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Service design for better life experiences


Service design for better life experiences


Rhod Ellis-Jones shares what you need to know about service design.

This article originally appeared in The Serve Issue, our October/November 2017 print edition of Marketing magazine.


RhodEllisJones 150You’ve recently moved to a new suburb, and you’ve come down with a killer flu. You need a doctor. Badly. Google says there’s a clinic just around the corner. Relief! Well sort of.
It doesn’t have a website, but it does have a phone number. You ring to book an appointment. You’re put on hold for 15 minutes. Your weariness turns to anxiety. A disinterested voice (is he chewing gum?) books you in. Five hundred metres from your house, the clinic proves impossible to find. Shivering, delirious, you walk down cold streets and dead arcades.

Google Maps unhelpfully says you’ve ‘reached your destination’ – apparently the clinic moonlights as a laundromat. When you eventually burst through the opaque glass door, the receptionist (definitely gum) mumbles that there’s a 45-minute wait while flinging you a ream of forms. The waiting room is three metres squared – quarter the size of the reception desk area. You stand, as none of the six seats are free.

The hallmark smell of hospital bleach reminds you of your mortality. This flu could be deadly. For distraction, you pick up a magazine. June 2005, back when Brangelina were still an item. Better to stare at the beige wall and attempt Jedi mind tricks to assure yourself it’s all going to be OK. The next 45 minutes are a tortured eon. Just as despair beckons, you’re called. Despite her windowless cell, the doctor is quick, efficient, reassuring. You’re back in the alley 15 minutes later, $75 lighter and stumbling home.

Many marketers will have heard of ‘service design’. With no one definition (although many excellent variations), it’s a design thinking approach that’s having a moment – and with good reason. Service design is an approach and process built on a very simple philosophy: the person is central.

Instead of designing and building services that suit the organisation or reinforce the status quo, service design starts with the question: what problem are we solving, for who? Instead of using a set selection of tools to solve the problems, service design brings approaches and expertise from marketers, engineers, operations managers, strategists and designers from all practices.

Alongside its cousin, experience design, service design is shaking o the drudgery of engaging with services and giving us a glimpse of a sort of human-centred Utopia.


Good service, good competition

MK1017 200For any organisation, the benefit of good service design is clear, and becoming more acute. In Australia alone, the last decade has seen a significant surge in what consumers expect from their services. We are demanding more and, as a result, competition in the service industries is at a high. From retail, to hospitality, and now medical services, Baby Boomers especially see it as their right to choose – and, as this demographic is armed with greater decision-making power that encompasses both significant wealth and their inclination to do their research, service providers must innovate if they are to compete.

On a more practical note, ineffective services lead to inefficiency. Customers drop out in the wrong places, or make decisions that mean they need to double back, or the organisation needs to spend additional time handholding along the way. Higher consumer touch for lower consumer joy: no one gets a good deal.


A life better lived

Service design holds great opportunity for measurably improving people’s lives. In a world of rapid change, technological development and the social transformation that goes with it, every individual and company is required to be an active designer of their future. The role of designers, including service designers is to support this process.

Some services have such social impact as the end goal, like many of those delivered through not-for-profits and government. But the process is almost as important as the result. The process of engaging with a service can empower people, build confidence, open pathways to new thought patterns and create joy. The process itself can deliver a positive impact for people.

Given the right enablers, people can be prompted and supported to become active participants in their own life design: in solving their own problems with their peers. This creates a chain reaction: your design to solve a problem creates new opportunities to solve other problems. Problems that perhaps we didn’t yet know existed.


The five golden rules of service design

There are five central tenets that make up the service design approach. For marketers, many will be recognisable thought patterns dressed in new clothes. But the nuance is important.

1. Customers are the sun – orbit around them

It may seem obvious that the customer (user) should be at the centre when designing a new, or amending an existing, service; however, it’s remarkable how many modern services get this wrong. Any marketer worth their salt will at least notionally know their customer; often, we have them neatly divided up based on available statistics and demographics.

