10 steps to help you transition into service design

Sam Evans
Sam Evans Strategy Director | Strategy Team

In an earlier article, I discussed why Service Design is important. In this post, I'm sharing our experience of adopting Service Design and offering up some advice to those looking to do the same..

Changing your own skillset, business proposition, and internal day to day processes to focus on Service Design (SD) is a challenge. Making that transition from an insular user experience focus to that of a wider arching service focus, while keeping digital at the forefront, yet providing measurable value is tough, but can be hugely rewarding. Bringing SD to the forefront of the industry will benefit agencies and their clients alike.

During the past year we have been going through this transition. We faced many challenges and learnt a lot along the way. The following sums up the lessons we have learnt and advice we have taken onboard. Our learnings have been invaluable and whether you work in house or agency side, we hope this will help you find some context and spur you towards a kind of Service Design adoption that works for you.

I love this quote from Amplitude the product analytics company. They use it in their sales deck when pitching.

All companies are turning into digital product businesses.

Simple? Yes. Obvious? Yes. However, is anyone truly ready to design the service for this clear migrational shift to digital product businesses? Not quite. Time to take some ownership.

1. Start with your users, dive deep front and backstage

I know, I know, you’ve read this a thousand times, but it’s still true. Yes get your business context and stakeholder insights together, but bulk load your research and testing plan with users. Remember though, a user isn’t just a customer, the company workforce is also a user. A happy employee equals a happy customer. Backstage is the next level struggle though. Understanding, consulting on and adapting processes, technology and culture is key to changing a service.

Don’t be afraid to ask people awkward questions or put them on the spot. It has the same effect of talking to someone after a few drinks. The truth tends to flow and you will gain some fresh insights. Try not to influence people or put words in their mouths, simply put them at ease and facilitate. Then it’s your job to listen for the gold dust.

One of the most important things though is to prepare properly. What questions do you need to know the answers to? Asking these at the right time will come with practice but at the very least, observe, observe, observe. What personality traits do users have? Where is empathy required? Where are their frustrations? What is the one key thing they strive for?

2. Work visually

In my years in the industry I have come to learn that a great designer cannot explain an idea without a layout pad and a sharpie. There’s a reason for this, visual language is a thousand times more powerful for a consistent understanding with context. It’s much easier to align people with imagery, diagrams, audio and video than with words alone.

Use these mediums to find clarity amongst complex scenarios by building a workshop toolkit. From this toolkit you can select your armoury. There are loads of resources out there, but find an underpinning value that is consistent and works within your business ethos. Use this toolkit to define a discussion session that is more visual than it is textual. It will promote focus and allow you to engage with stakeholders and users on a consistent level.

3. Co-work

The more you think you know the more you actually don’t. You are not going to have all the answers, and you shouldn’t be expected to. Whenever you are working, try and work with others, you cover ground faster, you learn more, you make more contacts and you gain more empathy for the cause. All of this helps you out in the long run. When you are in the office, work with colleagues from design and technical teams. When you are in the field, work with as many users and stakeholders as you possibly can. Obviously, you will need some downtime but pick and choose those moments wisely. Where possible, connect these service users, mix designers and end users, work with stakeholders and technical teams and  hidden opportunities will arise.

I was lucky enough to be part of a team working on a service design programme for ITV Studios. We completely transformed their B2B sales process with on and offline screening, next level event technology, client management and reporting. It was a huge piece of work and one that run over four years. Without working so closely with ITV’s Sales, Marketing, Events, Management & Acquisition teams on location at their London based Studios, and at their two major client events in Cannes, we simply wouldn’t have gained the combined group context required to deliver such a great solution. A solution that successfully catered to their varied business needs and has seen a massive 20% increase in revenue since implementation.

4. Provide context whenever, wherever

You can never know too much, so talk about the service you are representing to anyone and everyone that will listen to you. Tell your Nan, tell your mate Gary, tell the Big Issue lady, they will have an opinion, they will hone in your context and provide you with future discussion points, it supports a productive co-working environment too. I cannot put enough emphasis on gaining contextual feedback adjustments through storytelling, it gives you a more robust justification when making or validating decisions.

5. Don’t start at the end

This is where I personally struggled to begin with, it’s a hard habit to break because thinking about the end result is pretty natural. You have to get there eventually but take small steps that can be balanced with commercial expectation and pace.

