Inspiration for service design
9. November 2017
By Stine Schulze, Kontaktchef, MindLab
Service design places the service user centre stage. Analysing the process from provider to end user as a service journey gives you an accurate picture of what your service design should look like. Read key points of advice and inspiring cases here.
A service journey, represented as a paper cut.

We use services on a daily basis. Whenever we check our net bank account on our smartphone, drop off our children in kindergarten or book an airline ticket for our next holiday destination, we use a service. Often, we don’t give this widespread use of services much thought – except when something goes wrong, or when we are positively surprised. 

Examine the entire service journey

The service industry is a growing sector. In Denmark it accounts for about 75 per cent of GNP. A growing number of private and public institutions and companies are becoming aware of the need to design their services around the user in order to optimise the quality of the service experience. This article outlines key points to consider if you decide to give the service you provide a check-up.

A very useful approach is to examine the entire service journey. That lets you determine where you are not doing enough or are perhaps are doing too much, where to initiate and conclude your service, what you need to do, and what you should leave up to others.

1) Are you reaching your most important users? 

Often we focus only on the end user when we develop a service. An exclusive focus on the people who are ultimately going to use the service, however, can prevent us from spotting major development potentials. We simply overlook the most important persons.

When we work with service journeys, we therefore talk about what happens frontstage, where the user comes into direct contact with a service, and what happens backstage – the underlying processes, which may be crucial for a good service design. Sometimes, the most important users are backstage.

When the main user is secondary
Case: Frederiksberg Health Centre

The municipal facility Frederiksberg Health Centre developed a rehabilitation course to help citizens with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to stay on the job market. Lifestyle changes often seem like an overwhelming task for someone with a chronic condition, and it can be difficult to find the resources to make the necessary changes. Therefore, the design of the new service not only considered the needs of the patients themselves.

Staff at the healthcare centre, general practitioners and family members proved to be crucial in helping individuals with COPD live with their condition. The design of the new service did not directly target the frontstage, the patients themselves. Instead, it focused on facilitating the backstage processes. As the new solution took shape the focus was on the many actors around the patient.

For example, an action plan was developed to enable the health centre staff to help the patients set personal rehabilitation targets. That enabled the health centre to prioritise its services to provide to the individual patients. 

In helping someone with a chronic condition keep their job, the person’s family, employer and general practitioner are just as crucial as the patient him/herself.

Key learning point: Be aware that the most important person to consider may be someone other than the person who is in direct contact with your service. Identify the people around the end user and consider whether they may in fact be more important for the design.

2) The service begins before and continues after your contact with the user

A service consists of many different touch points. Often, the experience begins and ends long before or after your company’s product or service is delivered to the user. Here, a service journey can offer a useful tool for exploring the whole process from the user’s perspective and to help identify which points of the service journey are most important for the user. Where does the service experience peak, from the user’s point of view, and are you addressing the right points in the journey? 

Virgin Atlantic discovered that good service is not only about providing a good in-flight experience. Quick and smooth check-in is just as important for the passenger’s service experience.

Signposts from start to finish
Case: Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic was about to redesign their flagship area at Heathrow Airport. They wanted to develop services that would make people prefer their airline over others. Previously, they had focused mainly on optimising their in-flight services. 

They hired the English design agency Engine, which chose to analyse the users’ service journey from the moment they left home to go to the airport until they touched down, had retrieved their luggage and were in a taxi on the way to their destination. By shadowing the travellers and interviewing them about their experiences the agency was able to chart their ‘journeys’ through the terminal.

The process resulted in the design of an efficient service flow. For example, a number of self-service stations were installed in the check-in area, and Virgin staff members were stationed near the terminal entrances to help people navigate through the airport.

From prison guards to consultants on life after prison
Case: Singapore Prison Service

The Singapore Prison Service was facing major challenges with former inmates re-offending after serving a prison sentence. In fact, almost half of them received new convictions. One of the first steps in handling this challenge in a new way was to rethink what marked the end of the public service towards the inmates.

The Singapore Prison Service went from focusing on prison security to focusing on helping the inmates after their release. In this way they were able to reduce the former inmates’ risk of re-offending considerably.

Previously, the focus had been exclusively on security inside the prisons, but now there was an effort to help the inmates build a new life without crime. Resources were invested in providing training to families and other people close to the inmates on how best to support them after their release. In addition, interest organisations and representatives of the authorities met to discuss how they could support the initiative. The project ran for ten years and led to a reduction in the share of inmates who re-offended from 45 per cent to the current rate of 27 per cent.

Key learning point: Good service often involves seeing one’s product or service in a larger context and over a longer timespan. Sometimes it pays off to extend the duration of the service to help the user move on.

3) Identify the times that matter most

A service journey revolves around mapping the user’s experience and identifying the points during the journey where they find the process difficult, unsatisfactory or incomprehensible. These points may be labelled moments of truth, heart points or pain points, and they are elements of the service that are emotionally impactful for the users, for good and bad. Once these points have been identified it is possible to use reallocate resources to the points where the users need it most.

