Service design: what it is and how to get it right

service-design-what-it-is-and-how-to-get-it-right-creative-womens-circle-530 By Jes Egan

Have you ever recommended a restaurant or product and then realised that the product or food wasn’t what you are really recommending, but the experience that you had? Or that time when you walked into the Apple store when there was something wrong with one of your ‘iDevices’ - overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people and massive technology overload - until someone in a blue t-shirt finds you, politely asks what you need and tells you to just have a wander around and ‘Aaron’ will find you. 10 minutes later, and techno guru ‘Aaron’ comes up and says ‘Hi Jane, lets have a look and see what we can do today to fix your problem’. Crisis averted.

I like to call this ‘Service by Design’. Apple have done this very well by addressing the number of people in their store, how intimidating this can be and how hard it can be to get served at times in these situations. They have just thought about everything they possibly could and developed a solution in advance.

Put simply, service design is when a company, no matter how big or small, or in which industry, thinks about every single aspect and touch point that you may have with their company or brand, and both considers and designs how to respond at each individual point.

Look at it from a different angle, have you ever not returned somewhere or purchased again from a company because you had a bad experience? I’m pretty sure we’ve all done that, a bad experience can be the end of a relationship with a customer, however, if some of it was handled differently it could result in a more loyal and happy customer.

Why service design is important In this day and age, I believe a business can no longer be just about the product/service that they sell - it has to be much much more than that. Each purchase has to be packaged with a positive experience in order for that business to stand out from the crowd. This is particularly true for a small businesses, and  it really doesn’t matter what you sell, from coffee to jewellery to photography to management solutions.

To stand out from your competitors or create a lasting impression, any interaction a customer has with your business needs to go above and beyond expectation. It is so much more than just exchanging money for purchase.

How to do it The elements of service design in one business will differ from the next, but there are some fundamental basics that can be applied and tailored to the specific needs of your individual customers:

Communication Communication is key. Consumers like to know the status of their purchase at every stage, particularly if it is an online purchase. Keeping your customer informed of the progress of their order is a little thing that can take only seconds to do (or less if you have a wonderful automated system). I personally get really excited when I receive an email or text saying that my order is in the delivery van and on its way. It builds up an anticipation about its arrival and sometimes - even when it is not something that is even that exciting - because I know it is on its way, I can anticipate that I should stay in to sign for it, or put that 'do not ring doorbell!' sign on the door (so the babes don’t get woken up!). Either way, I appreciate the communication that my purchase is on its way.

Alternatively, perhaps there is a delay with my package being sent out. Being aware of this in advance alleviates any worry or negative thoughts that might come about when it doesn’t turn up as expected.

Delivery It is such a simple thing, but the way a purchase is delivered to you can make such a huge difference. Whether you are buying face to face in a shop or at a market or an online delivery - everything from a helpful, happy sales person; a beautifully wrapped item; a handwritten note or a simple thank you. A package doesn’t have to be extravagantly wrapped, just a considered wrapping/packaging experience will do.

Follow up More often than not, this stage is overlooked. Many businesses treat the delivery of a purchase as the final transaction. It doesn’t have to be. If it’s a product, a simple email or follow up call to say 'thank you' or to offer a discount on a future purchase might be all you need to do. If you’re wanting to offer a more personalised service, a quick call or note to see if your customer was happy with their order can really make them feel appreciated.

If what you’re offering is a service, the same rule applies. Tailoring this to your business and clientele is very important - you should only do this kind of thing if you can make it relevant to your audience. A simple follow up may be all it takes to gain a loyal client. After all, studies show that it is cheaper to keep an existing customer who purchases repeatedly from you than it is to acquire a new one.

Disputes The truth is, they do happen. How a dispute is handled by your business can be the difference between a very unhappy customer (which can translate to vocalising that unhappiness on social media) and a customer who walks away reasonably satisfied. While customers can be difficult or unreasonable at times, it is important for a business to act professionally and resolve problems efficiently and kindly.

While I’m not saying you have to 'give in' and go against what you think is fair or right in the face of a demanding situation, but ensuring you deal with the issue quickly and politely can resolve it much faster and more effectively. Perhaps it is something that is out of your control, such as a third-party postal or delivery issue. The best time to think about how to respond to a dispute is not when you are in the middle of it. If your heart is entrenched in what you do, it can be really hard to not take it personally when a dispute arises. So thinking about what you would do in advance can be very effective. A solution such as offering a discount on the next purchase or a small token of appreciation could help ease the tension, and is easy to set up in advance should you ever need to play that card.

Over to you Service Design can create value. Creating a positive experience for your customer by designing your service around your offering is so important, and often overlooked. In most cases, once you have thought through how you are going to interact with your customer and put your plan into place, it’s a simple process and hopefully will become second nature. Adding a bit of service design to your business can help you create a warm and appreciated experience around your business. And service design is all about designing that experience.

Jes is a ‘practical creative’ with a past life in advertising. These days Jes is an artist, lecturer, and small business owner who can be found cutting up a storm at Follow Jes on Instagram and Facebook.