource usage that is hidden away 
  13. Performance of service: The point of difference for any specific service is how it is delivered. Performance means the style or how the service is delivered. This performance makes up the immediate experiences that service users have. This “experience” aspect of performance is the delivery of the service to the service user on the “front stage.” 
    • Performance of value: Another meaning of the word “performance,” equally useful to service design, is service performance as a measure of value. This measure is both outward and inward-facing. Outward-facing value measurement asks how well the service is achieving the results promised to the service users. Inward-facing value measurement examines how well the service is performing for the organization. This value aspect of performance is the “backstage” measure of the service by the business—all the things that happen behind the scenes that help create or run the service experience for customers but that they don’t see
  14. Service as a relationship: People don’t “use” service providers. Instead, they enter into a relationship with professionals and service providers. It is essential to understand that services are highly complicated networks of relationships between people inside and outside the service organization. 
  15. Focusing on individuals: The moment we forget that people are involved throughout the entire chain of events, not just at the moment of use by the customer, things go wrong. Understanding not just people as individuals but also the relationships they have with others is essential. Shifting attention from the groups to the individual enables new opportunities, and because of this fact, service design places more emphasis on qualitative than quantitative research methods. Statistics are not very actionable for designers, they need to know the underlying reasons. 
  16. Service design and innovation: Service design and innovation go hand in hand. Much of the work involves shifting clients from an industrial mindset to thinking in a service paradigm. In the end, insights that drive innovation confidently answer the question: “Will our offering make sense in the context of people’s lives, and will they find it valuable?” Many service design projects are about improving an existing service, but here the insights research focus is slightly different. If a service already has many customers, and competitors have entered the market, one can assume that people understand how the service is used and that it is of value. In these cases, the focus is on discovering points of failure in the service a.k.a. “fail points” and opportunities for enhancing the experience. This focus means that we can narrow the research scope and look less at unfulfilled needs and more at usage in context. 
  17. Co-designing: Service design is about designing with people and not just for them. “People” also means the people working to provide the service, often called frontline, front-of-house, or customer-facing staff. Their experience, both in terms of their knowledge and their engagement in the job, is important to the ongoing success of service for two key reasons:
    • Happy staff equals happy customers, so their inclusion in the design of services ensures that providing the service will be a positive experience. Staff who are involved in the creation and improvement of service not only feel more engaged but through learning the complex ecology of the service they provide, they can continually improve the service themselves.
    • Along with customers, the frontline staff is often the real experts. They provide insights into the potential for service design that is frequently as valuable to the project as insights from customers, and they can provide a perspective on the day-to-day experiences that managers and marketing people may never experience.
  1. The gap between expectation and experience: Variation in quality between the touchpoints and the gap between expectations and experiences is important to look for. When people get what they expect, they feel that the quality is right. A minimal gap between expectation and experience means greater customer satisfaction.
  2. Service ecology: It is sometimes necessary to gain a sense of the context in which the service is operating, which is usually complex. You can map this out in a service ecology—a diagram of all the actors affected by a service and the relationships between them, displayed systematically. A healthy ecology is one in which everyone benefits, rather than having the value flow in one direction only.
    • The basic actors in a service ecology are the enterprises that make a promise to the customer, the agents who deliver that promise through different channels, and the customers who return value to the enterprise. Channels are the overall medium, and a touchpoint is an individual moment of interaction within that channel. So, a customer might interact with several touchpoints across a single channel or any channel. The role of the enterprise is to deliver the tools and infrastructure that agents need to deliver a good service experience. 
    • Brand value: Customers are usually motivated to provide labor, knowledge, and data if these will help them get a better result, and when customers invest in the outcome, they connect more strongly to the brand. 
    • The promise to the customer: This is fulfilled when agents provide utility and experience to customers through activities across the various channels, known as the “front stage”. Customers return added value to the enterprise through cooperation, information, and feedback, along with payment for services. If you provide users and staff with a good “stage” to interact and give them well-defined roles, clear goals, and the necessary props, people are likely to make the most out of the situation and create great experiences together. 
    • The service ecology map has three main purposes:  
    • To map service actors and stakeholders  
    • To investigate relationships that are part of or affect the service  