Denmark has difficulty retaining highly qualified workers from other countries. Pain points during the journey were identified. It became clear that the foreign experts’ decision to stay in Denmark depended on the well-being of their family as a whole.

Retaining foreign labour is a service that concerns the whole family
Case: Danish Ministry of Industry, Business and Financial Affairs

When Denmark lacked highly qualified labour, such as bio-technicians and engineers, the challenge was not to attract the foreign experts but the fact that they left the country much too soon. That is costly, both for the companies and for the government.

Previously, resources within this area were dedicated to optimising the service available to the highly qualified foreign workers. However, a service journey project by MindLab on behalf of the Danish Ministry of Industry, Business and Financial Affairs found that the key issue is how well the family thrives in the new country. Can the children get into an international school? Are there opportunities for expat spouses to meet and network? A common reason for expats to terminate their employment and leave Denmark is that their spouse or children are not thriving.

Key learning point: Examine whether your service targets the points that matter most to the users. Identify the sore spots and check whether your service is designed to address the right aspects.

4) You are not the only person defining the service

Providing a good and effective service requires a systematic analysis of the sort of difference or experience one aims to provide. Often, there are many actors involved along the way. Some companies or public agencies set up an excellent and efficient service line that, unfortunately, fails to meet the users’ actual needs. A service journey can help designers assess the overall experience and identify the potential for a better interplay among them.

Companies no longer have to contact a whole range of different government agencies on their journey to get the right industry code for their company.

Industry codes: a multi-agency service
Case: Danish Business Authority

When SKAT (the Danish Customs and Tax Administration), Statistics Denmark and the Danish Business Authority wanted to improve the service for the companies needing to find their industry code, a service journey showed a big potential in designing the service across agencies.

A service journey was used to frame MindLab’s effort to develop a new self-service solution and an agency site for the employees working with industry codes. The new solution runs across agencies and makes it easier for companies to find their industry code, as they only need to go to one place. The solution has led to more efficient agency procedures in the area. (You can read about the case in an international publication from Helsinki Design Lab).

Key learning point: The service user does not distinguish between the agencies or offices that are behind the service. Look at who, besides yourself, defines the service. Could you find new ways to cooperate?

In Australia we examined the service journeys for at-risk families who were met by a wide range of public services. The study made it clear that it would be helpful to integrate all the different services across agency boundaries.

Service across system boundaries
Case: At-risk families in Australia

There proved to be a major potential in working across agency boundaries when the Australian service design firm ThinkPlace looked at service journeys for some of Australia’s most at-risk citizens.

The group involved citizens facing a wide range of challenges, such as domestic violence, substance abuse, unemployment, economic problems and mental health issues. Hence, the families were in contact with many different public services, all of which were efficient and staffed by competent social workers or other professionals. The challenge was the lack of integration among the many different services, which meant that they did not address the core issue affecting the families. Each of them only addressed a single aspect of the issue or only worked with one family member. 

The service is designed to match the needs of the system, not to offer the best way to help the users navigate across the systems. In this project, the service journey served as a useful tool to change from the system’s point of view to the users’.

Key learning point: Good service design requires putting oneself in the users’ place and seeing the service from their point of view. Otherwise, one risks optimising a system service that fails to address the users’ real problem.

5) Did you pick the right communication channel? 

Service journeys can be a good basis for checking whether your communication reaches the right target groups at the right time and place. Did you pick the right channel to convey the content of your service? New target groups and new channels of communication emerge. Thus, even if you have high user satisfaction scores, and the choice of communication channel seems obvious, it is a good idea to rethink your choices to make sure you are staying abreast of developments in the users’ behaviour and media use. 

New channels led to improved user satisfaction
Case: Jordemodercenteret

Jordemodercenteret (the Midwifery Centre) at Aarhus University Hospital found that too many women failed to show up for scheduled consultations. Studies among users and professionals showed that the women were uncertain of the purpose of the consultations with the midwife.

The women were hungry for information, and the Internet was their preferred channel. Hence, the midwifery centre chose to consider alternatives to the face-to-face consultations. Together with the design firm Designit, for example, they developed a digital appointment book for their users. Here the women can log on to a personal page, see scans, coordinate appointments with the midwife, read information material and chat with professionals and other pregnant women. 

A digital solution complements traditional consultations at the midwifery centre at Aarhus University Hospital to provide the women with a coherent service experience.

Key learning point: Consider new communication channels and media when you design your service mix. Perhaps a new path will prove a much better way to meet your users’ needs.

6) Look to the users – they have already fixed the problem

Sometimes, the new and improved service is right under our noses, and here, observations of the users can be a great source of inspiration. The users often seek their own paths and come up with creative solutions to avoid complications or quickly achieve a desired effect. By observing these homespun solutions you can discover which needs the users’ unintended use of products or services reflect.

