Service design

Service design is the process of creating new or developing existing services, which uses the same methodology as the product design and creative thinking.

Design is an art of creating solutions, products and services, which are more: profitable, simple, interesting, human, beautiful, nature-friendly and secure.

Service design describes different concepts bearing in mind common understanding of innovation, design, design thinking and practical design.

Services unlike to products are intangible. Service delivery and consumption requires in most cases contacts and communication between customer and service provider. Thus, people behavior and process-specific aspects of the service process have to be very well thought out and designed to ensure customer satisfaction.

Service designers visualize, formulate and create innovative processes to solve problems. They observe and interpret human behavior patterns, take into account the environmental conditions to create new services. Service design methodology is universal and applicable to all types of services and wide variety of service areas. Service design is similar to the product design in terms of its phases, but uses different methods of creative thinking.

Different definitions are used to describe the service design therefore it is important to create a common understanding around design innovation, design thinking and design practice.

Design innovation only occurs through understanding the customer's and his needs; usage of this knowledge when composing services creates competitive advantage to a company.

Design thinking describes the specific approach to innovation; design thinking is not an exclusive area for designers, but is a necessary skill for anyone involved in business and want to progress innovations.

Service design practice begins when turning your ideas into live; It may be a concept drawing, prototype of an idea, process description, etc.

Customer support in IoT era

I participated in June 2016  in Athens “Customer Contact Europe”. This annual conference was arranged  by Frost&Sullivan Executive MindXchange

Subject of my presentation

How smart

The main thrust and focus

Rapid shifts in technology and social media are impacting today customer behavior and therefore the way businesses are to be run. The economic importance is shifting from product to customer relationship, which in turn has strong effect to service provider strategy, set-up and processes.  It is inevitable to create in smart customer relations the skills and ability to follow rapid customer evolution – proactivity, increased knowledge standards, web solutions, communication in social media, enterprise transparency and speed

Specific take-aways

– Success factors of IoT, smart customer relations management

– Best practices as well as pitfalls of managing customer experience

– Example of how enhanced experience management has positive impact on enterprise financial results

Symbiosis between brand and service

When creating brand, it is essential that customer could understand and trust the brand peculiarities and its positive value.


Company logo is the foundation of the business branding. It is probably the first interaction that will take place with customers. An effective logo can establish the right tone and set the the characteristic spirit of a culture, essence as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.

When setting a logo those questions are to be asked before :

  • What emotions does the logo generate? Is the meaning behind the same that logo reflects? Does it have any meaning? Could the meaning be understood when looking at logo?
  • Is the logo by sense, color etc in symbiosis with your products, target customers and company?
  • Is the brand & logo unique, clear and instantly recognizable?

But … it is absolutely important to bear in mind that brand and service environment* of a particular entity should be in logical connection = symbiosis

Internal and external identity must support each other and cannot! be random or incoherent. Companies do not often pay attention that marks of the service network appear rather different from given brand messages. Service environment could in such cases be characterized as worn, uneven, old-fashioned, dark, closed, sad, quiet, serious, bureaucratic, cost-saving, cheap, unprofessional, inward, indifferent, careless, …Traits that are most possibly not used in branding :)

Service elements are most certainly part of the brand communication, mirroring the image of the actual nature of the company. Brand and service environment discrepancies create in most cases customers’ confusion and mistrust towards the company. Regardless of company’s will, variety of characters influence always conscious and subconscious communication to the surrounding environment.

One of the service design goals is to create an emotional value, which is able to strengthen customers’ confidence and thereby increase brand loyalty. Important for service designers is not to follow what seems nice but what matches to the brand message. The brand and the service channels bearing the same message must reach the same settlement structure to meet the company’s core values and vision.

Services / service design elements help to create positive stories related to the company = brand recognition = customer confidence to the company and the provided services

Subconsciously we all perceive the different messages given by signs. The meaning of the signs could be given by promises, colors, messages, location, accessibility, status, emotion, cleanliness, ease, attitude, temper etc.

