Visualising service design – in 9 steps

Banner - Service Design goes VisualIn previous blog you have read about the importance of service design & service design thinking, including its complementarity with process design.

Now, it’s time to dig more concretely into practice. Therefore this blog illustrates, through a generic example – a restaurant, like already used in the blog on process quality -, how to apply service design, and how it may contribute to business (process) improvement. Or how visualising Service Design helps you to improve your business (processes).

Even though there are many more tools for service design, I personally find service blueprints and customer journey maps very interesting and complementary for Process (re)designers to broaden their insights. Particularly because these both depict the process which the customer experiences – the so called customer journey – and relate it, through so called Touchpoints, to several dimensions of the service provider’s own internal organisation.

The fact that – to my modest opinion – service blueprints are somehow richer, as they also include the internal (backstage) information on top of the customer journey, they get my preference from a business process improvement perspective. Even though it seems that very often both are mixed together, which makes both look like the same.

Service BlueprintsBlueprint

What is a service blueprint?

It is a comprehensive tool to place the customer and the service stakeholders – supposingly internal, but possibly external stakeholders as well – at the heart of the service design.

Like mentioned in previous blog, service design – in contrast to process design – focuses on the outside-in, i.e. the customer’s perspective is the main focus.

Indeed, the main – actually the basic – element of a service blueprint is the customer’s journey. This is the sequence of steps a customer takes and experiences – before, during and after using the service.

Another important element of a service blueprint is the series of corresponding touchpoints, which depict the actual interaction between the customer and your own organisation. Either through internal stakeholders (e.g. employees) or external ones, e.g. a distributor or a third party.

Differently from customer journey maps, service blueprints also include the own organisation’s “backstage” actions, representing – parts of – internal business processes needed to deliver the service.

To me, a service blueprint is richer as it also includes interesting internally related information like business processes, or even risks and KPIs – like you will see further in this blog.

Why service blueprints?

Through capturing the big picture of a service, including interactions, i.e. the relations between the many actors and their respective actions, it depicts a (more) systemic view of a service – or of how the service ideally should be.

Indeed, a service blueprint - similarly to a process map – can be used to analyse and to improve an existing service, or to innovate – i.e. to design a totally new service.

Analysis of an existing service for improvement

Like for business process Cook and waiterimprovement, you may use service blueprints to uncover, identify and eventually to manage potential improvements.

It can help to identify how organisational silos affect the customer experience. Assume that – for any reason – communication between the waiter and the cook is poor, you may guess which issues this could generate, impacting the customer experience.

Or if the restaurant owner wants to increase the overall customer satisfaction, thanks to the service blueprint, he may be able to analyse where potential service improvements might be done.

A customer survey form could even be designed while systematically considering all the touchpoints. So to investigate how and when (in the customer journey or internal processes) value creation might be increased, or where waste could be eliminated.

Innovation – Designing a new service

Whether it is for a strategic shift in an existing business, or for a completely new business, service blueprints are very valuable as well.

Assuming our restaurant that is used to serve business customers and that wants to start a totally new concept. Wouldn’t it be wise to foresee a new service blueprint, helping to concretise the business model as well as the interactions with customers?New-Service

It will help you, indeed, making sure that your new business proposition (your new service) is coherent, since you can see how all the elements interlink and work.

Moreover, sketching out the blueprint will most probably give rise to other ideas and connections you would otherwise not have thought of. Because services are usually complex, designing the big and entire picture helps to spot possible failures faster; it may even help you to realise that an idea is a “nonstarter”. And when innovating, “failing fast” is better than to waste months – or even longer – of valueless efforts.  

From both applications – improvement of existing and design of a new service -, it is clear how similar, but complementary, service design and business process (re)design are.

How to map a service blueprint – in 9 steps

Unlike process modelling – where BPMN has become the de facto standard – there is no real standard for service blueprints. Which obviously means that there is not only one way to draw them.

Following 9 steps describe one of the best practices to obtain a quite exhaustive service blueprint:

1. Main phases or steps – the Service Life Cycle

As with many modelling practices, it makes sense to start abstract. Hence, drafting the main phases of the service or customer experience may be seen as the first step. These steps may even be generic, thus not (yet) taking the specificities of the service into account. Like you can see from our example, this is the first (top) row, consisting of the generic – and very commonly used – customer journey phases Aware, Join, Use, Develop and Leave. Mind that those do not specify how – or by which means – they occur ; this is for the next steps.

PhasesThis first step is optional, as you maybe know already the finer grained customer steps enough in details from the beginning (see step 5 here below).

