Archive for December, 2009

The AT-ONE project at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design produced a set of service touchpoint cards for the Nordic Service Design conference last month. I was curious about the cards and they were kind enough to send a pack to review.

It consists of a set of 52 cards representing various touchpoints that might be found in a typical service. Five of the cards suggest card-sorting exercises designed to help organizations think more about how they present themselves to the public.

  1. Forced association – Pick two cards and create a service for your project based upon just these touchpoints.
  2. Mapping touchpoints – For each step of the service journey, choose the touchpoint cards from the pack that the customer will encounter and map the journey.
  3. Touchpoint take away – Identify the two most important touchpoints at each step of the customer journey and replace them with alternatives.
  4. Can I use it here? – For each step of the service journey, go through the cards and envision how the touchpoint could create value at this particular step.
  5. Whose touch point is it anyway? – Sort through the cards in terms of who is responsible for each touchpoint within your organization. Do they work together?

Initially the scope of the cards seemed a little overwhelming so I mentally grouped the touchpoints into five categories: Media, Graphics, Servicescapes, Communications and Ephemera.

The first category refers to media outlets such as TV, radio or newspapers along with newer channels such weblogs and viral messaging. Next is graphical output such as business cards, brochures, signage and packaging. Servicescapes contain the environmental and face-to-face aspects of a service such as wayfinding, queues and actual employees. The communications category contains cards for e-mail and various kinds of telephones as well as traditional channels such as letters or word of mouth. Finally, I created an ephemera category for things like receipts, bills, contracts, instructions, credit cards and all the bits of business that hold a service together.

The pack contains two blank cards for creating new touchpoints and three specific cards for “service as a product,” referencing hybrids like the Amazon Kindle, Nike Plus and Nabaztag.

One card didn’t make sense to me. It simply contained the word “myths” and a photograph of a book entitled Myths and Legends. I’ve never come across this particular theme in regard to touchpoints. Any help?

I think that these cards are a good tool for brainstorming, but they’re an excellent tool for explaining the concept of service design to potential clients. I’d like to see the set fleshed out a bit with categories or other ways to “chunk” the cards and maybe some insight or best practices for particular touchpoints on the backs of the cards themselves.

Finally it’d be nice to see this kind of approach expanded to deal with aspects of service design beyond touchpoints. For instance, the communication mechanisms that filter information throughout the enterprise and the management systems that organize and train employees in the service culture: the backstage linkware and orgware to complement the touchpoints.

The danger is that by omission these tools reinforce the notion that only the front stage elements of a service need to be designed. Service design is about more than touchpoints.

Still, this is a good place to start and it’s always nice to add a new resource to our arsenal. I’d like to see more organizations take a crack at this type of thing.

Singapore Airlines

In light of the new TSA guidelines for international flights I thought I’d dig up a National Public Radio story from 2006 on the customer service at Singapore Airlines, which travelers rate among the best, if not the best, in the world:

We will never be a hundred percent better than any one of those airlines. Our aim is to be one percent better than them in a hundred different areas so that at the end of the day the customer sees with us an all-round service proposition that they’re prepared to pay that modest premium to fly with.

There’s also a bit about how the airline trains their employees in the culture of customer service. This internal aspect is something I don’t think service designers spend enough time discussing.

Of course Singapore Airlines has lowered the bar significantly in response to the new guidelines.

I’ve added a new paper to my service design research collection. It’s called “Experience, Service Operations Strategy, and Services as Destinations” from the Journal of Production and Operations Management. The paper is incredibly relevant for the service design community and deserves a place in our canon.

Authors Chris Voss, Aleda Roth and Richard Chase introduce the idea of services as destinations and place them at the apex of a hierarchy of experiential service offerings. They analyze 28 case studies for examples of experience and identify four types of businesses along the spectrum, ranging from those that use experience as an enhancement for an existing service to those that embrace experience as a core offering.

