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Service Design: The Evolution of User Experience

by Pamela Gay , 17.05.2012

This article is re-posted from User Centric’s blog.

User experience as a field continues to evolve and mature. One way in which that evolution has manifested itself is to look at things at a more macroscopic level. For instance, imagine experiences you may have had with a cable TV or telecom provider. How did you find out about the service offering? What was the web page like? When you got the self-install kit in the mail, was it hard to set up? When you called them, did the interactive voice response system get you to the right place? And so on. These are all examples of how customers interact with an organization. But the problem is that often organizations don’t have a systematic customer-oriented view of their touchpoints; that is, they are often designed and delivered from many different parts of the organization that don’t talk to each other. So the user’s experience is often quite uneven. This “unevenness” can often take the shine off the company’s halo. Many customers will vote with their dollars when they have a choice. The objective is to engineer the whole experience so that it is as seamless as it can be. Taking a user experience approach to the whole collection of these experiences and unifying them is the essence of  “Service Design.”

So…what exactly is service design?

There is an increasing awareness of service design by designers; they would generally describe it as “the creation of a consistent customer experience across all touchpoints through which an organization comes in contact with its customers.”

Much of the thinking about service design originated in Europe, where there are firms that focus specifically on service design. In the US, a few design innovation firms identify service design as one of their creative offerings. They design new systems of customer interaction for their clients or re-imagine existing ones. But design firms, well…design. They may do some research to come up with ideas for creating new experiences, but they give little thought to measuring how well a customer experience works. Similarly, there are many offerings providing Voice of the Customer programs or high-level customer experience measures. However, there is often a gap in connecting business outcomes with these measures. Companies spend millions on these services and often do not get the secret sauce—how to improve the customer experience.

To understand this, the key is to see both the risks and the opportunities in an organization’s service delivery.  What we as UX professionals bring to the table is in measuring the points of contact between the organization and a customer. This measurement leads to an opportunity to improve those measures by (re-)designing how an organization’s digital (and sometimes physical) touchpoints create a compelling ‘customer journey’ (i.e., designing the customer experience).

In short, this is a “white space” in the market that we fill: measuring the customer experience and improving that experience to get better business outcomes.

As organizations face the challenge of managing every interaction, UX practitioners are the ideal partner to evaluate and improve these experiences. We’re not only excited about it, we’re doing it!