Evolving How We Work — A Real Life Story About Service Design within a Financial Institution

“Why would a designer want to work for a bank? Won’t your get bored?” Over the course of three years, not only has she never been bored, but she has learned important lessons about applying Service Design within a financial institution, an organization riddled with bureaucracy and red tape.

During the October gathering of the Service Design Network (SDN) New York ChapterNatalie Kuhn–co-founder of the NYC Chapter and a Senior Manager of Capital One’s Commercial Bank operations design team–shed light on her experience within Capital One Commercial Bank. She touched on Service Design (SD) challenges with tips and tricks on how to overcome them. Natalie provided honest truths around how to shift thinking, build trust, and move the heavy needle toward holistic Service Design based strategies. Though she made it clear that it hasn’t been simple or easy, she absolutely gave the community the confidence that it can be done.


Let’s Start With the Basics — What is a Service?

Services are orchestrated systems, delivered over time, providing value to customers, associates, and the business. While you may not be able to touch, or even see, all elements of it, there is evidence of it.


What is Service Design?

There is a difference between Service Design and Product Design. Whereas the latter is designing for the experience with only a single touchpoint or product, the former focuses on designing for the orchestrated experience of all service touchpoints. Since our economy is dominated by services. Success requires not just individual sales, but ongoing relationships. We are competing for customer affection and loyalty like never before and that’s the value of Service Design. This is how Natalie boils down Service Design into five core components –

  • Research — Gathering the proper inputs; understanding of who needs to be involved to gain a comprehensive current state view and developing a cadence of working with them collaboratively over time.
  • Sense Making — Leveraging basic frameworks to document learnings; identification of tools to help you make sense of findings from stakeholders ie. journey mapping, service blueprinting, research insights decks, archetypes, anything that depicts crucial research learnings to move forward.
  • Co-Creation — Strategic collaboration with key stakeholders and customers; getting the right people in a room to facilitate productive sessions around making sense, ideation, defining approach and beginning to align around how ideally the work should move forward.
  • Prioritization — Governance and resourcing discussions; teams align to complimentary, if not the same, goals for progress toward actionable and realistic outomes. Realistic is key for success and often hard to establish.
  • Realization — Follow through; dedication to progress over an extended period of time to test, learn and implement change in approach.
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Capital One’s Service Design Journey

In 2017, when Natalie joined the Commercial Bank–one of the newer areas of Capital One–that part of the organization was not in a position to leverage a Service Design approach. She worked with her teams to get them organized to support an SD mindset and start using SD methods which continues today. Natalie shared a funny (and way too common) example of where the teams started. The group started by putting the appropriate elements together to build a sustainable research practice.

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Credit: Tom Fishburne; https://marketoonist.com/


Though participants in Natalie’s collaborative sessions continue to praise a Service Design mindset and methodology, “This is such an intuitive way of working, I am surprised that, in some parts of the bank, we still aren’t working this way…” three years later, the group’s development has has just gotten past the following components: research, sense making and co-creation. They are still sorting out prioritization and realization. Why is that? To put it simply– It’s much easier to stay the same and do what you’ve always done; Changing mindsets and the way people work is incredibly hard.

Let’s look at each component one by one to understand what Natalie and the Capital One Commercial Bank have done so far to develop their Service Design practice throughout the organization.

Questions to Ponder! What Service Design components do you work with in your organization? Where are you now in your SD journey?


1. Research — Creating a Sustainable Practice

The Capital One Commercial Bank began shifting the paradigm of building products and services within a vacuum, they’ve created a research process, research team, and started talking directly to clients in their workspaces.

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Tips to get started!

Document everything. Don’t be afraid to ask to take a photo, record a session, take a tour. Be respectful and responsible with what you capture. Use all this to tell a story of what you learned.

Hype up the research you have done. Show it off around the office. Get people to ask about it. The use of physical space makes the work more interactive.

Host sessions to teach others what you have learned. Roadshow it. Make it accessible. Show your group that this is how you work now and that they can get involved with the right support and tools.


The Commercial Bank’s Research Practice Today

  • Centralized research team
  • Embedded research managers
  • Holistic research strategy
  • Strategy per research project
  • Refined processes (still iterating)
  • Bi-weekly share out sessions
  • Growing toolset of methods and tools


2. Sense Making — Leveraging Tools & Frameworks

The Capital One Commercial Bank taught people what to do with the inputs they had gathered. How they could use them to better understand not just how to build something but what to build. They include all disciplines and partners in the synthesis, or sense making, process.

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Tips to get started!
Get everyone involved. Hopefully they helped gather the research with you, help them get them up close and personal with the findings. Making sense of research notes and outputs together helps with decision alignment later.

Teach your teammates about Service Design specific tools, start with basics, to illuminate systems together. Take the lead and coach them through — learning by doing is a great way to start. Show by doing, apply the tools right away.

Use those tools to visualize your learnings to get yourselves to the next phase of work. Get everyone up and in making together — start out rough and refine. i.e. experience map, service blueprints etc.

Make sure you draw a firm line between research, sense making and designing for products and services. Teammates can often lose sight of how this work impacts change and leads to deliverables.