Capita sum up SD in a nice way on their website:

Service design is driven by the needs of the user. It delivers compelling multi-channel services that customers find both usable and desirable, while significantly reducing the operating costs, and delivering greater revenues.

Thinking about that holistically, how can you start at the end? Creating the final service at the beginning has never worked and it never will. Understand, ideate and validate or whatever you choose to call your agile-style iterations. We know it works, and that it doesn’t come without its challenges, but make sure you can justify all features back to your research. Check off users, values and objectives in that justification and you won’t go too far wrong.

6. Learn and adapt as you go

We have kind of covered this one but it needs its own point, it’s important to highlight the fact that you will never learn more than when you release an iteration of the service to its intended audience. Stick to that iterative agile process, work in small chunks, create your MVP and validate. This keeps you on the straight and narrow. A wise man in the 1995 classic movie Under Siege 2 once said “Assumption is the mother of all fuckups”. Ignore this high brow theory in the world of Service Design and you will end up in a world of trouble. Don’t be afraid to adapt, it’s ok to be wrong. Have a plan, have a process, but know when to adapt this for the benefit of the service.

7. Welcome ambivalence

Opinions, everyone has one right? Meh! Opinions make our lives in Service Design harder, they mean we may need to change direction, they mean I may not feel as confident in the deliverables as I once did. Yes, opinions can cause unwanted change, but learning to accept opinions is one of the most important Service Design mindsets to adopt. Becoming too attached to the service and trying to justify every decision made means you will inhibit project progression. Learn to ignore your false consensus bias. Users do not think like you and they don’t want the same things. Accept that change is going to be a thing and accept it in a positive manner. Observe and listen with empathy and find ways to make it work for all involved.

8. Measure and justify value

Service Design is a tough sell, just like UX was 5 years ago:

“We need to talk to our users? Don’t be daft I’m the Head of Marketing, I know what our customers want”

Imagine someone saying that today? You’d laugh in their face, but the scary fact is that SD is in this place in the minds of business stakeholders. They feel like they know what the service needs. Adding value to a service does not come cheap and a business paying for your consultancy on a hefty day rate, are at every point, having to justify your value. If key stakeholders haven’t joined you for the ride they will not always appreciate the time and effort that has gone into the research and design.

From the very beginning work out what the service objectives are and how they can be measured. Second to that, always make sure you have the company mission and values defined. Being able to show the effect you are having on both of these is paramount to demonstrating your value. Try to be as quantitative as you can. Quantitative bottom line figures will always trump qualitative research feedback in a CEO’s eyes.

The good news is that once you have done this the first time, the next time round you already have a good case study and the experience in knowing what sort of KPIs to record and how to make yourself a pain in the ass (in a good way) to get the information you need.

9. Catalyse trust

Trust is the key component to any relationship and relationships build a great service. Not just the alliance between yourself and the client, but amongst all members of the service interaction. Don’t mess people around, keep your promises, stay transparent, people see straight through facades. As we know SD can be a tough sell and a tough service to justify, if the trust goes progress will either stop or become painfully slow. It will take time to build up any sort of productive pace again. With trust comes effective velocity.

10. Have fun

Lastly, practice what you preach (to some extent). Yes, we are here to deliver results, but enjoy the process as best you can from start to finish, it’s not going to be a short journey. If you are not comfortable in a workshop environment, don’t enjoy meeting new people or find presenting a challenge, SD is not for you, but if you enjoy the above then it’s going to be fun. Make this part of your life in a balanced way. A happy Service Designer equates to a successful process.

The transition is hard but enjoy it and remember we don’t have to search fearfully for disruptive solutions, there is plenty of room for positive growth within non-disruptive creation.

P.S. I don’t really think Under Siege 2 is a classic.

The service design series

We're filming interviews with forward-thinking service design advocates from the world's leading organisations, from financial institutions to charities to telcos. 

The aim of the series is to share knowledge and insight of how organisations can adapt to the changes necessary to enable service design and design thinking.

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The service design series

We're filming interviews with forward-thinking service design advocates from the world's leading organisations, from financial institutions to charities to telcos. 

The aim of the series is to share knowledge and insight of how organisations can adapt to the changes necessary to enable service design and design thinking.