Bear in mind that:

  • Light, material, color, smell, sound, attitude, behavior, other customers – affect customer mood and judgment.
  • The more pleasant moments you create in service-points, the more customers trust the brand and are attracted to use the services again.
  • When designing services, the situations where customer feels confused must be avoided. The client feels stupid and/or irritated when he does not know how to behave as expected – ie services set-up is too complex for him to handle.
  • Customer first impression is hardly objective, but is crucial. It occurs rapidly within seconds grabbing a whole as far as it is possible to perceive / see / feel. In first impression more important is what customer feels than what he sees.


* service environment: any direct or indirect contacts with customers: incl social media, homepages, e-services, call centers, bulk mailing, etc


Should Service Design Be Client-Centered?

Previously we have written a lot on how it’s important to know what your customer thinks, feels and experiences when it comes to the service. It is true, yet just a small part of the whole picture: service design is not only about thinking from your customer’s perspective.

The whole idea of service design is based on creating people-centered solutions. The key word here is “people”. And customers are by far not the only people that participate in service process.

The network of service stakeholders expands much broader: customer service employees, partners, competitors, etc. One may be surprised by the results of a detailed stakeholder analysis – sometimes we forget how many people are actually influenced and influencing our service. Ideally we should take all of them into account.

So the first step here would be mapping the stakeholders. How do we do that? The easiest way is to do that in three steps:

1)   Who are the people who participate in service encounter directly? Usually that would be clients and customer service employees, but the list could be longer.

2)   Who is involved in the service, yet does not directly participate on the service encounter? For example it could be sales manager, supplier, client’s family etc.

3)   Who are the stakeholders that have the power to influence the service, yet never participate in the service encounter? The answer could be state institutions, competitors and so on.

After you have mapped the stakeholders it’s also useful to see how do they influence the service process and also each other.

stakeholder map

What should we do with this information? It’s obviously too hard to design a service that would take into account absolutely every stakeholder’s point of view. Yet what definitely should be taken into account – is the “inner circle” of service. And this means, that we need to let go of the excessive client-centered approach.

It’s very hard to create a superior service experience for a customer if some of the other stakeholders that he interacts with during the service encounter are annoyed or unhappy. Therefore the challenge of service design is to create a service that is enjoyable, useful and usable for all the parties involved.

Service design aims smooth use of services – smooth living mode

Service design

Most of service situations are packed with functions, people, emotions. Service design puts all these 3 together as equal parts. And this is substantial.

This is often asked – how to involve people in a process that is generally felt cold and unwanted. It can be made happen by addressing all sectors of service: people, places and processes.

Remember – when designing services you have to try and make an error, you have to try again, make an error and try again …

Give customer control – tell in service process what’s gonna happen and how customer could help to make the entire service process smooth and perfect.

You have to make sure that everyone in service process – the client and the customer service people, know what is the real aim of their activities. And what is the best way to achieve this.

The service places are like the tip of an iceberg – the only thing customer could see. Behind that, under the waterline there are the processes and people who are making it solid, smooth and pleasant.  Service coaches who work inside the whole system should develop the process by highlighting the good. The best results in service could be achieved only in positive atmosphere.

Ask people to describe how they feel when they experience your service. Provide as much as possible information about the service to your customer. Take care that the terminology used, when talking to a customer, is easy to understand.

Better awareness improves the perceived service quality – always!

Market Research vs. Design Research: what’s the difference?

The first logical step in any development process is analysis. While developing a service (either improving an existing one or creating from a clean slate) market research is quite often the first thing that comes to mind in order to map current needs of the target audience. But is it an expedient tool in the context of service design?

It is essential for a service designer to understand the needs and desires of service user, but an average result created out of a large sample is not something of a significant value for that purpose. When designing a service for an average user we might end up creating something that has no demand what so ever.

Design research vs market research jana kukk

The aim of service designer is to discover something unique and fascinating to lead to ideas on how to create services that are more useful and usable. One does not get insights by calculating an average. The tools that could be helpful here are of absolutely qualitative origin: in-depth interviews, observations, focus groups, etc. – tools, where the sample could be quite small, yet it is possible to get deep and meaningful content out of each contact.

What can co-creative approach do for your business and clients?

Unlike production, where the output value depends on what the final product looks like, value of a service is shaped differently. Being intangible by nature, service aims to change the state of people, artefacts, or of information and knowledge. The value of the service is evaluated according to if the change was actually for the better or for the worse. Quite likely the perspectives of service provider and service buyer on this won’t be identical.

