The Changing Nature of Service & Experience Design

The Changing Nature of Service & Experience Design

Livework is featured in the fall 2013 number of the world’s leading publication dedicated to design as a strategic business resource, the Design Management Institute: Review. The issue explores the fact that the definitions of “service design” and "experience design" are becoming moving targets.

This article was originally published in DMI Review (Volume 24 Number 3, Fall 2013)

The issue features a Q&A with Livework partner Lavrans Løvlie and Professor Andy Polaine as co-authors of the book “Service Design – from Insight to Implementation”.

DMI Publications

How do you define experience design?

Løvlie: Broadly. It is the design that enables the experience people have throughout a relationship with an organization. It takes into account the actors and factors that affect people’s experience beyond what the organization can control, as well as the differences in their behaviors throughout a product’s or service’s lifecycle. It also involves the design of touchpoints between customer and organization.

Polaine: The field and the term are evolving and also quite culturally specific. User experience design (UX) in the US appears to have a broader mandate than in the UK, for example. I see it as about designing for coherent experiences that customers have. I say for rather than simply designing experiences, because you are really just setting the stage—the customers themselves have the experiences. Experience design as an industry seems to me to be mostly concerned with digital, screen-based experiences. There are experience designers who will disagree with this, but if you read the books and online material and go to the conferences, it’s almost all about web and mobile. That’s okay—we need good screen-based experiences— but there is more to it than that.

How do you define service design?

Løvlie: Design for experiences that reach people through many touchpoints and over time.

Polaine: Adding to Lavrans’s definition, service design is not focused only on the customer; it also means designing for people who work inside organizations. If they hate their jobs or have their hands tied by awful internal systems and software, it is very hard for them to provide a great experience to customers. Also, the touchpoints can be broad and varied. Screen-based interfaces play a big role, but so do print materials, objects, environments, and people.

What are the key design disciplines necessary to create more-effective experiences? And what needs to be done in education to create better experience and service designers?

Løvlie: Broadly defined, experience design requires that designers get a deep understanding of the client’s organization.Therefore, we have learned that business consulting skills are essential to make the most impact. Combining business analysis and design would be a valuable contribution to education.

Polaine: Designing service experiences is a multidisciplinary affair. You need people with business management, psychology, and social sciences experience alongside designers and developers of all flavors. A key skill that trained designers bring is the ability to make ideas tangible in some form, through diagrams, sketches, and prototypes. That takes the business idea out of the spreadsheet, which is a poor vehicle for understanding human experiences, and turns it into something that people can look at and interact with. Then they can make informed decisions about the concepts.

Being able to see patterns and connections in complex systems is an essential skill for experience and service designers, along with the classic abilities of empathy and human-centered design methods. Design schools are generally too focused on training students in separate craft skills and not this kind of connected thinking. Dividing art and design into different departments competing for funds creates disconnected minds rather than connected ones. We also need to get over the idea that the business guys are the enemy of creative experiences.

Which organizations are doing a great job today? Why?

Løvlie: In the service sector, you find one common denominator for the wellknown case studies that describe service experiences that beat out the competition: They are mostly new businesses, such as Amazon and Zappos. The reason for this is that you can’t deliver outstanding service experiences without engaging the entire organization around customer orientation. This is harder to do in businesses that have a long (and often industrial) tradition than in those that have been built for precisely that purpose.

One organization with a long history that stands out is USAA—the financial services company that caters to people who have been in the US military community. At the heart of their success is a dedicated commitment to building lifetime relationships with their customers. Delivering great service experiences depends on long-term commitment.

Polaine: As Lavrans points out, the obvious digital examples (other than Apple) are Amazon, Zappos, and Airbnb. I live in Germany and work in Switzerland, and in both countries a lot of the infrastructure, such as mobility and healthcare, works very well. You get the impression that the service design is very good, but it’s technocratic and not personal. When things go wrong, there is still a top-down system mindset in which the customer is at the bottom of the heap, and always at fault for not reading reams of small print.

