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Episode #240 Marc Stickdorn - Service Design Thinking

June 18, 2014  ·  33 minutes

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In the realm of user experience, disciplines and titles can take on different meanings. Determining buzzword jargon from actual, useful distinctions and processes is sometimes a bit tricky. The term Service Design has been with us for a while now. Some see it as just plain, good UX. Marc Stickdorn sees it as more than that.

Show Notes

Marc sees service design as less of a new discipline and more a combination of previously disconnected disciplines. The collaboration of various people in the organization from developers to businesspeople is required when developing and then launching a service. He admits that if you’ve been practicing good UX, then you’re already in pretty decent shape. You possess many of the tools put to use in service design.

One of the most important aspects of service design is connecting the touchpoints. Services nowadays are inherently cross-channel, and even more, expected to be. This requires research that goes beyond just the UI and the users’ context.

Full Transcript

Jared Spool: Hello, everyone. You are listening to yet another episode of the SpoolCast. Today, we have Marc Stickdorn, who is co-author and co-editor and brains behind the fabulous book, "This is Service Design Thinking." He's going to be speaking at the User Interface 19 conference, which is going to be in Boston, Massachusetts in October, October 27-29. He's going to be giving a full-day workshop on service design thinking.

I'm very excited to be talking to him today, because he is the smartest guy I know when it comes to this whole issue of service design and what it's all about and how we blend our tools into it. We're going to talk about that today.

Marc, how are you doing?
Marc Stickdorn: I'm very fine, thank you. How are you?
Jared: I am doing wonderfully. There's this question that a lot of experience designers have, which is basically, is service design really something different? One of the things that I got from reading your book and from talking to you is that there are a lot of things that actually we can take comfort that, if we've been doing good user experience design, we probably have been doing some of the basic tools that you use in service design. Right?
Marc: I absolutely agree. I always said that service design, it's nothing new, and it's definitely not the Hail Holy Grail which is going to solve all the problems. Definitely not.
Jared: That's too bad, because I still would like that.
Marc: That's disappointing in the beginning. It's just going to be better from now on.
Jared: I do hope that the Holy Grail involves either beer or chocolate.
Marc: It would be nice. I'm German so I would vote for beer, actually.
Jared: OK. We'll put your vote in for that. Holy Grail, beer.
Marc: I think service design is nothing new, really. It's definitely not a new discipline. But it brings together loads of other disciplines, which were kind of disconnected so far. I frame it as rather a common language that works between disciplines than being a new discipline.

Because if you think of who is involved into both the design of a service and the delivery of a service, then so many disciplines involved and departments within the organization involved that you need a common language. Because we all train in certain disciplines, we speak very specific languages and when we're sitting around the table and trying to talk to each other, we have problems.

I think the tools we use in service design are just wonderful to actually work efficiently together in those teams. One of the core ideas of service design is to work co-creatively in multidisciplinary teams. I think that's all what it's doing. It's a common language.
Jared: I think that's really interesting, because a lot of what UX is emerging into, as people broaden their definition from straight information architecture or straight interaction design, or maybe coming out of the user research side of things or visual design, is really this idea of collaborative efforts that are multidisciplinary across teams. Even when you're just working on, let's say, a website or a kiosk or something that's really strictly a digital experience, that it still requires collaboration with businesspeople, with the technology people, with all sorts of folks from around the organization. Service design, it sounds to me like what you're saying is that it just expands on that and it just broadens the scope of responsibility.
Marc: I agree. I don't like to be focused on just that name. I think there are many names for what we're doing. Some call it service design. Some prefer design thinking or new marketing or new service development, or holistic UX design or cross-channel customer-experience design, or it could go on for hours.

I think it doesn't really matter how we call what we're doing, as long as we agree on some core principles. That is actually working collaboratively, working in multidisciplinary teams, and focusing on the user or the customer or the human -- however you like to frame that. As long as we agree on that, it's all good.
Jared: Now, one of the tools that we've been using a lot for many years is persona development, right? We create personas to capture who is using our design and the context that they use it in and the scenarios that the design's going to get used in. When we're talking about service design, do personas change that much? Is it basically the same thing, or do we put a new spin on it, or is it something wildly different than what we've been using?
Marc: I think the persona tool itself is pretty much the same. Actually, we took it from UX. I'm not sure if there's any tool which is very specific to service design. I think it's all based on different disciplines.
Jared: That's interesting.
Marc: For me, personas, at least in my understanding, comes from UX, actually, and has been used there for many years, and it's working, and what does is it helps us to get empathy with the user.

