Service Design Drinks 8: Jeremy Walker, Service Design Innovation Coach, BT Financial Group, 17 January 2011

I have just come off the back of a service design project so Jeremy Walker’s presentation at Service Design Drinks 8, brought home more than a few familiar experiences. It also made me think back to my few years in sales—but more on that later. In a nutshell Jeremy argued:

  1. Mine the data available, your organisation is most probably ignoring it.
  2. Design the tools for the staff responsible for service delivery, not the interaction.
  3. Learn what is working and not working by piloting changes then scale these throughout the organisation.

But when you say it out loud like that it sounds so obvious, don’t it? So why isn’t it? Back to Jeremy:

  • Business need to understand how their revenue is generated.  The business needs to get out of the sales cycle to have a successful relationship with a client over time.

Why UCD is not the answer

Jeremy argued that user centered design (UCD) was broken in a service context because it places too much emphasis on the customer. While I do not entirely agree with this ascertion (note to self: future blog post on why) I do agree that the customer research central to UCD projects misses the target of who service design should design for—and that is the people responsible for delivering the service.

“The engine of a service is often hidden.”

Jeremy argued that the design community places too much emphasis on design tools and designing the interaction between the business and the customer. The real opportunities for improvement can be found in the tools used by front line staff. The reason why is pretty obvious when you think about it. Minimise the effort and frustration of staff so they can focus on their job, which is after all, serving customers.

Earlier, I mentioned how Jeremy’s talk made me hark back to my days in sales. I was a wholesale sales rep, selling my favourite thing in the world at the time, Swatch watches. All of my accounts were in Sydney International Airport, which did a mean trade right up until September 11 and the SARS crisis. Without the foot traffic (the customer) I needed a new sales tactic. Having done retail myself, I knew the secret to closing a sale lay underneath the dispay shelf. As long as I meticulously organised the cupboards so the sales staff could quickly grab the matching box with the matching watch I knew I could beat the other brands. And it worked, because my cupboards represented less effort than the chaos that lay beneath other counters.  Its good to see that Swatch have redesignined their packaging since.

But back to the talk. The cupboard in my quaint example can be a rarely updated staff contact directory, a broken soft phone, or an ill conceived after sales service. If the tools are a pleasure to use, they will present no barrier to staff serving customers. Service design also needs to account for how the new process and/or product will work internally with staff from sales to service. Jeremy went on to emphasis that all the people working in the business need to be connected,  that “all the little things add up“, particulalry when you are scaling changes across large organisations.

Design to beta

Accustomed to creating detailed design after concept Jeremy came to the conclusion that one could only learn after a service had been launched. He encouraged the audience to “design to beta” and then see how the service was actually being used. Importantly he played down the role of the designer at this point, citing that people in the business, staff  and customers need to “evolve the brief for implementation“. He emphasised the use of existing data and customer satisfaction surveys to reveal early warning signs, and collaboration with analysts in the business to help prioritise problem areas.

“Angry customers show where it really is broken”

But after all of this is said and done, there is still a role for the user centred designer/researcher. For while data may reveal areas in dire need of improvement there remains a need to “deep dive to understand the problem in situ“.

Unfortunately I could not write so fast to be able to recap the many case studies that Jeremy spoke of. It’s aways great to learn from someone in the trenches, and someone willing to share their career successes and failures.  The next Service Design Thinks and Drinks is on 22 March. See you there.

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