2. Channels

Once you have set out the (broad) horizontal blocks – i.e. the service life cycle phases from previous step – you then best identify the channels. Channels are the means through which (potential) customers will have contact with your organisation. This might be your website, the phone, social media, etc. For a restaurant this may also be a third party a channel, like the Michelin guide, or a restaurant rating & booking site (like the Belgian Or even an own – smartphone enabled – application through which customers could very easily book a table. Also the paper menu from which customers will choose, may be considered as a channel.Channels

3. Frontstage stakeholders, actors & activities

Next rows to add are the ones representing the stakeholders who will be in direct contact with the customer. In our example, this is the waiter – who will welcome customers when entering, who will take the orders, who will serve the meals, etc.

4. Backstage stakeholders & activities

ActorsSimilarly to previous step, you now identify the stakeholders who will be impacted by customer’s actions – or will impact the customer’s experience -, but indirectly. The cook is a typical example for a restaurant: he – or she – normally has no direct contact with customers ; if s/he even comes out of the kitchen during lunchtime hours.

You may consider the distinction between frontstage and backstage stakeholders as optional, though I find it quite useful, as frontstage stakeholders usually have a different impact on the customer experience. More particularly when it is about customer-friendly communication. E.g. the cook does not need to be polite, as long as s/he cooks well; in contrast to the waiter, who needs to stay polite anytime.

5. Specific steps – the customer journey

Now, it’s time to break down the – optional – generic phases obtained from the above first step into more detailed and specific steps. For our restaurant example, these are respectively Need for a business lunch, Look for a restaurant, Book a table, Enter the restaurant, etc.

Steps6. Fill in the Touchpoints

The resulting grid cells between channels, and columns (specific steps – and/or phases – of the customer journey) can now be filled in with the touchpoints. These reflect the “frontstage” interactions; say the actions by the customer with your organisation. Either through channels or with (frontstage) stakeholders.

For the restaurant, this may be Booking a table by phone, or using the paper menu to order the meals, etc. Touchpoints are at the crossroad of steps and channels indeed.

7. Identify the corresponding Frontstage & Backstage activities

The grid cells delimited between frontstage and backstage actors can now be completed with the respective activities or (sub)processes needed to be carried out by the corresponding actor to satisfy the customer for the respective steps and touchpoints.

To my opinion, this the most interesting step, especially from a continuous improvement point of view.  It is an important opportunity, indeed, to identify and to map the many relations between the customer’s journey and customer experience to the activities carried out by your organisation. It is this kind of information that will enable you to obtain a (more) systemic view, say the whole big picture, to spot potential improvements; in both the customer experience as in your own business processes.
Entire blueprint

8. Identify and map the pain points

Particularly when you use a service blueprint to analyse an existing service, it is valuable to identify and to map where the pain points are in the blueprint. Including for communication reasons, i.e. to explain and to convince your employees – or other stakeholders – to contribute to the respective improvements.

9. Additional parameters or dimensions

Depending on your business needs & priorities, you may even add other rows, depicting additional information. So, you might add risks you – or your employees – shPaintpointsould be alert for. E.g. to make sure that bills are correct and that these get paid.

Other dimensions might be KPIs, strategic initiatives related to the service, etc.

Practical tips to use service blueprints

Convenient and easy to use

Given its grid-like aspect, it is needless to mention that you do not need very sophisticated software to map business blueprints. Even a spreadsheet would do.

Moreover, it is very convenient to be used during workshops : sticky notes on a whiteboard or on a large (brown) paper sheet allows you to easily add, to remove or to move the many elements, i.e. the sticky notes.

Just as it is the case for process diagrams – to (re)design processes -, service blueprints are ideally produced collaboratively, since they are a great way to bring various departments & teams together. This undoubtedly helps to promote co-operation and teamwork to serve customers even better.   

Zoom in & out

You may even use other service design tools in combination with service blueprints. E.g. to document or to illustrate  – say focus on – specific aspects. So, you may for instance relate empathy maps to specific touchpoints, to illustrate even more effectively which behavior of an employee or a channel (like a website) may lead to some frustration by the customer. Or in contrary, how it may lead to an (even) higher customer satisfaction.

One size does not fit all

Just like for business processes where there may be several process variants for different customer segments, 1 blueprint does not fit all needs of all clients. Indeed, a service most often has to be tuned, taking specific needs or expectations – by different customer types or groups – into account. You will read in next blogs how personas offer a solution to this.

I am curious to hear / read from you whether you already used service blueprints or customer journey maps in your professional life, and for what purpose(s). Please use below comment box to share your knowledge about – or your experience with – these visualisation techniques.

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