Where might be a difference is, rather than methods, how we create personas, and then later on, how we use it. When we create personas, one of the very common ways how to create them is actually by talking to people, to employees who are in direct contact with the customer. If you think of a hotel, somebody working at the reception for years has such rich knowledge of customers, from the face-to-face interactions, that we can draw on them. That might be different to, let's say, any kind of digital experience, where you don't have this human-to-human interaction, at least not face-to-face. Technology now enables us to really see each other and hear each other and all that, but it's still different.

I would say that the core tool is the same. We just use it slightly differently. We adapt it to the context of services.
Jared: Can you give me an example of someplace where the personas really changed the mind of the folks who were involved in the project and took the design in a new direction?
Marc: There are many, actually. I used to work a lot in the field of tourism, and a classic segmentation of tourism would be by geography. I'm in Germany right now, so let's say the German tourists, the Italian tourists, how different they are to French tourists and all that.

If you create personas and you work with front-line employees, they come up with different behavior patterns. It has to do a lot with which channels did they use before they actually arrive at a hotel. Did they inform themselves in a travel shop or through a catalog, or did they spend time online, on the website of the hotels, or TripAdvisor? They come with totally different expectations, depending on which channels they've used and what kind of people they are.

We had a project where a hotel had a very classic segmentation approach, based on geography and demographics. Through our workshops with the employees, and through design research, where we used a lot of ethnographic tools, observations, contextual interviews and so on, we actually came up with totally different patterns, rather based on different behavior patterns and different expectations. That was quite interesting to see.
Jared: I can completely see that, right? I've had hotel stays where I was choosing the venue. I was choosing the hotel, because I was looking for a particular type of relaxing vacation that I wanted to do. Then, a week later, I'd be checking into a hotel -- and I check into hotels every week, so that sentence doesn't sound that weird to me. I'd be checking into a hotel that I had nothing to do with choosing, because I was working for a client and they picked the hotel nearest me, and so when I arrived at the hotel, I had no idea what to expect of the hotel and whether it was going to be a high-end hotel or a low-end hotel.

My demographics didn't change in between those two visits, one week apart. I'm still a balding white dude. Yet my experience, just in the check-in process, where one hotel was part of a major chain that I'm a loyalty member of, and the other hotel was just a local hotel that I didn't know what the rituals were for certain things, like getting my keys or checking out, changed the way I interacted with those two things, even though, basically, a hotel is a hotel is a hotel, right?
Marc: [laughs] Right. It actually also explains one of the core tools of service design, which is customer journey mapping. Service design is not only about designing a service system with the idea of achieving a certain customer experience. It is also about setting the right expectations. I know from your talks, you love the Kano model.
Jared: I do. I do. I'm a big fan of the Kano model.
Marc: I think it has a lot of value in it. Actually, we have to understand the whole end-to-end customer journey when we design that. We have to understand which expectations do we set, or, because the experience nowadays is cross-channel and involves many other players, if we stick to the hotel example, we have also to take into account what the people on TripAdvisor tell you about us. From all the different sources people use, we have to understand what is the level of experience, and how can we affect the level of expectations, actually?

Maybe one more word on the Kano model, because I really like that, and it has a dynamic in that. If you think of a hotel and the basic factors, hotels still suck on the basic factors.
Jared: Oh, yeah. This is the thing that's just crazy to me. I stay at a lot of Hyatts, and my experience is that Hyatt hotels in general, the executives who run Hyatt never use their own bathrooms, because the bathrooms are beautiful. They obviously go in and tour the bathroom and go, "Oh, that's a beautiful bathroom," but they are completely impractical from a standpoint of actually using it to take a shower and get out and not make the whole bathroom soaking wet as you're trying to dry yourself off. Because the put the towels in the most inconvenient place that you would put them if you were going to have a shower on one side of the bathroom and the towels in a locked closet with a combination safe on the other side of the world's coldest floor. It's crazy.
Marc: It's also, if you think of what is the main reason you go to a hotel, it is because you want to sleep. Frankly, at that point, I would say most of the hotels I stay in suck, because the mattresses are bad, because it's noisy, you hear everything in the next room, or in the morning at 5:00, someone is dragging their luggage through the doorway.