This is why in service-dominant economy value creation is not the task that only service provider is responsible for. To make sure that the outcome of the service is actually valuable to the client, he needs to be engaged in value creation process. For example: when you need to get a quality service at a beauty saloon, you don’t just go and sit silently into hairdresser’s chair and expect get out of it in 30 minutes looking all pretty. You also make sure to explain your wishes and expectations. A good stylist takes that into account and adds up his expertise and skills.

This is value co-creation: to produce a service both service provider’s and client’s input is used. Co-creation can happen in anywhere: in any offering value can be created jointly and reciprocally.

Co-creative mindset is in between two extremes: “we know best what the client needs, even if he thinks we’re wrong” and “let’s do exactly what client wants”. If the service provider finds the balance between the two and manages to engage the client’s resources in value creation process – the satisfaction of the client is practically guaranteed. Yet, as always, there can also be too much of a good thing. Research shows, that in case the service buyer is engaged too much, he feels that he has done half of the job and the service provider hasn’t contributed enough to get paid the full price.

To sum up: if you care about the client to feel that value of the service is appropriate and the price he pays for it is fair, forget about the extreme client-centred approach or your preponderant expertise. In service-dominant economy the best value seems to be a result of a co-creative partnership between service provider and client.

Using Tools of Service Design to Facilitate Knowledge-Intensive Service Activities

Not only professional service designers can apply tools of service design in order to create and develop offerings. Service providers themselves can use those tools to facilitate communication with clients. Following post describes how knowledge-intensive services could benefit from integrating tools of  service design into service delivery process.

Perceived value of a service is quite an abstract term, mainly due to immaterial nature of service itself. It is actually quite rear that you can measure a concrete and precise value of the outcome, like ROI for example. Legitimacy of perceived value becomes especially questionable when you try to define in a knowledge-intensive service: client may simply not have enough competence to evaluate on the outcome of a complex problem-solving process.

One may ask, why is it important at all that the client would equitably evaluate on the value of knowledge-intensive service. Answer is quite simple: these services engage a large amount of competence (ex. training, consultancy, specific technical service, etc.). Price list for this type of work is rather high, outcome very intangible and the amount of actual effort to deliver the service is quite vague to customer. As a result service buyer often feels that he has overpaid. Bottom line: client is unhappy.

To fix the problem one would need to make the process of service delivery more transparent. We suggest that service design tools integrated into service process could achieve it.

Typical issue with knowledge intensive service activities is that a client first contacting the service provider does not really know what he needs. Why not apply the tools that service designers use to empathize and define the problem, ex. empathy map? Respectively there are tools to be borrowed and implemented also in the stages of creating a personolized offering and implementing it.

As many tools of service design are ment to engage service buyer and to visualise the process they could also make the delivery of knowledge-intensive business service much more transparent and help the client to evaluate on the outcome value.

Strategic Management of Customer Relations

Stories by Leaders

are a series of experience exchange of Pärnu Konverentsid, where Estonian top executives will talk for 3 hours with other leaders, share their story in the open discussion with participants.


In modern world customer-centered approach leads to success. “Strategic Management of Customer Relations” was the first of the leader stories in this spring’s conference theme. Ene Raja talked about her experiences.

In businesses where large number of customers do not have regular direct customer service experience the  service is perceived by the customer as an abstract of the fee to be paid.

In this case for an enterprise it is challenging to manage customer communication /loyalty and customer decision can be easily influenced by competition.

Command over customer experience becomes therefore highly important and should now be taken to the enterprise management level.


The customer stays with the company, which provides to him good experience. Good experience management skills are for a service company the key for advantage today. Experience Management should not be random, it should be planned and managed carefully. Offer to your customer additional value, which is unexpected and would create a “wow-effect”!


Do not expose the ignorance to your customer. TIP: customer is more satisfied with immediate response “we solve your problem in five days”, compared when the immediate response delayed and client receives your response and solution in three days. The customer wants to have control over the situation  – to know what and when are things happening with him/his question and when his problem is solved! This is often more important than quick (but not as quick as customer expects!) solution.


Customer shares the positive experience, and even more, he shares the negative. Sharing the experience in social media has given the customer a significant position advantage. Compensate for the negative customer experience – it is cheaper and easier to have the situation resolved in favor of the client, rather than debate over the issue and degrade yourself publicly.