They propose that the depth of experience must be supported by a corresponding level of integration within an organization, with the operational demands rising as a function of the complexity of the experience offered. Higher levels of experience offer greater financial returns, assuming the organizational infrastructure to maintain them. The authors also explore the role of the chief experience officer (CXO) and the organizational risks and rewards associated with a centralized authority.

But what makes this a must-read paper is the basic taxonomy identifying four components of service operation:

  • Stageware – Bricks and mortar. The facilities layout, process technology and flows.
  • Orgware – Management systems to organize and train people for experience and create an environment and culture for engaging customers.
  • Customerware – Specific touchpoints where customers interact with the delivery system service.
  • Linkware – Integration systems. The communication mechanisms that filter information across the enterprise and down to all levels.

Too often as service designers we focus on either the touchpoints or the servicescape; the sexy front-stage components of the customer experience. But what goes on inside the company is just as important for us to consider. Voss, Chase and Roth provide a simple frame for that discussion.

The list of references at the end is a gold mine for anyone interested in exploring the literature on experience. I’m amazed that we don’t talk about these sources more often. Journals like Decision Sciences and Advances in Consumer Research or the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, the Journal of Cyberpsychology and Behavior and the Journal on Multivariate Behavioral Research. I’ve dug up a dozen new papers.

Update: The authors also have a presentation summarizing their research [PDF 2.9MB] but it doesn’t stand on its own very well. I’d recommend checking out the full paper.

Coffee and Moleskine III from Lost in Scotland's Photostream

The launch of MyServiceFellow, a mobile phone application for capturing touchpoints, reminded me of a great case study from 2002 in a book called Web Site Redesigns. Author Darcy DiNucci, then a design director at Method, documented the initial design research phase for a travel website. It began with a combination diary and camera study for 50 travelers:

Method sent the travelers out with a kit designed to capture their experiences, plus $125 for their trouble. The kit consisted of a disposable camera and a survey book the traveler could use to record any aspect of the trip that seemed noteworthy, plus an instruction sheet telling each participant how to use them. Each traveler was asked to tell their own story of their experience of business travel. By taking pictures of places, objects and moments, each participant would reveal how he or she perceived the travel experience.

What was recorded was up to each participant — the experience would be documented through the travelers own eyes, not by answers to a set of questions posed by an outsider. For each picture taken the participant created an entry in the survey book, noting the date, time, place, and observations about their state of mind, the situation, and why they chose to take the picture. [DiNucci 39-40]

The book includes samples from the survey design and a collection of photographs and descriptions from the kits they received back from the study. Of course Method used this mainly as inspiration for the website rather than to re-design the customer journey as a project itself. But the techniques can be a great match for the needs of service designers.

For me these low-tech approaches are more appealing than the more recent examples of technology I’ve seen applied to the problem. For one thing, it just seems easier to manage for the participant. Paper doesn’t crash. There’s no software to learn or password to remember. It’s a notebook. You write in it.

Disposable cameras are simple to use but for one recent study I experimented with letting the participants use their own camera if they preferred. There’s no reason not to consider cameraphones since the quality has improved in recent years. But there’s something nice about giving the participant a set number of exposures with a disposable camera that they can stuff in an envelope when they’re done. No CDs to burn; no files to upload. I’m also keen to try the disposable video cameras that are coming to the market. For some projects Flip camcorders might even be appropriate for limited use within organizations.

Like all design research, recruitment is an important component. Method used an external recruiting service to identify their participants and just over half returned the kits.

Designers should be closely involved with the recruitment process. For instance, in the diary study I mentioned earlier I found the best respondents for a cooking and recipe study by contacting local food bloggers. I also structured the incentives so participants received half up front and half upon return (they sent all of the kits back). External agencies almost never work out well other than as a supplement. It takes time, but recruiting is important enough to handle yourself.

DiNucci’s book is out of print but used copies are available online for practically nothing. The case studies are primarily focused on website design but the book is worth it for the diary example alone. It’s a well-written, detailed case study that incidentally could serve as a model for service designers to follow when writing their own case studies.

Be sure to check out Lucy Kimbell’s year-end round up of service design. She ends with some important questions for designers to consider in the coming year regarding politics, scope and knowledge as the community evolves.

