What is Service Design Thinking and How it is Different from Experience Design
Experience Design
What is Service Design Thinking and How it is Different from Experience Design
What is Service Design Thinking and How it is Different from Experience Design
Experience Design

What is Service Design Thinking and How it is Different from Experience Design

In the ever-changing design world, it’s sometimes hard to stay on top of everything that is going on. New ways, methods, and approaches for delivering a seamless and wholesome experience to the end customers keep emerging. It is no wonder that it is often hard to keep in touch with all the design trends and terms. One of the latest hot topics in the design community is ‘service design’ and its power to impact and improve not just the digital part of the customer journey but the overall experience. Let’s try and understand what is meant by Service Design thinking and how it differs from design thinking or experience design.

The What, How and Why of Service Design

First, let’s try and understand what service design is, where does it come from, what are the problems it tackles. How does it work and most importantly, how it’s beneficial to end–users and the business?

What is Service Design?

The term ‘service design’ goes way back to 1982 when it was coined by Lynn Shostack. Shostack’s idea was that organizations should try and understand how their behind-the-scenes processes work and interact with each other as opposed to leaving services to be managed as separate pieces, which consequently creates a service that reacts slowly to market needs and makes a company more vulnerable.  

Nielsen Norman Group defines service design as “an activity of planning and organizing a business’s resources (people, props, and processes) in order to directly improve the employee’s experience, and indirectly, the customer’s experience.” 

So what is ‘service design thinking’? An activity, a toolset, a mindset, a process, a cross-disciplinary language, or a management approach – there are different ways to interpret it. But all these versions have one ultimate common goal – which is to design services that are beneficial for both the customer and the business. From the customer perspective, these services have to be useful, usable and should be desirable by them. Whilst for the business they have to be effective, efficient and have a point of difference from that which is offered on the market by their competitors. It tries to find the sweet spot between what people need and what is technically feasible for the business strategy.

How does it work?

Service design draws the iceberg analogy and states that the product is just the tip of the iceberg while there’s plenty to discover beneath the surface, ln the same way that a user’s journey beyond the product affects the overall expectations toward the product; both digital and nondigital parts that impact the product; integration with other products, and business resources.  

Just like experience design, that takes into account the design of multiple components like visuals, features, and information architecture, service design also has main components that need to be designed: 

  • People – anyone who either creates, uses the service or someone who may be directly affected by the service; 
  • Products – physical or digital artifacts required to perform the service; 
  • Processes – workflows, procedures or rituals that are performed either by an employee or a user throughout the service.  
Customer Journey in Service Design

Image Source: Nielsen Norman Group

Why do businesses need service design thinking?

  • Service design breaks silos. There is a tendency of large organizations to form silo mentalities in some departments or around some people which means that little or no fresh perspective has a chance to break in, is something service design tries to change. It ensures that new ideas are exchanged, that there is a collaboration between departments and that the end–user is not adversely affected. 
  • It leads the way customers experience the company. Creating a great service or product is not enough anymore. What makes companies stand out for their clients is the image they create, their brand along with the service they provide.  
  • Enhancing your business by delivering value to the customer. Service design assumes that sweet spot between delivering value to your customers and taking into account their needs but at the same time keeping business goals and resources in mind.
  • Customer-oriented approach and positive customer experience. Saying you are a customer-oriented company and being one is not the same. Companies that genuinely care about the experience of their customers should involve them in the product development process and review the operations with the help of service design.

Besides this, there are even more benefits of applying Service Design for product launch along with Lean Agile approach.

Service Design vs. Customer Experience vs. User Experience

For anyone working with digital products the question still remains – what is the difference between service design and user experience design? And if we want to dig even deeper, how about customer experience?  

Let’s start by quickly establishing what is a user experience design and customer experience.  

User experience design (UX) deals with anything that a user comes across, be it an app, a website, or something physical like a store. The significant difference here is that UX is about everything that customers interact with which is visible, while customer experience (CX) also includes what is beneath this line of visibility: backend supporting staff, systems, policies, and things that users don’t see.