Consumer expects kindness and friendliness, but he/she looks even more customer service expertise and competence to find the best solution and find it quickly. Trust service personnel and provide sufficiently broad mandate for decision-making – the limits within which employees can decide for themselves. Customers love today speed in decisions. This improves customer satisfaction, employee motivation, and company’s financial results.


Distinction of the best pays off. Employees are different – recognize the best by prestigious remuneration. Evaluation principles should be clear and simple. Also, customers are different – sometimes it makes sense to abandon unprofitable customers to contribute more for the good. Create different service model for different customer segments!


Communication with customers is mutual and two-sided – in addition to your telling, the client must be given word and you must hear it and RESPOND!

Customer communication in different media must always follow the basic direct communication rules: say hello, talk in direct speech, always respond to questions and say good-bye. As simple as such!

Ask for customer recommendations and link this result to your managers’ performance fee. This is the quickest way to teach your organization to listen your customers.

When asking customer recommendation (Net Promoter Score), it is really important (and smart) to provide feedback to the client, how your company uses the given recommendation and you get loyal customers without loyalty program! But when our loyal customer still leaves – then your price must be very wrong.


Keep cost under control by smart development of e-solutions. Besides lower cost, e-channel provides in addition consistent service quality and good opportunities for additional sales.

The key for e-service is simplicity – customer expects easy and fast service. But … building a simple e-business solution is difficult task for a service provider.


To each his own. Service design requires a different strategy for different national/ cultural environments. E.g. in Nordics customers can be on hold (queues) for a longer time period, in Baltics waiting in line more than half a minute would raise frustration; in South-Europeans prefer direct communication over e-channels, in Russia customers are satisfied receiving the necessary information from the telephone answering machine.


Service design gets up steam – how to sustain difference based on customer experience

Consumers want personal and engaging experiences that develop into relationships

It is nowadays nearly impossible for companies to sustain differentiation better customer experiencebased on price or product, leaving only one option – the customer experience. The 2011 Customer Experience Impact (CEI) Report explores the relationship between consumers and brands and reveals facts about what consumers are looking for from a brand: 86% will pay more for a better customer experience and  89%  began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience.

Why Consumers Commit to a Brand? They want …

friendly employees 73%; to find easily the information or help they need 55%; personalized experiences 36% and brands with a good reputation 33%.

Therefore based on the survey responses …

Hiring and empowering the right staff is the most critical element to  court consumers successfully; brands must ensure easy access to information and support; brands need to create personalized experiences which includes:

      1. knowing what customers have bought in the past
      2. service issues customers have raised,
      3. sending to customers appropriate, timely and useful updates

Keeping the Relationship Alive

For consumer organizations today, good customer experience is a competitive imperative. Understanding what customers want is the first step in creating exceptional experiences. When asked specifically how companies can better engage with consumers to spend more, respondents said: improve the overall customer experience 54%; make it easy to ask questions and access information before making a purchase 52%;  improve search functionality and overall web site usability 36%.

A simple response can make a tremendous difference

By acknowledging complaints, organizations stand to win back frustrated customers. In the instances when an organization responded to a customer’s negative comment: 46 % of consumers were pleased and 22 % posted a positive comment about the organization.

They Tell Their Facebook Friends and Twitter Followers

50% of consumers give a brand only one week to respond to a question before they stop doing business with them. After a poor customer experience, 26% of customers posted a negative comment on a social networking site like Facebook or Twitter for hundreds of their friends and followers to see. 79% of consumers who shared complaints about poor customer experience online had their complaints ignored; 21% of those, who did get responses to complaints, more than half had positive reactions to the same company about which they were previously complaining.


Pick up the phone: 58% of consumers noted that their expectations were not met because a company was unavailable; they didn’t pick up the phone or answer email.

Shake a leg: 56% said companies are slow to resolve issues.

Get a clue:  57% said companies are clueless; it sometimes feels like the consumer knows more about the company than the customer service agent.

Be friendly: 51% said companies are impersonal; sometimes they can’t even get their name right.

Know your customer’s interaction history: 34% said companies are forgetful, they don’t remember customers even if they had recently talked to a customer service agent.

Get social: 16% of consumers surveyed said companies are anti-social; they are nowhere to be found, they are not known.