Service design is a lot also about fixing the basics first, and not only about adding some really nice features. It's first fixing the basics. Fixing the basics involves that you take care of all senses, and I think that is one of the big differences to UX design.

If you think of a hotel room, which looks great but, well, it's very smelly -- that doesn't work. You have to include all your senses when you do design research. You have to understand the context in which people use a certain environment. Like your example with the bathroom -- if you don't try it yourself, you will never find that out.
Jared: Right. Right. It's interesting to me. I think journey maps are one of the things that the UX field borrowed from the service-design community, because we weren't really talking about journey maps until very recently, and the context that we were talking about journey maps were this larger context of a bigger experience than just the discrete activities that we think about.
Marc: Right. Actually, if you dig a little bit deeper where journey maps come from, I think they're rooted in branding and marketing. That is where they come from. At least that is where the word touchpoint comes from.
Jared: We shouldn't tell anybody in UX that, because they'll stop using them.
Marc: Yeah, and they're going to make it worse now, because I hate the word touchpoint.
Jared: Oh, yeah? Why?
Marc: It's very distracting. We can do a short test. Can you give me some examples for touchpoints?
Jared: Checking in, checking out, bumping into the maid in the hallway.
Marc: Very good. Well, you passed the test.
Jared: Oh, thank you. [laughs]
Marc: Very often, even from well-experienced service designers is things like a website or a shop. Then I like to ask them, "Well, can you give me some examples of channels," and we end up with exactly the same names.
Jared: Oh, interesting. OK. The problem is that we have these generic terms, but once again, we haven't done a good job of defining them, so everybody uses them slightly differently.
Marc: Exactly. If you think of what a touchpoint is, it is exactly as you said. It always involves an activity. It involves some time.
Jared: That's how I learned it was that it was a point on the journey map.
Marc: Well, but it's not a point, then, right? If you think of a movie, it's like a scene, a moment, an activity.
Jared: Oh, yeah, so it could be made up of lots of points.
Marc: Yeah.
Jared: OK. Yeah, yeah.
Marc: Services are mostly intangible, so they are interactions. A touchpoint is actually something you cannot touch, and it's not a point. Still, we call it touchpoint. Isn't that strange?
Jared: It is, actually. I've never thought of it that way, but you're absolutely right. It is one of those things that are completely, poorly, wrongly named.
Marc: Right. There is a big confusion, even within the service-design community, what an, actually, touchpoint is, because some people refer to it as an interface or something which is designable, because some interactions, obviously, are just not designable. You can't have an impact on what people talk about you in their own house, for example. You can't design it as such.
Jared: Right, but if I'm getting my boarding pass on my mobile device, would that be a touchpoint? Or is it not really a touchpoint because I'm not interacting with anybody in the organization? I don't have a relationship with somebody, but I am getting the airline to give me that document.
Marc: Exactly. You're receiving and you're looking at that. That would be the touchpoint. Then the boarding pass itself would be what we call a service evidence or prop. We like to borrow loads of words from theater and movies, because I like to compare a customer journey to a movie. We use words like storyboards and props for any kind of products we use within our services.
Jared: That's neat. Disney just came out with these wristbands, and the wristbands act as your hotel key. You pay extra money. If you're going to go to Disney World or Disneyland, you pay extra money. They send you in this beautiful box, and there's this whole unboxing thing, ceremony, that you can have, where you open up your bands, and you get them for each member of your family, and you do all this stuff.

One of the first things they learned when they were using this is that, because these things are extra money and they're expensive, particularly families that have little children, they would put them in the suitcase and they would check them in the suitcase, but the problem is that you need it to get into your hotel room. The way the Disney service works is that they actually pick up your bags at the airport for you and they put them on the bus and then they deliver them straight into your room, but if the wristband is in the suitcase, you can't get into the room to get your bags.
Marc: Perfect, eh? [laughs]
Jared: That sounds like an example of service design where even the great minds at Disney didn't quite get the touchpoints right.
Marc: Exactly. Right. Service can have a lot to do with observing and understanding human behavior. We try that by using a lot of research methods that are actually based in ethnography. This is really like observation shadowing, where we actually live with people over a certain amount of time. In that example, we would actually go on the journey together with customers and really understand their end to end experience. It's so much more valuable to ask people in the context of the certain situations, "How do you feel right now? Or why are you doing this?" Then, using interview techniques like the 5 Whys to dig deeper to really understand what do they want to achieve or what is that really bothers them right now. I think that also if you're asking about the differences of your excellent services that is obviously a big difference.
Jared: It seems to me that there is a lot that we can learn when we look at the whole service. There's a lot of value that people who have been doing design for a long time can bring to their organizations as the organizations are moving into thinking about the designs of the entire service. I think what's happening is as websites and mobile apps and kiosks and all these things become ubiquitous, in order to be different than your competitor, you have to look at the bigger service picture.

