What is Service Design Thinking?

male with hooded jacket and computer in lap draws gears on the wall

If you take a moment to Google “service design thinking,” you’ll immediately see over one billion results on the subject. In fact, it’s currently one of the top search terms for business leaders and marketers looking to put their customers at the core of UX (user experience), CX (customer experience), and SD (service design).

UX, CX, and SD are all components of service design thinking.

  • UX ensures that products – especially digital products – are easy to use and valuable. It’s all about enhancing the experience of the user. This includes things such as accessibility, visual design, usability, user interface, etc. 
  • CX focuses on improving the customer’s interactions with the company at every touchpoint of every channel. CX would include things like customer service and support, marketing, branding, and value. 
  • SD considers all touchpoints and channels from an operational and organizational perspective. Without good design, customer experience will suffer. This arm of service design thinking covers behind-the-scenes components such as infrastructure, operational models, people organization, etc. 
graph showing service design thinking intersecting with UX, CS and SD

Each element plays a critical role in the overall theory of service design thinking. 

How Important Is Service Design Thinking For Your eCommerce Business?

Successfully implementing service design thinking in a way that is tangible and meaningful requires the ability – and willingness – to leverage customer feedback in order to build product and service innovation.

A myriad of gaps and challenges come into play that impacts an eCommerce business’s ability to fully adopt customer-led, customer-centric design philosophies.

Many businesses are far too focused on their own innovation pipeline and product development ideas and processes. Very little time, energy, or resources are put into solving a target customer’s specific and personal needs.

Another major gap is a disconnect between the design, marketing, sales, and engineering teams within an organization. 

When a shared vision is missing between these teams, often the importance of customer insights is forgotten or misapplied.

In these cases, the needs of the customer get left behind.

What is Service Design Thinking?

Service design thinking is all about putting the target customer at the very center of a business’s process of development. The idea is to build a product that’s “minimally viable” and solves a specific problem or need of the customer.

Service design thinking is iterated and improved over time.

While that sounds simple (and even obvious) in theory, most of us have experienced products or “innovations” that never had an actual customer need in mind. In fact, many products seemed to completely ignore the needs or problems of the customer. 

As millions of people across the country were laid off due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we watched in horror as people waited months for unemployment benefits. In states like Florida, which was the slowest state in the country to process unemployment claims, this ineptitude was largely due to the infrastructure of the unemployment website. In fact, Florida’s unemployment system was purposely designed to create pointless roadblocks for users in order to discourage applicants. 

Unfortunately, the government is not known for creating user-friendly sites (especially when it comes to social services). 

Some other examples of service design misses include: 

  • Twitter Audio Tweets 
  • Segway (which are now solely reserved for mall cops)
  • The Evian Water Bra (yes, seriously) 
  • Facebook Portal 
  • Cheetos Lip Balm 
  • Bic for Her 
  • New Coke (The publish backlash against this innovation was so severe that when Coca-Cola announced they were going back to their original recipe, Peter Jennings broke into the hit television show General Hospital to announce the news.)

Conversely, the public market has also seen examples of innovative design lead by service design thinking. These products were designed to shape a service or product experience and fill a previously un-filled need.

Some examples include:

  • Streaming services such as Netflix. 
  • Group Facetime capabilities for iPhone. 
  • Google search
  • Airbnb
  • Slack 
  • Nest

These companies created innovative and customer-centric fixes for issues that consumers faced. 

Putting the customer at the very heart of the entire development process generates better ideas, development strategies, and products.

3 people, one male with dark skin, one female with olive skin and another female with pale skin

How To Build Better Customer Experiences

When design thinking is executed properly, it reinvigorates how a brand understands the needs of its customers. It opens the window of understanding about a customer’s key drivers – of their choices and actions in a way that raw data alone simply cannot do.

The concept is hyper-focused attention on the target customer’s needs and what they want to accomplish.

The service design thinking approach is based on The Theory of Jobs to Be Done. It was developed by Clayton Christiansen, the late Harvard University professor.

His work around strategy, innovation, and customer-centric thinking did a lot to begin reshaping the marketing ideas of businesses and eCommerce.

