SDN Team
Author - SDN Team

Great service design is all about designing a service so it is useful and desirable to customers, while also making sure the service is both usable and used during and after its introduction.

This article by Ewan Cameron is part of Touchpoint Vol. 8 No. 2 - Design Thinking and Service Design Doing.  Discover the full list of articles of this issue or flip the preview to get a sneak peek at fascinating insights on this topic! Touchpoint Vol. 8 No. 2 is available to purchase in print and PDF format.



Achieving this within large organisations needs a healthy and sustained dose of Design Thinking and Doing, along with some timely and targeted doses of UnThinking and UnDoing. This article tackles how organisations can do this to deliver great services that drive better results.

In today’s increasingly competitive world, services must be beautifully designed to connect emotionally with customers, making sure they will both want to use a service, and actually use it. The designed service must then successfully deployed into the organisation in such a way that the service realizes its promised value right away. In large organisations, making sure this happens drives a need for sustained Design Thinking and Design Doing on two fronts. One front is focused on the design of the service itself. This starts by gathering the right inspiration and insights on what customers find useful and desirable, as well as what context the service will need to work within. The second front is about designing the right interventions and conditions needed to successful deploy the service into the organisation itself.

Like Design Thinking and Design Doing, both of these fronts are iteratively and closely linked and must happen together if the service is to be a success. We are in a world where more than half the large companies that made up the UK’s FTSE 100 the last time it peaked in 1999 have since left the index. The pace of change, rising customer expectations, reshaped consumer behaviours and rapidly evolving new business models is driving a need for clients of both small and large companies to start thinking and doing differently (and quickly), and turn to more creative ways to solve their problems.

Why is thinking differently important? All organisations consist of groups of people working together to accomplish an objective. Yet the culture and prevailing mindset of large organisations - where individuals default to the thinking that made them successful in the past - can prevent them from doing things differently in the world we find ourselves in today.

The skills and abilities of designers and the inspiration they are able to provide can do wonders to help overcome these barriers. Designers, at least during the ‘design process’, can help clients ‘UnThink’ ‘how things are done around here’. Given that permission, they are free to think differently and ask questions that challenge why things need to remain the same. The insight driven approach of designers can help clients overcome the anxiety of doing things differently. And the vision-led and prototyping methods of service design help build confidence to the point where clients can understand how things should be for their customers, and can generate, test and refine ideas in response that can be implemented to give them better business results.

Prototyping: A symbolic example of Design Doing and Design Thinking in action that can help clients recognise that design is a way of making the right things happen.
Prototyping: A symbolic example of Design Doing and Design Thinking in action that can help clients recognise that design is a way of making the right things happen.

For example, by working with a private health insurer and by speaking to their customers, our design team was able to use the insights they gathered to refocus the organisation’s leadership. At the time, the insurer was directing its efforts to speed up how quickly claims payments were made to the employers of their customers who’d taken out insurance on their behalf. Taking them through a design process helped the leadership shift their attention towards helping their customers and families stay healthy. This was a service their customers valued far more, and one that will attract more customers whilst still reducing significant claims. In this case, Design Doing (research) drove Design Thinking, helping a large organisation strategically rethink and refocus what it was doing. 

Yet envisaging and actually delivering services to market are not the same thing. Large organisations can be complex. Their cultures and ways of working sometimes have evolved in ways that may not serve customers as well as they should, and in ways that expend energy on things that don’t add much value. While working with clients for a single design project can help them try a different way of working for a period of time, there is often a big time lag between ‘Thinking’ differently and ‘Doing’ differently. This is especially true when the new service requires staff to change the ways they deliver service.

The introduction of newly designed services often involves learning new habits and mindsets, and ‘UnDoing’ old ones over sustained periods of time. An example of this is the hotel and hospitality sector, where staff, often enabled by tablets, are tentatively venturing out from behind desks to more naturally engage with their guests.

Introducing new services where staff emerge from behind counters at Sainsbury’s demands sustained Design Thinking and Doing.
Introducing new services where staff emerge from behind counters at Sainsbury’s demands sustained Design Thinking and Doing.

Getting the design of such a service right is hard enough to begin with. So the new service must weave together appearance, functionality, usability, and originality, to ensure the end result doesn’t end up feeling like the old service, this time delivered by a disgruntled concierge armed with a device.

To successfully introduce a properly designed service demands a sustained and iterative push of Design Thinking and Design Doing that often requires many people across large organisations to be involved and change their own approaches.

For example, staff will need to be discouraged from relying on the sanctuary of their counter or desk for much of their shift, and encouraged and empowered to proactively engage customers in their natural habitat - not just on one day, but every day. To empower them, leadership need to trust and enable the staff to more independently decide when and how to help their customers and reinforce this approach by rewarding those who do, even if some staff may not get it right. And to make sure such a positive change endures, the business needs to stop building so many desks.

Ideally, you’d involve everyone in the design process to get them to understand why they will need to Think and Do differently, yet the design team can only be so big. You can’t realistically get everyone from across a large organisation Thinking and Doing differently at once, certainly not in a way that’s sustainable. But you can (and must) put together your design team to make it a microcosm of the best of the organisation, and equip them to effectively engage further and wider to get people Thinking and Doing differently in the future. 

This is important because when it comes to introducing a service in large organisations, there are other key stakeholders beyond the customers who ultimately decide if they need or desire the service. There are leaders who need to be convinced about whether the design of the service is worth investing in and who decide whether it’s a priority or not for the business. And there is the management and frontline staff within the organisation who must determine whether they believe in the service enough to introduce it and improve it, even if thatinvolves forgetting habits.

Your design team should have a good mix of those key stakeholders and decision makers onboard, and be supported by customer insights and expert designers to guide and facilitate them through the design process. We recently took such an approach with two organisations. Both Finavia and Helsinki Airport had never worked through a design process together, yet were prepared to give some of their talented people the time to Design Think and Design Do as partners.

This joint team played a vital role in ensuring that the customer experience vision we formed with them, and the services we designed to bring this to life, were relevant, supported by leadership, and grounded in the operational realities of their organisations. This gives the service a great chance of being successfully delivered and adopted. 

The Joint Design team – a key ingredient for sustained Design Thinking and Doing in large organisations.
The Joint Design team – a key ingredient for sustained Design Thinking and Doing in large organisations.

Designing together in an engaging, exciting and motivating way meant this team is now more than the sum of its parts. It has a broad reach and influence, a collective wealth of experience to draw upon, and more heads, hearts and bodies to Think and Do more together. They are also well-placed to know where and when to apply the targeted doses of UnThinking and UnDoing that are required to help their organisations unlearn old habits and learn the new ones demanded of them. Giving top talent time and space to work together in this way is a significant investment for clients. Yet the potential return on this investment is tremendous. The design teams’ commitment to Thinking and Doing things differently will help successfully implement the service, and further serve as a catalyst to accomplishing this in the time that is required, and in a sustainable manner. 

Ewan Cameron
Ewan Cameron - Senior Consultant

Ewan Cameron has over ten years consulting experience working across business disciplines, and has never had ‘design’ on his business card.

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