Service Design vs Customer Experience 2021

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Customer experience design as a discipline is relatively new. Service design vs customer experience design adds another layer of confusion. For starters, CX design is not yet popular enough to be part of school curricula. Many industries do not even have the notion of customer experience. Of course, it does not help that the field carries its own terminologies like journey mapping, user experience, and service design. All this can make newcomers feel excluded. And confused.

As a mentor, I  cx professionals who want to move to the field of customer experience often ask me the difference between customer experience and service design. Today, aim to demystify the difference between the two disciplines. These terms are particularly difficult to differentiate. After all, they both address the end-to-end customer experience. This differs from addressing User Experience (UX). UX focuses on the design of digital interactions, like website and app.

Service Design vs Customer Experience

Almost ten years ago, Kerry Bodine, the co-author of my favorite CX Book “Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business”, shared her definition of service design.

In a Forrester article, she wrote: “Service design, like customer experience, focuses on the design and implementation of interactions that happen across the entire customer journey. Service designers also design the behind-the-scenes activities that enable those experiences to be delivered as planned.”

In other words, service design is the most important part of customer experience. It is the work that establishes the organizational processes and procedures necessary to DELIVER and scale the desired brand customer experience. Service design does not stop at strategy and customer-facing design. Additionally, service design drives the organizational ownership and accountability that transform a journey map into an actual customer experience. Doing service design also enables you to cover day-to-day roles and team responsibilities.

What is Service Design?

So, what type of activities fall into service design? Let me give you an example using one of our clients. This client was a B2B company. It wanted to create a white-glove client experience that was infused with hospitality.

To build service design for this client, we first thought through the sequence of customer interactions from the sales phase of the journey to the post-launch/renewal phase of their relationship. Then, we met with all the internal teams within the organization. With them, we discussed each team’s responsibilities to deliver the desired customer experience. More importantly, we talked about the hand-offs that had to happen in order for the customer experience to feel seamless.

The output of service design consists of new cross-functional meetings. These meetings boast well defined agendas, processes and procedures. They even include the creation of new roles, as needed.

Below, an example from a healthcare organization, shows the journey map of an ophthalmologist visit. Note: it includes the service map below the line of the actions, above the visibility line, and below the visibility line of patients. Although this diagram looks simple and easy to understand, it took many meetings and various complexities to get to this final, workable result.

Journey Map and A Service map for a healthcare provider

Source: Mapping Experiences, Jim Kalbach 

CX Design and Service Standards in the Travel Industry

Another example, this one from the travel industry, looks at the recovery of a passenger when a flight is canceled. In this case, the service design is the representation of the order of events and what department does, when, in order for the passenger to do the following:

  • receive information about the cancelation as early as possible (to have a chance to make alternate plans);
  • receive the exact right number and frequency of updates about the next flight;
  • be able to rebook for the next flight;
  • access hotel and food vouchers if needed, etc.

All these interactions comprise the customer experience of a strangled passenger. Internally, the airline needs to either trigger or execute the above-listed actions. This is the service design of that customer experience.

Now, UX will be sprinkled across, depending on the channel in which these interactions take place. For instance, if rebooking is done in the app, there is a user experience element. If it is done via phone, the time of the phone call and the process of rebooking are part of the service design.

Customer Experience vs Service Design in Context

In this sense, service design is part of the customer experience. However, customer experience includes elements beyond the service design. These include strategy, governance, management, digital experience, etc. Additionally, service design is something you typically do only once. Of course, you can revisit it as your company evolves. But service design is not something you change often. If you do, your teams will be overwhelmed by the constant change.

Customer experience, on the other hand, is the work that manages the perceptions of customers. It incorporates a customer feedback management system that delivers customer feedback. In turn, customer experience elements address that feedback.

CX, SD, and UX as 3 Useful Design Tools

Back in 2013, Kelly Bodine created the below image comparing Customer Experience (CX), Service Design (SD), and User Experience (UX).

Service Design vs Customer Experience - Forrester

Source: Forrester

Kelly Bodine did not show Service Design as completely overlapping with Customer Experience. She did, however, say “my vision for the future is that the field of UX will be subsumed by the field of service design as more UX practitioners take a broader view of how digital touchpoints fit into the overall customer journey. I also hope that the overlap between CX and service design will grow as companies learn to integrate service design practices into their ongoing CX management activities.”

In my opinion, Bodine’s projection was correct. Today, customer service agents in the field use iPads to service customers. Many service touchpoints facing both customers and employees are digital in nature. My scope at JetBlue includes projects like Flight Information Displays, Flight Attendants iPads, and booking phone applications. All these projects that require extensive user experience work. These projects also helped bring service design outputs to life both for employees and customers.

In 2021, customer experience business cases cut across service design, user experience, and all other parts of customer experience.  That is why today, service experience work is part of customer experience.

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Source: The Petrova Experience

As you build and manage your customer experience, think about these three disciplines as different tools to help you achieve one goal – differentiated customer experience that you can leverage as a competitive advantage as you and your customer base grow.

Think of them – and use them – as tools to get different stakeholders across your organization to talk more often. And to co-create the best customer experience they can deliver consistently as one unified team.

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