    • To generate new service concepts by reorganizing how actors work together 
  1. Interactions: All experiences of service are a result of interactions of some kind, from various touchpoints to interactions between previous experiences or beliefs. 
  2. Time and place: Service experiences are also affected by the contexts of time and place, and the most astonishing thing at the wrong time can be more of a service design failure than something average that is delivered at exactly the right moment.
  3. The service proposition: is essentially the business proposition, but seen from both the business and the customer/user perspective. The service proposition needs to be based on real insights collected from the research. 
  4. The purpose of service design blueprinting: is to ensure that all the different elements across all touchpoints are not designed in isolation. The blueprint leads to the design specifications for each touchpoint and acts as a way to orchestrate them all. Service design is both broad and deep.
  5. Zooming: The way to manage to zoom in and out, from detail to the big picture, is to use the service blueprint as a space in which different scenarios can be played out. The blueprint should show the essential parts of the service ecology so that you can track different user journeys through it in several “What if?” scenarios. 
  6. Service experiences: The current and future experiences of people are the contexts in which service design works. Services can be promoted through positive experiences by ensuring that they meet or exceed users’ expectations. 
    • Types of Experience  
    • User experience: Interactions with technologies 
    • Customer experience: Experiences with retail brands 
    • Service provider experience: What it is like on the other side 
    • Human experience: The emotional effect of services that impact the quality of life and well-being 
  1. Customer experience: The customer experience is the total sum of a customer’s interactions with a service. Customers have expectations of a service in terms of quality and value that broadens the day-to-day tasks undertaken. These expectations are set by the brand and experience of other services and are closely tied to the amount customers are paying. The emotion of bad service is not just frustration but also a reflection on the quality customers are getting for their payment.
  2. Product experience: Product experience is about the quality of tangibility. The fundamental concept to embrace when you design service is that perceived quality is defined by the gap between what people expect and what they experience. Therefore, the primary focus for a service designer is to make sure that every interaction with the service sets the right level of expectation for the next interaction. It means that the level of quality and the nature of the experience needs to be the same over time and across touchpoints. 
  3. Quality and experience: When you exceed expectations at a certain point, you have already set yourself up to disappoint at the next interaction if you cannot deliver at the same level. Sometimes, you may need to consider reducing the quality of a certain touchpoint to enhance the overall experience of quality in the service. When you set consistent expectations in each interaction and fulfill them in the next, people will feel quality. 
  4. Consistency: Customers choose their speed and path through a service, so you can only minimize the gap between expectation and experience by securing consistency. 
  5. Consumption as measurement: Measuring efficiencies in production makes sense from an industrial point of view, although the sustainability agenda requires companies to consider the full life cycle of products. But for services, what must be measured is consumption, the experiences of the service provider’s agents and users. When you base measurement on the problems and successes people have when they use a service, you are better positioned to streamline delivery while improving the customer experience.
  6. Services for a shared culture: What is measured should be driven by what is most likely to create a shared culture of improvement within the organization. This creates valuable, long-term relationships with customers and enables sustainable growth. 
  7. Behaviors in service design: Some typical behaviors often addressed in service design projects can be translated to results on the bottom line:  
  8. Organizations need to shift their offers, economics, and operations to orientate around providing access and convenience rather than products alone
  9. Customers need to shift their purchasing decisions from ownership to access and convenience. 
    • New sales: increased acquisition of new customers  
    • Longer use: increased loyalty and retention of customers  
    • More use: increase in revenue for every customer  
    • More sales: increased sales of other services from the same provider  
    • More self-service: reduced costs  
    • Better delivery processes: reduced costs  
    • Better quality: increased value for money and competitiveness 
  1. Things vs. benefits: Service design has a role to play in shifting economies away from valuing things to benefits because what is required for this shift is behavior change in two key audiences: 
    • Organizations need to shift their offers, economics, and operations to orientate around providing access and convenience rather than products alone
    • Customers need to shift their purchasing decisions from ownership to access and convenience. 
  2. The experience instead of the product: What we need is the experience or utility, not the product. For service to replace a product, it must be tangible, useful, and desirable, and service design provides an approach to designing this kind of service.
  3. Services in networks: Services that use networks to connect people act as multipliers to these individual shifts in resource usage and can reflect the effect of those multiplied changes to people in ways that inspire further shifts in behavior.