When the carefully planned path systems are not user-friendly, people find their own paths, often running parallel to the architects’.

This is evident in the urban space, for example when architects designed a beautiful system of paths by the Copenhagen Business School, where the gaps in between the paving tiles make for a bumpy ride for cyclists and babies in strollers. Here, the users have formed their own path system, parallel to the architects’.

Positive deviants have already found a solution
Case: Danish Prison and Probation Service, Køge Arrest

The Danish Prison and Probation Service took a strategic approach in addressing difficult challenges stemming from an increase in conflict levels between staff and inmates by systematically implementing the users’ existing solutions in a wider context.

The method is called positive deviance and is based on the notion that there will always be individuals who find viable behavioural strategies that help them succeed better than others in the same situation. Often, the staff will already have identified a useful solution model.

By making an effort to uncover this positive deviant behaviour and expanding it to other situations, Køge Arrest achieved a considerable reduction in the occurrence of conflict between inmates and staff, the use of force by the staff, violence and threats as well as much better well-being among the staff.

These small deviations have a big impact. For example, it makes a difference for the relationship whether an officer takes his time to get up from his chair to respond to a call for assistance, or whether he hurries. Whether he knocks on the inmate’s cell door and pauses before putting in the key, rather than barging in.

Key learning point: It is important to look for positive deviance. It is always there, if you only look hard enough.

7) Good service is not always the same as more service

Both companies and public-sector agencies often delay rethinking or optimising a service because they associate good service with adding more touch points, more communication or generally devoting more attention to the client or user. That is costly and cumbersome and may require more resources than the provider can afford.

In fact, the opposite is often the case. Perhaps a simplified and more targeted service proves far more efficient. Here, a visual mapping of the service journey can be the first step in determining how a service can be simplified.

A mapping of communication from the national agency Arbejdsskadestyrelsen (Labour Market Insurance) to people with industrial injuries showed that the agency needed to simplify its communication.

Less service is more service
Case: Arbejdsskadestyrelsen

MindLab identified this problem at the Labour Market Insurance agency, which wanted to discover out how it could offer a smoother process for young people with industrial injuries. At the time, the agency was sending a large number of letters to the affected individuals. At the same time, these people also received many letters from other agencies, including municipal agencies, their trade union, specialist doctors, their insurance company and many others who had a stake in the case.

That meant a lot of letters. A young healthcare worker, for example, received a total of 25 letters related to her case, only 4 of which required a reply. Often, the letters were heavy on legal jargon.

A service journey uncovered a potential in developing a simpler service with a clearer priority of the information that is sent to the person. Instead of sending a large number of letters, the agency now aims to prioritise its communication and seeks to use a language that is easier for the recipients to understand, thus making it easier for them to relate to their own situation.

Key learning point: It is a good idea to examine the individual steps in the service and to consider whether it may be simplified. Too much communication or communication that is hard to understand is a common a source of frustration for the users.

8) A good service journey can save time, resources and money

When services are designed around the users’ needs and the challenges they experience, one goal is, obviously, to improve user satisfaction. However, an equally important goal is to optimise the service and make it more efficient. Service design can help the organisation or company offer relevant services and tools to their users – and thus to eliminate links or services that do not contribute to any added value.

Simple design solutions in the accident and emergency department make a difference
Case: PearsonLloyd

A good example of how the right service design can make an active contribution to increased efficiency is a project that the design duo PearsonLloyd carried out in an accident and emergency (A&E) department at a London hospital. Here, the patients were often so frustrated while they were waiting to receive help that they resorted to verbal and physical violence towards the staff.

Naturally, that impacted the working climate negatively, and far too many resources had to be devoted to managing chaotic situations. The designers found that patients felt they were entitled to be angry because they lacked information about how the system worked.

PearsonLloyd developed a number of solutions. This included signage to let the patient know where they were in the department, and how far along the process they had come. These simple solutions were easy and cheap to implement. The effort resulted in a reduction in aggressive incidents, and a business case showed that each pound invested in new solutions came back three times.

An investment in simple solutions that are easy and cheap to implement can lead to quick, visible results on the bottom line.

Read more:
Many in Denmark and around the world are already using the method. Many share their toolkits. Here is a list of the best and most helpful tools you can use if you are interested in working with service journeys.

ServiceDesign Tools

Servicedesign toolkit

Documentation tool

Engage custumors and connect the organisation

Ideo: Human-centered design toolkit

General introductions to service design and applied methods:

'Service Design: From Insights to Implementation' – Buy the book here

'Design Reseach: Methods and Perspectives' – Buy the book here

'This is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases' – Buy the book here

'Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutions' – Buy the book here

'101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization' – Buy the book here


Originally published in Danish at Kommunikationsforum 14 May 2014