That's the place where for many organizations...One of the airlines I flew United is constantly telling me how friendly their skies are. I have to tell you this is not the goal that they have achieved. I cannot wait until the achieve it. I am so supportive of this goal for them, but they are not there yet.

A lot of it is the disconnect between what's happening on the plane and what's happening at the gate, what's happening through ticketing, what's happening through their marketing. It seems like there are seven different airlines that we are talking about. None of which seems to talk to each other. All of which refer to themselves as United. It's not just United. Every airline falls into this.
Marc: Absolutely. I could tell a story. I flew [indecipherable 0:19:55] the other day. I was squeezed into economy. It was completely crowded so I had a little sleep...
Jared: Unlike me, you're a big guy.
Marc: In every dimension, I am.
Jared: You're tall. You're a tall dude. Seats are more complicated for you.
Marc: Exactly, basically there's no way how to get my feet on the ground because there's some lease in the chair in the front of me in the way. I was squeezed in there and I'd try to watch a season of Big Bang Theory. Actually, whenever I started the next part, there were like three minutes advertisement only about this and that telling me that they are the best airline in the world. I really started to hate them for that. They were not for me in this movement so why do they do that.

If we would do service voucher, we would start what we call a service safari where we first experience their offer ourself. It's not rocket science to try to understand that this is marketing going to the wrong direction obviously. They offer us an eye opener if we take employees specifically higher management under a service safari with us, so they experience it themself and then observing customers in their natural habitat. They're really afraid of that.
Jared: I could completely see that. Those videos. Oh my gosh. United starts every video with the CEO Jeff Smisek telling me about something I will never experience. Last time, he was talking to me about the wonders of their first class kitchen. They were showing the chef producing sushi.

I have flown on United flights hundreds of them. I have never ever seen sushi ever served on the flight, but apparently somewhere there's a chef working very hard, one of the best chefs in the world I was told, to produce airplane grade sushi that I will just die for. It's not my airline. He was in a completely different universe, that Mr. Smisek. Yeah, it sounds to me that video for you should have started with an apology, "We're really sorry that you're cram into that seat, but maybe we can make it a little better with the Big Bang Theory."
Marc: Yeah, that's the thing, the context of that situation. If you think that we stick to that tool with me as an example. If you think of airlines and hotels and the whole destination if you go on a holiday, the whole destination you live in, this is what we call the service ecosystem.

A customer doesn't care. They don't rate certain players. They rate the whole holiday. They think of the destination later as something good as something they would recommend or something they wouldn't recommend, based on the sum of the services they experienced there.

In services, then, we have to understand what is the whole service ecosystem, which players are signed there, and which roles do they play in terms of a customer journey from an end to an end experience. It gets very complex. That is about understanding where the link is broken, where we need to start innovating.
Jared: That's very interesting to me. Here in the States, there is a website called Kayak. Kayak lets you find in a convenient way. There's another one called Hipmunk that's very similar. I actually use Hipmunk probably more than I do Kayak. Then, once you found your flight, you don't actually book it through any of those sites. It brings you to the airline site or it brings you to a travel site. You book it through that. For some reason, they don't have a direct booking relationship. It never explains why but they don't.

