The solution fixation of poor service design

Service design really isn’t new. I often hear it being called ‘the shiny new thing’ which, to my ears, sounds like a technophobe talking about fandangled doodads when they are referring to standard technology. Service design is old. If anything, a lot of the processes we use are based on slightly outdated ideals that are due for reexamination; enth degree research, co-design techniques that are more of a hindrance than a help, enterprise mentalities that mean we suggest new technical juggernauts to replace the old ones. But what has also become apparent is that service designers are still just designers behaving the way we have always behaved, meaning – regardless of all our talk about defining the problem properly – we are solution obsessed. We want the launch, to see the joy that customers feel when we lift all those cumbersome friction points out of their lives and they feel like they are getting value from services that mean something to them. The crowd applauds, we take a bow and we move on to the next.


In actual fact, that isn’t service design, that big customer experience solution. That’s multi-channel experience design, designing each touchpoint perfectly and connecting them together to deliver an end-to-end service. It’s a part of service design, but it is by far the easiest part of the job. If you do your research right, map the experience properly and you have the right combination of designers and creatives and technologists, designing a perfect multi-channel service experience is like shooting fish in a barrel. But getting to the customer solution involves a number of progressive shifts that nobody sees for some time. Service design is all the stuff lurking under the experience PLUS the experience itself. Shifting all the lurky stuff is where it’s at.


The problem is, as designers, we don’t really want to deal. We are accustomed to seeing ‘the business’ as the enemy. It’s true! How many designers have you heard say ‘if only clients would leave us to do our jobs, we would be able to create something incredible for their customers’, or words to that effect? But here’s the thing; services are run by clients. Clients are, in fact, the service. Whether it’s someone in the call centre or someone in the marketing department blocking the design for not using a colour they personally like without any justification, they are the ones who ultimately make up the experience their customers receive. So if they are wrong, you have to make them right. That’s service design.


The next time you find yourself getting more and more frustrated about something not ‘going live’ after a tremendous amount of time and effort designing the perfect service experience, think about what part of the service you have actually changed instead. Have you redesigned a process? Have you implemented a technology that makes something a little easier? Have you demonstrated how to use a new framework that helps a department be more customer-centric? That’s service design. Be proud of those little shifts you are making, because it’s pretty standard for service designers to show up and be told by an organisation that they have tried to redesign a service a million times and that the ideal customer experience you are showing them is something they have seen before. Often, it’s not because it wasn’t the right solution, it’s because the little problems under the hood have never been solved – the people, the processes, the technology. If you’re lucky, by the time you show up, another service designer has already shifted those for you and all you have to do is deliver the customer experience solution. If you are even luckier, you will be the service designer helping an organisation to start the shift within.