Apr 14, 2020

What Is Service Design?

Radhika Sharma

Radhika Sharma

What Is Service Design?

Last month, I lost my wallet on my flight home. To reorder my card, I had to repeat my name, address, and answers to the same security questions to four different representatives in a process that took over 20 minutes. I would begin talking with one representative, who immediately tried to identify me before asking any other question. Upon realizing which department I should go to, they would transfer me to the back of the queue and I would begin my conversation anew with another representative.

Though it seems like I found this experience annoying and useless, I became excited by it. This situation was a perfect example of how service design could transform painful customer experiences into a seamless, connected interaction. Rather than waiting 20 minutes, I could have been appropriately directed much earlier on.

Several questions began popping into my head: There must be an internal process-related reason why they hadn’t directed me earlier, so what was that process? What departments were the first I had interacted with and what departments did they hand me off to? What information could I have given them, and vice versa, to create a better service?

Service design is what led me down this trail of questioning, but I’ll focus on answering just one question in this blog post: what is service design?

Service Design

Lynn Shostack created the service design concept in her 1984 essay, “Designing Services That Deliver.” The premise of service design is that, similar to how we design products for customers to buy, we treat services that customers experience as the product themselves and design services with the customer in mind.

We often envision a customer’s experience as separate from internal process flows. We create customer journey maps that only consider a customer’s external interactions and process flows that take us from input to output. Service design aims to overlay the two to uncover areas that can create a tighter, more unified service to holistically improve processes, tools, and employee and customer experiences.

Service Blueprint

Service design’s foundation is the service blueprint, which is a map of the service’s processes, tools, and employee and customer experiences.

Service blueprints are broken down into layers:

  • Customer actions: The actions a customer takes.

  • Frontstage actions: The actions a business takes that a customer sees.

  • Backstage actions: The actions a business takes that a customer does not see.

  • Support processes: The internal processes employees execute.

Between the frontstage and backstage actions is the line of visibility, which is the line that separates what the customer does and does not see.

Service blueprints not only expose areas of redundancies, siloes, and inefficiencies, but also provide a visualization that can inspire collaboration, innovation, and creativity. By visualizing seemingly disparate and unrelated processes, service blueprints unite everyone and everything they do around one commonality: the service.

Our Approach

At Credera, we apply design thinking methodology in our five-step iterative service design approach:

  1. Research: Understand the current state through analysis and research.

  2. Synthesis: Consolidate findings and identify areas of opportunity.

  3. Ideation: Brainstorm solutions for areas of opportunity.

  4. Prototype: Build a prototype of a solution.

  5. Test: Test the prototype to determine the validity of the solution.

Once we test, we repeat the process until we develop the best possible user and employee tested solution. By conducting service design with design thinking methodology, we try to spend as much time understanding the problems as we do testing the solution, which is imperative for developing a solution that improves the holistic experience.

Service design is not just about understanding which inefficiencies exist in a process to make the entire service better; it’s about understanding what the service is, why we take every step we take, and how we can bring all of the people, tools, and processes together to ensure the service we are providing is one that is intentional, verified, and solid. We often plug gaps when we face problems. Through service design, we unplug those gaps, identify what the actual problem we are trying to solve is, and test whether or not our solution solves the problem we need it to. If it does, great! If not, what can we change so it will? Awesome, let’s test again.

Moving Toward Service Design

Every company wants to deliver a positive, helpful experience to its customers. However, even when we design a great customer experience, we cannot guarantee that the right infrastructure and people exist to deliver that experience. We end up being limited not by what we want to do but how we do it: How do we change our finance department to enable this transaction? How can this team utilize user information at the right time to deliver a better experience?

These are the questions that service design answers. Service design considers the processes, employee experience, and tools that are required to bring that customer experience to life in a sustainable and scalable way. If you have any service design questions you are trying to figure out, feel free to reach out to us at We’d love to help you start your journey!

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