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What is a service – pt 1 & 2

28 January, 2010

First off, I subscribe to the definition of ‘service’ as the range of touchpoints a human interacts with, over time, in order to achieve their goal/fulfill their need. For ‘service design’ I broadly define it as the conscious process of crafting and planning the overall experience of the service (i.e. interactions and touchpoints), as well as the process and strategy to provide the service. One caveat: the latter definition is wordy and evolves it each time I write it, but you get the gist.

What now follows is some thinking that’s bubbled up today as I wrestle with describing an aspect of a design output in a model integrated with other non-design methodologies (IT, bus. analysis, etc). I record it here for my own reference and, possibly later “oh my gawd, what was I on about”). I think the crux of my musing is the articulation of design thinking in a business context, whether it enlightens or hinders the collaborative effort and how to remedy that without compromising design intent.  Here goes…

When I use the above service definition and articulate why service should be designed not developed (more on this in a later post) it seems to lack a tangibility, possibly even relevance, in terms of engaging with those who work in a large corporation with IT and business analysis and enterprise/solution architecture and service delivery arms and strategy and risk and intelligence and policy and operational arms et al. It’s a niche enlightener – for those in the know.  For those not in the know it garners a polite nod, a discrete eye roll, a confused stare, a curt nod and an ‘uh-huh, but what are you actually going to do to fix my problem’-style agreement. (To be fair, you do occasionally get the slow nodding build-up as you say it and the listener’s ‘yeah!’ realisation is expressed).

In my corporate environment (public sector), the above definition (or variations thereof) as a reference to make change or innovate service isn’t always helpful. Helpful to designers absolutely and an important reference for them, but in engaging others – process-others*, stakeholder-others* – I wonder if it’s better to start with an acceptance that these ‘others’ understand a service as ‘what we do’** Consequently the designer needs to articulate that what the change/problem-fixing needs to address is how the service actually works (for the business) and how it is actually used (by the customer) – both of which includes how it’s supposed to work and be used. (In design-speak: How what really matters to both business and customer is fulfilled.) This encompasses having a high-level definition of ‘what we do’ that all can agree/accept (facilitated by the Designer) and addressing the associated aspects (not in order, but intended to be fairly complete):

  1. what the customer needs, and how they go about fulfilling that need (or attempting to) – this includes their drivers, attitudes, and ‘tools’ they use i.e. experience – ‘what do they think, do, use’
  2. artifacts – owned/generated by the business or other (not customer)
  3. business processes
  4. what the business has/does to support the business processes (training, scripts, reporting)
  5. IT systems

Now this is not a redefinition of service or service design (it’s not a definition of anything really), the exercise for me has been more about working out what a designer needs to document and in what broad form, and what they need to leave to others. Hence the exploration of service definition in my business context. So, for my problem, 1 & 2 can be captured in a Customer Experience Map, 1-5 in a Service Blueprint. By the way, don’t fret if this appears to be a prescriptive design process, it’s intended as guidelines and parameters because others rely on the information the designer captures for their work.

To me the value of design is easy – it brings consciousness to any development/planning/discovery process, it brings and embeds humanity to strategy and to service delivery, it makes tangible the aspirations of customer service (and often articulates it in real terms, beyond ‘satisfaction’).  But, as a creative, innovative, synthesising discipline it is still needs to prove its value to the backroom and boardroom, and I think needs to use some of their language to reshape their thinking. We don’t have the luxury of the analytical quantitative LSS, or Logic Maps or Balanced Scorecard-type etc which are business improvement derivatives of each other or similar, so we need to work harder as we carve out our rightful position as world changers, sense makers and humanisers of business. In my opinion, anyway.

*Perhaps agreement about a ‘service’ definition is specific to the public sector where so much of what is done has to be done by the customer – they have to fill out the form – it’s the law, they have to provide certain information – it’s the law. Maybe in the private sector everyone’s fist-pumping and high-fiving the notion of ‘touchpoints’ and ‘ranges of interactions’ and ‘over time’ because getting them right can be the difference between profit and not.
**What we do: We make widgets. We provide banking service. We run domestic flights. We help you book travel online.

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