Tools and Methods

Quantitative methods: Quantitative methods are good for creating knowledge and understanding the field, but they are not very useful for translating knowledge into action and helping organizations do something with it. Qualitative studies are very good at bridging this gap. 

Option vs. choice: They do not want to have to choose from lots of options, but they want the experience of having made their own choice. 

Genuine personal: When it comes to customer relations, people see straight through things that are meant to be personal but are not. There is only one type of personal, and it is to be genuinely personal.

Research: The purpose of the research is to generate insight about needs and behaviors that can lay a solid foundation for a productive project and robust ideas, and to confirm these by prototyping early and often to test them out.

Segmentation by Journey Stage versus Target Groups: In our definition of service design, we talk about experiences that happen over time. In product design or marketing research, we would typically segment the market and interview people in a different age, socioeconomic, or behavioral groups. In services, a more useful way to engage with people is by looking at different stages of their relationship with the service. This strategy allows us to research the different journeys people might take through service and how they transition through the various touchpoints. 

Researching across Multiple Touchpoints: people interact with services through different channels in different situations that often include interactions with other people. Context is critical to gathering insights into people’s interactions with touchpoints, and a lab is not a context in which this can happen. From a service point of view, we are really after understanding how different touchpoints work together to form a complete experience. Therefore, try to research with people in the situations where they use the service.

Level of insight: The process is always the age-old trade-off between time, money, and quality. A useful way to think about this is to have a menu of the low, middle, and high levels of detail (and effort) to draw from as the situation requires.  

Depth interviews: focus groups are structurally problematic because each member gets only a few minutes to speak and even these short interactions are influenced by social pressures. In contrast, in-depth interviews offer deeper insights and are better value for the money. Interviewees should never be corrected about something they are explaining, even if they are completely wrong. Instead, ask them how or why they know what they are saying; it will reveal a lot more. 

Interviewing in pairs: In one-to-one situations, consumers, in particular, may say what they think you want to hear. For this reason, we find consumer research interviews conducted with couples or pairs of friends can be more useful than interviews with individuals because the subjects feed off each other’s answers and build on them. If they know each other well, they are likely to feel more comfortable and give genuine answers. We have found that pairs provide the most truthful feedback, and of course, you get two people’s opinions at the same time it takes to interview one person 

Recruit: This step can take two to three weeks, so it should be started early. If possible, use a recruitment company to do the hard work of recruiting interviewees. This may seem expensive but saves a lot of time. You need to be as clear as possible with the recruiters about who you need.  

Research: You may not know much about the topic you are interviewing on. If this is the case, you may need to research the area, but don’t spend too much time on it. Sometimes it is best to be a little naïve because it prevents you from making assumptions.

Plan the topics: When you have found out more, construct a prompt card. This should be a list of topics you want to cover during the interview.

Participant observation: Participant observation, or shadowing, provides rich, in-depth, and accurate insights into how people use products, processes, and procedures. It is very useful for understanding context, behavior, motivations, interactions, and the reality of what people do, rather than what they say they do. It gives good depth and insight into latent needs, the things people need, but perhaps do not know that they need because they are so used to their old routine. It is essential with this type of research to carry out the observations in the participant’s natural environment. When observing, there are two approaches you can take: the fly-on-the-wall method in which you just observe and pretend not to be there, or a more active approach in which you interact with users by asking them questions about what they are doing.