She asks when we’re going to start talking about these questions. It seems like a yearly conference isn’t enough.

Service Design Neue

Peter Boersma isn’t buying it. Earlier this week he posted a withering critique of service design as part of his Experience Design 101 article at Design for Conversion.

Yes, Service Design is here. And it’s supposed to be new, even though every book or article you read acknowledges that the service industry (main examples: hotels, restaurants) have been designing their services for ages. So what is new: The inclusion and central placement of the digital channel in modern services that do not require face-to-face contact.

Some books will try to make you believe there is something new (like “Service Design – Designing Services with Innovative Methods” by Satu Miettinen and Mikko Koivisto) but a lot of it should sound very, very familiar for anyone who ever realized that redesigning a website and its FAQ section might have an influence on the types of questions a call centre might get.

Boersma invokes the strawman that service design’s value as a practice somehow lies in its novelty. Maybe I’m out of touch but it’s not immediately clear that anyone has been pushing that argument. I’m about 2000 miles away from my copy of Designing Services with Innovative Methods at the moment but that’s certainly not what I got from the book.

It’s true that the service industry has been designing their services for ages. Lucy Kimbell addresses this practice as “silent design” in her contribution [PDF 240k] to Design and Creativity: Policy, Management and Practice and it’s worth noting as a counterpoint to what designers bring to the table.

Live|work opened their first studio in 2001 but they didn’t create the practice out of whole cloth. They’re well aware of the history behind service design and they’ve been quick to credit authors such as Shostack and Bitner for their formative contributions to the field. People have been writing about the design of services since 1953. Before that, it simply wasn’t well-recognized that services were distinctive from products. Many designers are just now coming around to the idea that services can be designed but rather than criticize them for being late to the game we should embrace the idea that they showed up at all.

Part of Boersma’s derision comes from service design encroaching on UX turf. That much is apparent from his call center example. The difference is that rather than suspecting that a website FAQ “might” have an impact on a call center, service designers are absolutely certain. They go to great lengths to demonstrate the connections and then find ways to break down the internal silos between the website team and the call center team — and every other customer-facing aspect of the organization.

I suppose there’s nothing stopping UX designers from doing the same thing, or anyone else for that matter, but for service designers taking the holistic view is our raison d’être.

Chris Reaburn’s Service Encounters Onstage weblog is a fun read. It’s full of random anecdotes from his daily life, each with a bit of service-centric insight. There are shibboleths from the service marketing literature in practically every post but the writing is anything but academic. Definitely worth adding to your reading list. I found myself digging through the entire archive.

Here’s a nice post on queueing theory from Katherine Alsop, a UX designer in Australia. She documents a change to the “twelve items or fewer” lanes at a Coles Supermarket in Melbourne and explores the repercussions on human behavior. I’ve written about queueing a few times here at Design for Service but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a solution quite like this.

It’s interesting to see how other cultures support this type of thing. Last year I asked the community at for some insight into how queueing works around the world.

Donna di Servizio

Lidia Tralli, a recent graduate from Politecnico di Milano, is the author of a new service design weblog. It’s been building momentum since September, but the content is in Italian and just showed up on my radar this morning.

In English the title of the blog seems to be Maid Service (and Service Design). Here’s a rough English translation by way of Google. Nice use of imagery too.

[via Lauren]

Here’s an interesting bit of backstage trivia from Target retail stores. They’ve apparently designed the terminals at the register with some feedback regarding the speed of service. The letter G equals fast (green) and R equals slow (red). They stack up the most recent ten transactions to show progress and encourage quicker checkout times.

It feels a little Tayloristic to me. But one employee commented that the whole setup “makes work feel like a game.” Others are commenting in another thread regarding the system details. They’ve built a lot of sophistication into it.

One important point is that since this is visible from the front-stage they’ve essentially written the scoring system in code so prying customers don’t realize they’re being evaluated.

Update: This button on the other hand probably shouldn’t exist, and definitely shouldn’t be on-stage