That said, I regularly have pretty good service experiences with Lufthansa and Fraport (the German transport company that operates Frankfurt Airport). Both of them have avoided succumbing to the many cracks in the seams that usually occur as a result of a trying to manage multiple service providers. One of Apple’s advantages is that the company owns its products and services endto- end. Lufthansa owns just under 10 percent of Fraport, but it is by far the biggest presence in the airport, much like British Airways in Heathrow and Qantas in Australian airports. That enables the company to integrate its services more easily. Often a conglomeration of multiple third-party services can unravel the overall experience. This can also happen when automated services, such as check-in, baggage drop, ticketing, and so forth, fail because there are fewer staff members around to help.

How should business, government, and education evolve to deliver better experiences? Where do you start?

Løvlie: It requires deep understanding of two things: customers, and how the organization works. It’s crucial to identify and select the hotspots that really affect customers’ experience, both positively and negatively. Typical examples are the experiences of being a new customer and getting help to solve a problem. Then you need to understand how you can make improvements that make a difference both for the business and the customer. Delivering better service experiences takes time. Therefore, being clear on customer impact and the capacity of the organization to act helps to determine where one can take quick action, and which activities need to be dealt with over time.

Polaine: There is a big difference between the industrial mindset, which has traditionally been about a drive toward efficiency, and the service mindset, which is about coherent, connected, effective experiences. The industrial drive toward efficiency has led to a chronic under-investment in staff, often seen as an expensive resource to be trimmed back as much as possible. It’s hard to deliver engaging service experiences with staff working under those kinds of conditions, whether in a hotel, on a train, or in healthcare and welfare. The irony is that this approach also leads to wasted resources. When different departments are competing for slim budgets, they don’t connect with others, and their services become less effective. So, as Lavrans points out, aligning the business goals with the customer experience (rather than vice versa) is important, as is cultural change within organizations to make them more focused on delivering great service experiences, which ultimately leads to better business and social outcomes.

In terms of education, there are two parts to that answer. The first is that the education of business managers and designers could be far better integrated. It is hard to preach the breaking down of silos within an educational structure that itself exists in silos. The second is the educational experience. Education is a service, but the “customers”—the students—are treated as raw material going through an assembly line, stamped into shape for a future career. Again, it’s hard to educate people to think in a connected way if certain subjects (like the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and math) are broken off and placed in a separate vitrine from everything else. Understanding people—their needs, motivations, and behaviors, in all their messiness—is crucial to the process of rectifying this, but that’s not easy in an environment obsessed with quantifying everything. The mindset about education needs to change at the governmental level, and the educational changes need to be in place already in schools. By the time I see students at the master’s level, their minds are pretty much set.

How important are people, training, and service versus software versus artifacts in delivering exceptional experiences?

Løvlie: They are all important, but great software and artifacts won’t succeed if the rest of the service ecology is broken. It is usually the systems and processes that make things come together for the customers that need attention before a great product, website, or face-to-face service can be designed.

Polaine: Each discipline involved in designing or delivering a service is important. As Lavrans says, great touchpoints count for little if the whole ecology is broken, but at the same time, one lousy touchpoint can ruin an otherwise good experience. Think about how many people write off a whole country as a tourist destination because of a bad meal or hotel stay. Investment in people is essential. People are the heart of services, and interactions between customers and staff are the real experience.

What challenges do we face in experience and service design that may not be obvious?

Løvlie: Although designers are great at being empathetic with users, they surprisingly often lack the same empathy with their own clients. It’s easy to get frustrated when businesses fail to take advice that would obviously benefit their customers. However, it is important to understand and respect how difficult it can be to make even small changes happen in an organization. The good thing is that when you apply the same scrutiny to the organization that you do to customers, design can make a tremendous impact.

Polaine: I agree wholeheartedly with Lavrans here. A couple of other challenges are measurement and organizational change. Organizations need to be able to make a case for the return on investment in service design, but measuring experiences in complex systems can be tricky. In some cases, such as healthcare, the benefits might not become evident until several years have passed. Service design projects can often trigger, or require, organizational change when it comes to the final delivery, and it’s important that managers champion the process. Otherwise positive change can just fade away.