Difference between User Experience and Customer Experience

Image Source: Nielsen Norman Group

What about UX vs. CX differences it lies in that while UX focuses on usability, interaction design, sound and visual design, CX is also interested in marketing, brand perception, customer service, pricing models, etc. 

Speaking about Service design vs. CX it’s obvious that service design goes even deeper. It is interested in how this end experience is created.

While UX focuses on the design of a single customer touchpoint, service design is about creating a consistent, seamless experience through various touchpoints. It realizes that users don’t interact with these various touchpoints in silos and aligns them to create this end to end experience companies strive to provide.

Service Design Thinking vs User Experience

Establishing the difference between UX and service design is not about trying to find out who is better, it’s about understanding that they both should be practiced simultaneously. When companies think that they offer an outstanding user experience it often leads to what is known as the “delivery gap”. Which is when customers’ expectations of the services they are about to experience exceed what they actually get or what a company is able to offer.  

Bain & Company, after surveying 362 firms, revealed that 80% of them believe they deliver a superior experience to their customers, while only 8% of customers agreed. This discrepancy occurred not because those companies were not focusing on their customers’ needs, it’s because they weren’t considering it as a whole. And this where service design steps in to fill the gap.

Delivery gap and Service Design Thinking

Image Source: Bain & Company

Filling the delivery gap: how companies do it

As was stated above, service design thinking covers both digital and non-digital experiences, which means it often moves from the digital product into the real world and tries to find a solution there to cover the notorious delivery gap. 

In order to understand how service design shifts from thinking into doing, let’s look at some examples of successfully implementing it.  

A great example of how service design can be applied is the case of a children’s museum in the suburbs of Chicago. The challenge here was to move past the museum wall and increase its awareness and visitor numbers, especially considering the suburban location and limited public transport. Through a mix of research, which included interviews, site visits, competitive analysis, and stakeholder mapping, several concepts emerged that involved moving past the museum walls.  

The idea was to create a pop-up museum in one of the downtown streets that would replicate the exhibit experience at the museum. As a result, the museum was able to attract nearly 2500 visitors during one month only and although it had limited working hours and was open about 20 hours per week. (The case study originally appeared on the Service Design Network website).

From the business perspective, the issues the company usually needs to address come from both digital and non-digital parts. This was the case for one company that planned to move its business model from selling software licenses to offering a subscription. By applying service design thinking and conducting both internal and interviews with customers they were able to anticipate all the main problems this business model shift would entail and actually reveal improvement opportunities. (The case study originally appeared on the Service Design Network website).

 Their initial assumption was that the low subscription cost, compared to the high upfront cost of buying the license would appeal to their customers. But the interviews revealed that not only customers found this model to be more expensive in the long run, but also since the monthly rate would vary based on the usage rate, they found it too unpredictable. For existing customers, another pain point was that the transition to the new plan was highly complex. At the same time, internal interviews showed that after products were launched it was the support’s task to fix any issues that might arise, but since support was not a part of the design process, they couldn’t impact product roadmaps but instead were fixing missing touchpoints post factum. By training them in service design principles and showing how to apply these methods to persona development, blueprinting workshops, the company would be able to not only avoid an increase in cost for the end customers but also increase their profit. By training service teams in service design, they were now able to evaluate the proposed subscription experience and identify points of friction. At the same time, for customers, the license management was simplified and allowed customers to roll their old contracts into new SaaS plans upon expiration and without much effort.  

As a result of the work done customers found it very easy to transition to the new subscription model. And over a short period, the company saw high adoption and satisfaction rates for the new model.  

So what is the unique point of service design and why should a business should be considering implementing it? Unlike experience design, service design takes into consideration not only one part or touchpoint of the customer experience (i.e. an app, a website, etc.) but all the touchpoints across all possible channels. Very often businesses think that redesigning their digital product or designing them in the first place will solve all of the problems their clients might have. While the intention is, by all means good, they forget that this is only a fraction of the journey and that misunderstanding or issues may arise in some other areas, for instance, customer service. While service design tries to take a more holistic approach and anticipate not only possible customers’ issues but also how a given company can improve its internal processes to improve the product or service they offer.  

Interested in Service Design Thinking? Here’s how we can help you introduce service design within your company.