But what people genuinely need is often not represented in generic data. Often, people don’t actually know what they need until they have the chance to touch and feel it. Often, what is actually needed is not the direct answer to the question you want to ask, it will be something else entirely. Don’t place customers into the boxes you want them in. Let them defy even their own expectations.

2. Call the gang

Co-creation is not new to marketing. In fact, it cannot be separated from marketing. The idea of inviting the customer into the development phase to ensure they have a stake in the outcome both improves the product, ensuring it is something the customer wants and needs, and works to improve loyalty to the brand.

Co-creation in reference to service design builds on this, but goes further to include not just the customer, but all other internal and external stakeholders – operations managers, designers, engineers, customer-facing staff, client liaison managers, clients and investors. Once all these people are in the same room, it’s less about asking
the obvious question (how can we design or redesign our service?) and much more about reframing it entirely, to find answers that often change the question.

3. Choose your own adventure

Sequencing is the process of considering every conceivable touch point in a customer’s journey. The journey,
and the process of mapping out this journey, is not necessarily linear. Customers enter a service at different points, with different needs, and they require different journeys. Personalisation can create unique pathways and interactions. Some customers require a higher touch than others.

Interactions can be with an organisational representative, with a machine or with another customer either online or in person. It can be less like a single path through the woods, and more like the New York City subway system.

4. Leave sweet somethings

Evidencing is delivering or leaving something tangible that can act as a later reminder to a customer of the service – ideally, a positive reminder. It can also go a way to explaining an otherwise ‘behind the scenes’ aspect of the service. Evidencing can be something obvious, like a branded ballpoint pen received when signing banking documents, or it could be a cleverly worded text message advising you that your power will be cut off, and when to expect it back on again.

Service providers typically provide ample evidence of their service… in the form of bills, unwelcome emails and untimely phone calls. Evidencing in a service design context demands that you think differently about how you could convey evidence of your service, in a way that will resonate well with your customer, and ultimately increase the likelihood that they will recall your organisation favourably.

5. Think outside the service

No service exists in a vacuum. There are elements of its surrounding environment that service designers can control, and those that they cannot. Regardless, designers must consider the whole picture. Applying a holistic approach to service design ensures that external organisation, governmental, commercial and societal factors can also play a part in how your service is perceived and received by the customer. It also means the experience of engaging with the service is considered more broadly.

How does the physical service space make customers feel?

What technological devices are intuitive for the task?

How does one service connect to another within the organisation?


Becoming a service designer

Service designers come in many shapes and forms.

They are product designers, graphic designers, strategic managers, operations managers, ethnographers, engineers and architects, to name but a selection.

No matter their professional background, service designers are rigorous and independent in their approach. While they don’t all use the same methodologies, they are alike in that they have specific approaches to designing and redesigning a service.

They ask the right questions and, more importantly, know how to reframe the question to uncover important answers.


A better doctor experience

Going back to the beginning, how might a service design approach improve the medical clinic? Starting with the customer, it seems clear that the clinic would offer its patients a website, hopefully with online booking functionality. For the patients who do wish to use the phone, co-creation would involve the opinions of the unhappy receptionist, who also advises that his ability to do his job would greatly improve if customers had an alternative way to book.

Further, when sequencing the customer journey, the clinic realises that a text message appointment reminder service would greatly reduce missed appointments, improving the customer experience, and the ability of all internal stakeholders to do their job well.

Evidencing might include a post-appointment email, offering patients the chance to review their experiences online, further assisting future patients. And while it would be ideal to fix the way Medicare rebates are handled, applying a holistic, organisational view proves this isn’t immediately possible. Instead, the clinic provides patients with stamped, addressed envelopes and brief overview of how to claim the fee back – another piece of positive evidencing.

Marketers are well-placed – possibly more than any other discipline – to become experts in service design, due to their focus on deep customer insights and the ways in which they are constantly innovating to connect further with their customer.


Rhod Ellis-Jones is principal consultant for Australian social impact strategy and design agency Ellis Jones.


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