Mr. Christiansen’s theory dives into several key tenants that create more impactful marketing strategies. Well-thought-out service design thinking helps businesses make innovation more predictable because it focuses on what the target customer’s “job-to-be-done” is in any specific category.

Service design thinking breaks down the needs of customers into small, specific areas that new services and products can address more directly. The result of properly-deployed design thinking is an enhanced understanding of customer needs and a vastly improved customer experience.

Improved Design and Development

Service design thinking also connects product designers and developers directly with target customers. This will, by default, improve the end result of your design efforts.

By using this strategy, designers can hear (and sometimes experience first-hand) the details of user experiences and be able to integrate what they’ve learned into designs that are most likely to find success on the market.

It’s no longer necessary for designers to wait for market research and insight teams to convey highly critical updates about customer learning.

Instead, your design, marketing, and product development teams are all simultaneously active participants in the process by:

  • Listening to customers
  • Observing behaviors
  • Absorbing and iterating ideas for innovation on-the-fly

The areas are vital for businesses applying design thinking and looking to improve user experience, products, and services.

Bridging the Common Gaps

To succeed in design thinking, your marketing team will need to play a vital role in shaping overall user experience and product strategy.

In conjunction with your engineering and design teams, the marketing team will be constantly seeking new insights and data to better understand customers. The marketing people’s main role is to constantly put the customer’s needs at the very center of design and product development.

However, often (especially in tech and eCommerce businesses) the exact opposite happens. Typically, the engineering teams work at a dizzying pace developing new features, services, and products to appeal to the largest customer audience possible.

Then, the business will look for data that validates the approach they’ve already decided to take. This is known as confirmation bias and is the opposite of how service design thinking works.

The process of service design thinking gives your marketing team the opportunity to fully participate in every stage of product development, thus ensuring that competitive and customer insights are included in the development process from the very beginning.

It’s all about maintaining interactive, agile processes wherein market and customer input constantly informs a “minimum viable product” that’s ultimately developed as a solution. The bar for what’s “minimally viable” is seen only through the eyes of your customer, instead of through the company timeline and resource constraints.

When Service Design Thinking Is Done Right

A powerful example of service design thinking done well was the Windows Insider Program. In it, Microsoft took a new model of customer engagement into account by inviting millions of people for early participation during the development process of Windows 10.

This was a polar opposite approach to what Microsoft did during the development of Windows 8. At that time, the new Windows program was developed in secret, with very little engagement from anyone outside of the engineering team.

The entire development process had next to no customer feedback, perspective or input.

In other words, Windows 8 was a feat of what engineers were able to build, rather than what they should build.

Before launching Windows 10, there was a dramatic shift in Microsoft’s process of development. Instead of engineers, their marketing people played the central role in all design aspects, including:

  • The design process
  • Providing constant market and customer feedback
  • Prioritization of major features
  • Defining a specific set of target customers

When the Windows Insider Program was launched, it further built on Microsoft’s service design thinking momentum by applying customer and community feedback at scale.

Service Design Thinking Tools To Get You Started

Without customer journey mapping, you won’t be able to effectively map all of your customer’s experiences, from A to Z. Without customer journey mapping, you won’t be able to develop solutions that are customer-based.

The best tools for customer journey mapping include:

The McKinsey Design Index 

McKinsey & Company studied the design practice of 300 public companies for five years. Over the course of this time period, they collected data on financial performance and over 100 thousand design activities. With this data, McKinsey & Company created the McKinsey Design Index. The MDI reflects the financial impacts of design and breaks down 12 actions that improve financial performance. 

These 12 actions are broken down into four pillars of design: 

  • Analytics 
  • User Experience
  • Cross-Functionality 
  • Continuous Iteration 
Graph of value of design: analytical leadership, cross-functional talent, continuous iteration and user experience

Service Design Thinking Is a Better Way of Doing Business

At its core, service design thinking is centered on the inspiration and input from customers and the community that surrounds you. It begins with the philosophy that the most successful products are created with a focus on the direct needs of the target audience.

It solves their problems rather than developing solutions based on the desired outcome of the business.

Service design thinking allows companies to change how they approach development while improving communication and collaboration between their marketing, product development, and engineering teams.

To start putting together a strategy for design thinking, get in touch with us today.