Service safari: A service safari gives participants firsthand experience of other services. Participants use these other services for a few hours or even a day. Some of the services to be explored should be outside the client’s industry, which enables participants to be more objective about how the services they experience are delivered. This experience may provide ideas that they can transfer back to their own business. 

Diaries: Diaries often reveal more intimate thoughts and feelings about people’s lives, more than they might tell you in an interview.

Insight boards: Insights boards can be used to present insights based on real people who have been interviewed as an alternative to using fabricated personas. It is important to include photographs on each board to help people relate to the participant. The boards should be able to be read at three levels: a headline quote, a series of key insights (backed up with quotes), and a larger paragraph of narrative text.

Boxes versus Arrows, Finding the Invisible Connections: Arrows and lines in organizational charts and process diagrams often represent time, context, and connections. The problem is that arrows and connecting lines are so ubiquitous in diagrams that they are ignored. It is much easier to focus design effort on the boxes because they represent tangible touchpoints but most people forget to think about designing the experience of the arrows, which are the transitions from one touchpoint to the next. Yet these connections contain some of the most important elements of positive experiences because they signify the movement in time and space. It is as if companies spend fortunes building gleaming towers and cities while the roads between them are muddy dirt tracks. If the connections are ignored, the silos are still potentially there, but they are just arranged in a circle. 

From Ecology Map to Service Blueprint: The service ecology map gives us the bird’s-eye view of the ecosystem a service exists within, and the insights research gives us the bottom-up view from the stakeholders.

The service blueprint: A classic example is a hotel stay. Guests do not often see the activities of the staff who clean and make up the rooms (backstage), just the results (front stage). Often, this backstage activity is evidenced in some way by bringing it front stage, such as the folded toilet paper tip in a hotel bathroom that indicates the room has been cleaned. 

A service blueprint is a map of:  

Blueprint vs. service ecology: The blueprint is different from the service ecology in that it includes a specific detail about the elements, experiences, and delivery within the service itself, whereas the service ecology diagrams the service at a much higher level and shows the entire service’s relationship to other services and the surrounding environment in which it operates. 

Blueprints for Analysis of an Existing Service: The service blueprint maps how the service is constructed, connecting all the channels and touchpoints to the customer journey and the backstage processes that are required to deliver them. It gives service designers a platform to systematically test people’s different journeys through the system. You can track their path across time and touchpoints, and reveal where the real value was created and where opportunities were wasted 

The service life cycle: The first step in creating a blueprint is to establish the stages of the service life cycle and then add the roles of the people involved in the service and the touchpoint channels. 

Blueprint categories:  

A complete experience: Think through how all the touchpoints connect as a complete experience.

Prototyping: Unlike a product prototype, which is an object people can hold in their hands to get a sense of how it feels, service prototypes need to be experiences of interacting with multiple touchpoints as well as taking into account how those experiences unfold over time and in context. 

Customer journey: Develop one or more customer journeys that describe the situations you would like to act out with customers. The user journey acts as the manuscript for the prototype and should describe the different actors and which tangibles are needed.

SERVQUAL: A service quality framework called SERVQUAL was created as a method to manage service quality by measuring gaps between what organizations intend to deliver and what they deliver, as well as between people’s expectations and their actual experiences with a service. 

RATER: A service quality framework that measures gaps between people’s expectations and experience along five key dimensions:

The Triple Bottom Line: The basic concept of the triple bottom line is that an organization should be measured not only by its financial performance but also by the ecological and social outcomes of what it produces. The model challenges the idea that companies are responsible to their shareholders only, and states that organizations are responsible to their stakeholders.

Ela is the marketing lead in Flexiana. After finishing her studies, she got involved herself with international companies. She loves being a remote player as she became a fan of travelling and backpacking.