My Take on Service Design as a Solution & Continuous Improvement Practitioner


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We all experience some sort of ‘Service’ each day, whether it be contacting a company, shopping online, or even something as simple as buying a coffee. But what makes a service great? And how can it be improved?

Service Design!…but what is Service Design?

We’ll take a whistle stop tour on what service design is, and why you should think about it (if you’re not already) to help make your, or your clients, brand stand out.

Creating Competitive Advantage – Out Of Thin Air

I recently saw a definition of Service Design that prompted me to write this blog, as we likely encounter service design on a daily basis without really realising it, but it illustrates why it’s so important for businesses to focus on.

“When you have two coffee shops right next to each other, and each sells the exact same coffee at the exact same price, ‘Service Design’ is what makes you walk into one and not the other”

This is as customers don’t access brands in a singular way, but within a multitude of interactions that can shape the way they think & feel about a brand, and which ultimately (consciously or unconsciously) decides whether they choose to engage with that brand in future.

Marc Stickhorn & Jacob Schneider, authors of ‘This is Service Design Thinking’ identify their 5 key principles that Service Design should be:

  1. User Centred – Design should be focused on all users
  2. Co-Creative – Include all relevant stakeholders in the design process
  3. Sequencing – Break a complex service into separate process / user journey sections
  4. Evidencing – Envision service experiences to make them tangible for users to understand
  5. Holistic – Design for all touchpoints throughout experiences, across all users and interactions

Walking through the 5 principles, what could each of these look like?

User Centred – All Users. NOT just Customers

Businesses can often focus on what they “think” a customer wants, or on what their “core” customer wants, but doing this could limit their ability to gain new customers and well as annoying some of their current ones!

To truly improve CX, a business needs to cater to various users (both internal & external) and understand the needs, wants & pain points of each group, whilst also taking into consideration that a service design experience often happens across multiple channels and products.

Personas & Customer Journey Maps are a great way to do this, as they help you step into the shoes of a specific customer type and start to think “How do they engage with us?”.

  • What are the functional things they need to achieve when using us?
  • How do they access our services and information?
  • What do they want to feel when engaging with us?
  • What steps do they go through when using us?
  • When and where in the journey do customers contact us?
  • What issues (pain points) could they encounter?

These are a simple but effective approach in being able to start your service design for all of your customer types, ensuring you take their needs & wants into account and understand what your current, as-is service provides (or not as the case may be!), so you can then start to identify gaps and areas of improvement for the Future State design.

Co-Creative – But Avoiding Group Think

More often than not, the people that know a business best are the people that live and breathe it each day. They use the systems & machinery, follow the processes, speak to the customers, and most importantly, encounter the issues. But regularly, these colleagues, along with their valuable insight can be an afterthought when an improvement project is underway.

One of our key principles at Custerian is that we “do with, no to”, as creating engagement and a shared purpose for any activity is key to ensuring initial and ongoing success.

Where possible, colleagues from departments that interact with the customer along the customer journey (whether direct or indirect) should be engaged and brought on the journey, as it’s likely that their area or department could have an impact on the customer experience should an issue occur, so should be factored in when looking to improve.

Sequencing – Eating the Elephant A Bite at a Time

Depending on the size and scale of a business, processes and customer journeys can be daunting. Sequencing can be a good way to break these down into more manageable ‘chunks’ and start to group certain processes and working areas together.

For example, a customer journey for purchasing a product online can be long-winded from initially browsing for a product, through to having It delivered and using it. Breaking this journey down into key ‘Stages’ can help understand the process at a high level, and allow you to segment some of the lower-level touchpoints & processes under these headings (e.g. The above browsing journey could simply become the following stages: Research  Browse  Buy  Delivery  Aftercare)

These 5 steps illustrate the typical customer journey, and will now allow for key aspects of each stage to be identified easier, and enable any data you have to be appended onto each stage to start to understand the key issue.

Evidencing – Making it Real As Soon As Possible

When working on Service Design, it can be quite hard to visualise and explain how you think something should work, how it should look, what features it should have, etc.

Prototyping can help with this.

Prototyping is a process where design teams will turn thoughts & ideas into tangible paper / digital forms so they can be shared with wider teams and even tested on customers prior to full launch. It helps companies get ideas down and circulated without making it too complex too early, as well as prevent sticking with a poor idea for too long.

Whilst working on a prototype, it’s important to think also think about some key aspects of the product / service you’re designing:

  • How Feasible is this idea? – Can we achieve this?
  • How Desirable is this idea? – Do customers want this?
  • How Viable is this idea? – Does it make business sense?

If the answer to all of these is Yes, then chances are you’re on the right track!
Prototyping will be completed collaboratively as part of or after an ideation session once you’ve worked to understand your key issues and customer pain points that require addressing.

Holistic – Test it at Every Touchpoint

As we mentioned right at the start, the service you provide is experienced across a multitude of ways and touchpoints. It’s therefore important that the service design journey you go on encapsulates all of these touchpoints and interaction types to provide all customers types, across all journey stages with the service that works for them to make their experience a positive one.

Whilst improving a certain area of your service may be great, if the customer then encounters inconvenience or barriers at the next stage, their journey is still going to be a poor one!

So the next time you buy a coffee, walk into a shop or purchase a certain product, there’s maybe something other than personal preference that’s help you make that decision!

But So What?

The thing for me that is good about Service Design as an approach, is that you only need to remember the 5 principles to get going.

The whole point of it is that it is better to have a go, than spend months agonising about the right way of doing it, because the very worse you are going to do… is to do a better job than you would by doing it almost any other way. And that’s someone who spent 5 years training to be a lean practitioner!

So go on.. give it a go today.

Liam Allen
A Continuous Improvement practitioner who is passionate about business improvement and delivering solutions that enhance experiences for both customers and colleagues. Experienced across a multitude of leadership & project roles, most recently as a Continuous Improvement Consultant utilising Lean Six Sigma project management methodologies to deliver significant business benefits in cost reduction, revenue increase and cultural change.


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