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& Service Blueprinting

16 June, 2010

See also: Customer Experience Mapping &

What follows is my approach to service blueprinting. It’s a companion technique and output to customer experience mapping. And as with experience mapping it doesn’t and can’t exist in isolation from other techniques. Both blueprint and map provide a tangible means for businesses to assess the impact of change on customers and services. Businesses love business process modelling and context diagrams, but to avoid playing lip service to the impact on customers maps and blueprints and design thinking provides an evidence-based means.

What is a service blueprint?
A service blueprint is a schematic diagram that represents all the details of a service from the customer and organisation’s perspective. It shows how the different service components link into each other – showing the different touchpoints and options customers have to choose from and how the internal workings support those choices.

Because it maps out chronologically and in sequence all the various interactions and actions that occur in parallel when customer and company meet, it shows all the interactions by and with the customer. So it also illustrates the stages and complexity of the encounter and distinguishes between the customer experiences (and decisions) and the systems, invisible to the customer, that operate backstage to ensure that these are delivered.

When and why are they useful?
Blueprints are flexible and powerful in that they depict a service at multiple levels of analysis – they can facilitate the refinement of a single step as well as the creation of an entire service process. It is a way of ‘seeing’ the service from the customer focus; the key part of the compliance outcome. In creating the current and future state blueprints it allows the Team to articulate and act upon customer insights, and focus on what’s working, what’s not working and what needs to be changed.

For designing:

  • The development of new services, assessment and improvement of existing services
  • Capturing how long processes within the service take, and how that equates to cost because they are presented with a base of time
  • Comparison of differences in basic services, standards and processes
  • Capturing of processes, architecture and systems in the context of service, not in isolation or solely from the internal business perspective
  • Testing of assumptions on paper to identify fail points and thoroughly work out the bugs
  • Cuts down time and inefficiency of random service development

For implementing:

  • Becomes a reference for planning and change
  • Represents the new or changed service for a staff member to see during integration activity
  • Forms a common point of reference for all parties (project team, affected staff and management) concerned with achieving a successful launch – also serves as focal point for later refinements or last-minute changes
  • Can be stored electronically for later reference, available for everyone involved
  • Facilitates comparison of the desired and actual service

As a communication tool:

  • Provides a focus for conversations
  • Is more precise than verbal descriptions, and less subject to misinterpretation
  • Can be a formalised way to inspire corporate-wide change directed at integrating customer focus across the organisation
  • Can help convince the organisation that changes are in order and what specifically can be done

What’s in a service blueprint
The blueprint sets out how the customer and organisation (back-office supporting people, processes and systems) interact through five components and three lines:

Physical evidence
Customer actions
————————–Line of interaction
Visible contact, employee actions (onstage)
————————–Line of visibility
Invisible contact, employee actions (backstage)
————————–Line of internal interaction
Support processes

Unlike a customer experience map this framework remains the same for each map. How you plot within that is up to the intent of the problem/opportunity, information you have (current or future state) and the nature of the service itself.

So how do you make one?
Ideally begin as a team, using the research and business analysis elicitation outputs (customer experience map, frameworks, models, insights, business processes, use cases, cotext diagrams) and shared knowledge to plot the service. As with mapping, the point of the initial blueprinting is generating team conversation about how the service works.

Ask a simple question, then through the blueprint, try and find the answer. For example: “How does the drive-through work?”

  1. Start with the customer actions as you’ve described from the mapping exercise, these will serve as the foundation for all other elements of the blueprint.
  2. Go through the service process step by step using the five components as your framework for the gathered data and knowledge
  3. Break down the information into as much detail as is appropriate to the service, its complexity, and the scale of change proposed by the Initiative. For example, the level of detail for blueprinting how a drive-through works will differ from an initiative looking to change the process of how food gets delivered to the drive-through pick-up counter. For the latter the more detail described the better, as describing very small steps will help to more easily identify problem areas and resolution opportunities
  4. Delineate each component of the service by indicating sequentially how each is connected
  5. Represent time in relation to the activities both standard execution time and the allowable deviation (e.g. 5 working days, but 10 are acceptable)
  6. Do the blueprint once, then do it again. You will refine iteratively to the point a final comprehensive blueprint can be produced

Then look at the process – understand how customers relate to it (utilise the customer experience mapping concurrently). When does the service start and stop from the customers point of view?” Where are the bottlenecks and areas where service quality can be improved?

  • Examine customers perceptions of the anticipated experience – this includes defining the internal and external activities that deliver to these expectations (actual not ideal)
  • Identify fail points to show where the customer may experience quality or consistency problems
  • Look at what is revealed and/or what areas that should be focused on for change. e.g. Does:
    • Customer expectation and management perception of customer expectation match?
    • Management perception of customer expectations and service quality specifications (i.e. how it’s supposed to work) match?
    • Service quality specifications and the service actually delivered match?
    • The service delivered and what is communicated about the service to customers match?

Blueprints and Customer Experience Maps
While the Service Blueprint represents the service from the customer and business perspective, a Customer Experience Map represents the experience from the customers perspective. The map can include customer goals, points of pain (challenges/obstacles), points of delight (opportunities), roles and relationships, motivations, etc. It represents what customers and users think, do, use from the beginning, middle, and end of their experience. As such the representation is not as standardised as with blueprints.

Together the map and blueprint represent the two key components of service – how it’s experienced and how it works

Again, description of blueprints to this point was not done alone. Key sources were KISD – Practical Access to an Evolving Field, G. Lynn Shostack (various), Bill Hollins – UK Des Council, Michael Jay Polonsky and Adrian Sargeant ‘Managing the Conation Experience’ (2007) Mary Jo Bitner, Amy Ostorm, Felicia Morgan: ‘Service Blueprinting’ (2008), Knowledge @ WP Carey. And thanks also to Irene Chong for pointing me in the direction of many of these academic papers and Ramari Slattery for lending me and using me for her System Thinking paper that used the technique.

Disclaimer: Design process is a misnomer. In order to do a map or blueprint one must start. Process is just a guide, doing is the best way to do.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 July, 2010 2:30 am

    Thanks for those two posts, very useful. I still find the separation of line of interaction and line of visibility problematic as well as the term “visibility”. All touchpoints are interactions of some kind and they’re all really between people, even if mediated by technologies or other media. Service designers and their clients need to remember this, because it’s invariably the human elements that mess things up and/or get forgotten. The term visibility is a problem because it makes the customer experience seem entirely visual, when in fact it could be smells, tastes, sounds, impressions, textures, etc. that form the deciding part of the customer/user experience.

  2. 3 February, 2012 3:12 am

    Great post.

    I am just now reading about Service Blueprints. Fantastic concept and tool.

    • 3 February, 2012 11:05 am

      It is a great and practical tool. Helps service designers talk to ‘the business’ more constructively too.


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