What's interesting is I found the perfect flight for me and I press the button and now I have to go re-enter all that information into the system and re-find the flight. It only has identified that there's a cheap price and it doesn't how to suck that information in. That, to me, feels like a break in the end to end service promise.
Marc: Absolutely it does. I think it's worse. Sometime the price has changed so you're expecting a certain price. Then, actually, the website that you're directed to shows you a higher price. Think about your expectations. That is actually where you have the big break in your journey. Absolutely.
Jared: My experience. Marc, I am so excited about your workshop, because you're going to teach us all these tools for figuring this out and working collaboratively to be able to produce the best service experiences for our customers and our users and our employees. We didn't really talk about that. Services also applies to the services that we can design the way that the employee gets their job done and, therefore, deliver better service to the customer.
Marc: Absolutely, if we stick to the tourism world now. What makes a difference is if an employee treats you very well. How can you get an employee smiling? It's not telling them to smile. It's by understanding their work experience. Beside customer journey mapping, we do also an employee journey mapping and we try to understand the whole employees as they are working. If you think of a call center, for example, employees are not bad people, but we have incredible bad experience in call centers.

Call center agents would love to help us, but the systems that they are working in just doesn't allow them to help us. The service design, actually, is a lot about changing these systems an employee has to cope with to actually create great customer experiences in the end.
Jared: Yeah, there's nothing worse than having a customer service person stare you in the eyes and say, "I'm sorry, but my tools won't help me do the right thing to make you happy right now." In those times where the person is able to say, "Oh my gosh, you're having an awful day. Let me type a couple things into my keyboard and make this a great day for you."

That engenders brand loyalty when that can happen. That engenders long term business. That engenders the customer going out and telling every single one of their friends what that customer service person just did.

The opposite is true, when they look you in the face and say, "I'm sorry, my computer won't let me be nice to you."
Marc: In fact, customers are more happy if something goes wrong and there's a really good service recovery system in place. Actually, employees can cope with that and can show that actually they know how to help you. Customers might be happy afterwards.
Jared: That's funny. Tony Shay, he keynoted at one of our events a few years back, and he actually said that. He was the CEO of Zappos and he said, "If I had my wish, I would have every single one of my customers have to call customer support at one time to show them how awesome our customer support is."
Marc: [laughs] Nothing involved that. He's just sending out a one shoe instead of two.
Jared: Yeah, he says that their customer service people don't follow scripts and they're given tools to be able to solve problems. They're not measured on how short that they can keep each call. They are trusted to keep the call to the right length. That's culture. That's system design. There's a lot of stuff going into that.
Marc: Right. I trust the right employee in parliament.
Jared: Right, hiring the right employees. I mean their hiring process is really unique in the world. They do some crazy things like after you've gone through six weeks of training, they offer you $2,000. It might even be higher. I think they raised it. Now, it is $5,000 to quit. They will give you $5,000 if you quit thinking that the people who are willing to stay are the ones who are going to be the better employees in the long run.
Marc: I love that.
Jared: Everybody starts by working in customer service, so that's part of the safari thing that you talked about. Then, they work in the warehouse and they package products and put them into boxes so that you see that side of the business too. You have complete empathy for what's happening at that side of the business. It doesn't matter what job you have.
Marc: It's so important. Did you also have this TV show, Undercover Boss?
Jared: We have that. I've seen that thing. It strikes me as odd that (A) a boss would actually show up and do, but (B) that this is like something that is so unique that it's reality TV and not what happens all the time.
Marc: Exactly, that's my point. We even have a TV show about that. Why the heck don't you go out and talk to your customers and experience the workflow of employees? Why doesn't management do that? It's strange.
Jared: It is strange. I think it's because we don't reward it. It's not part of the reward system.
Marc: Right. Some organizations do that and actually management really value that, and they totally get the point.
Jared: Yeah. I think there's something to that.

This has been a fabulous conversation. I'm really looking forward to the workshop. I'm going to tell all my friends at this very moment. Since all my friends are listening right at this very moment. Here's what I want you to do. I want you to go to and I want you to look up Marc's full-day workshop on service design thinking because he is just going to change your world in terms of how you go about solving problems and making your company and your organization deliver so much better service and make customers very happy.

Marc, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about this today.
Marc: Jared, didn't we just talk about setting expectations and let's be realists. [laughs]
Jared: Yes, we did.
Marc: Right, yeah. It was good talking to you. Thank you.
Jared: I'll take care of that in editing. I want to thank our audience once again for staying with us today and listening to this. It's always great to have you. If by chance, speaking of service design, you feel so inclined, love it, if you would go to iTunes and give us a review. We read through all of those, and it's wonderful to hear your opinions on that.

Thank you very much for that. As always, thank you for encouraging our behavior. We'll talk to you soon. Take care.