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The Commercial Bank’s Sense Making Today

  • Office is covered in post-its, maps
  • Each team has their own space
  • There are a handful of trainings
  • Teams regularly share mappings
  • Connections are being drawn
  • They are more deeply understanding
  • They are addressing true human needs


Questions to ponder! How do you share and use tools currently? How do they help you move forward, build momentum? What could be getting in the way?


3. Co-Creation — Plan Plan Plan & Then Synthesize

The Capital One Commercial Bank’s teams have hosted a plethora of workshops over the years. Natalie champions the idea that the most successful ones have been thoroughly planned out and synthesized— they are not just about getting the right people in the room. Structure and thoughtfully leveraging outputs are key to progress and opening the door to further collaborative sessions.

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Tips to get started!
Don’t just show up! Spend time at least a couple weeks before with your teammates to think about people, activities and outcomes for each ask of your participants. You want to make sure to make the most of your time together.

Start high level and then get specific with the agenda — overview to specific asks. What participants will need to provide you with meaningful inputs? ie. context setting, reflection, ideation, next steps.

Make sure you have a facilitator whether it is you or someone else. The facilitator is not there to act as an unbiased individual who moves the conversation forward.

Make sure you reserve an appropriate space and that you have thought about how you will use it. Where will each activity happen? Supplies? Snacks? Signage needed to provide context? Think about it.

Vary the activities to allow for individual thinking and group discussion. People feel comfortable participating differently and this accounts for both quiet and louder individuals. Make everyone heard.

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Capital One’s Co-Creation Today

  • Thoughtfulness around planning
  • All disciplines are involved in the process
  • Semi-regular sessions within the organization
  • Teammates have become much closer
  • They have better understanding across teams
  • Silos are being broken down
  • They can get a lot done in a short time

Questions to ponder! How do you workshop? How has that been going? What have you considered doing differently? What tips resonate with you from here?


4. Prioritization — Aligning Teams to a Targeted Goal

The teams in Capital One are able to prioritize single projects but as an organization they struggle with aligning several teams to a goal. Therefore, they move slower than they could if they were to swarm on horizontal priorities.

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Tips to get started!
Drop your egos and have honest conversations. Within the workplace we can often agree to unachievable things because we don’t want ourselves, or our teams, to look incapable or “bad”. Think about the larger objectives you are aiming for.

Make the time. Plan a work session. Or a few! Give people the space to think and talk through barriers to change, brainstorm, and align on next steps.

Rank priorities against one another to quickly see where the group stands. Documented agreements so you don’t need to start over next session.

Next steps can be the hardest. Natalie found that scoping next steps in further detail helps ie. creating a project brief — What’s the problem? Who is needed? Who are stakeholders? Dependencies? Level of difficulty? Etc.


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The Commercial Bank’s Prioritization Today — In Progress

  • Leadership aligns on some horizontal priorities
  • Next up is follow-through with horizontal effort
  • Some re-organizations continue to get sorted
  • Framework for saying “no” is in works
  • Product audit to hone in on focus areas happening
  • There is still more to do…


5. Realization — Following Through to Service Launch

For success it is crucial to have accountable executives to progress to execution as well as to take some work off individuals’ plates. Expecting people to do more with less capacity sounds silly, but it happens all the time. Watch out!

Tips to get started!
Consider your governance structure: Are the priorities you’ve decided on sustainable? What needs to change? Can you work with what you have? Do you need more people? What’s the process?

Make sure you have buy-in from teammates for the pivots you are about to make, from all levels — leadership, middle management and all associates involved in the work. They need to be sold on this.

Consistent socialization and messaging around the initiatives are key. It is easy to lose momentum, and track of overall goal, so consider what you can put in place to keep the ball rolling and keep people excited.

Celebrate each and every success along the way. Small things, big things — all of it! This contributes to morale around a new way of working and the results of it. It builds confidence in the direction.


The Commercial Bank’s Follow-through Today — In Progress

  • They are still working through all of these things.
  • It has taken a while to get here, so they are happy for the progress made thus far. It’s a challenge steering a big ship.

Questions to Ponder! Do you face similar struggles? Yes? No? How so? How have you considered overcoming the struggle of brining a strategy to life?


Final Thoughts

  • Behavior change takes time
  • Service Design is worth investing in
  • Start with the research if you can
  • However ingredients are non linear
  • Don’t stop at a co-creation session
  • Prioritization is hard and often political
  • Following through takes cross team commitment!

Questions to Ponder! Reflect on on where you are now. Where do you want to go next? What is blocking you? How could you incorporate more ingredients of SD knowing that it is not a linear process?


Service Design Resources

Curious to learn more? Check out these resources!

There were many questions asked during the session, and you can read Natalie’s answers to them all here.


Find this content interesting or useful? Follow the SDN New York Chapter on Medium to see additional event recaps, join their Meetup group to learn about upcoming events and/or follow us on InstagramLinkedIn and Twitter.

This article is a summary of the event as well as my own personal reflections on the topic.

Malin Fagerlund
Malin Fagerlund - Leading innovation at Oracle

Leading innovation at Oracle

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