Kendall Griffin
Author - Kendall Griffin

It was not so long ago that if one were asked the question "What is design?", the response would likely have described a creative process resulting in the production of a tangible object that could be seen, touched, smelled or even consumed.

Fast-forward to today and design can no longer be described so simply, having since evolved into something far more reaching and impacting so many aspects of our everyday lives. From how we listen to music, watch our favourite programmes or communicate with our friends, design helps ensure that experiences take place as intended. Service design, like many other design fields, plays an important role in this experience revolution. Zooming out from the details to establish an understanding of the total experience, the practice orchestrates the design of the individual elements of the experience to ensure it adds genuine value for the user and ultimately makes business-sense for the provider. Empathetic in approach yet strategic in execution, service design adds a fresh dimension of thinking to how businesses work by encouraging a holistic perspective and co-creative mindset. With that being said, it does call into question, with such attractive outcomes, why do service designers continue to struggle to find organisations willing to invest in their services? 

Whether in-house or an acquired expertise, for service design to be considered valuable and worth investing in, it is crucial that it can produce continuous output that contributes to the business benefits.”

- Daniel Ewerman and Sabina Persson, Touchpoint Vol. 10 No.1


Changing the Conversation

In 1982, the term "service design" was first coined by marketing consultant Lynn Shostack who envisioned the execution of service design to be the responsibility of marketing or other designated business units within a company. Fast-forward to today and service design has become its own independent, human-centred, co-creative field that crosses organisational divisions, touching shop floor staff all the way up to those working at the C-level. 

Despite the practice having made notable headway since its beginnings, practitioners regularly face an uphill battle when it comes to selling their services to even the most progressive of companies and clients. Perhaps it starts with the term "service” which can be a bit perplexing to some and not what an organisation necessarily believes it has "on offer" for their consumers/users. And then there is the word "design" which in and of itself can trigger feelings of unease and fail to resonate with executives looking at what that could mean to their margins. The challenge, consequently, lies with service designers to deliver a compelling, new narrative that sets the stage for understanding, acceptance and adoption of the practice.

The question proposed to you then is this, “Are you ready to land that next great opportunity?” If so, read on for a handful of tips on making the business case for service design and in turn, land yourself some new clients!  

"The prevailing attitudes towards design in the business world are so rampant that a pair of co-authors I spoke to recently admitted that they consciously try to omit the word 'design' from their design workshops—and even tried to cut the number of references to it in their book, which (you guessed it) is about design.”

- Kerry Bodine, Touchpoint Vol. 7 No. 3


Six Tips to Help You Sell Service Design  

1. Service Design Fundamentals

Although the service design sector is growing rapidly, it lacks wide scale visibility. And while we would like to believe that it is a universally understood practice, it’s clear there is still a fair amount of work ahead to get it to its place as “the new normal.” You, as a service designer, may find yourself having to put in a lot of extra work to convince potential new partners of the value of your practice by starting your pitch at a very fundamental place—explaining what it is you do. 

A clear and cohesive explainer of what service design actually is, is a definite first step. Moving from “what it is” to “what it actually does,” should focus on the customer experience. Communicating how your work will help the organisation to better understand the needs of their clientele and in turn, create experiences that add value to both sides of the relationship is key. 

Value translates to satisfied customers. Satisfied customers can lead to loyalty, trust and advocacy.  

And while we appreciate that you may be eager to communicate “the what” and “the how” of this by showcasing the many tools of your trade, now is the time to keep to the basics. Leave your blueprints, storyboards, prototypes, and all the other compelling tools you intend to use to help transform their business until after you have lured them in. 


2. Learn to Speak Your Client’s Language 

“So what exactly is the business case for this?”

Speaking the same language as the decision-makers who will ultimately say “yay” or “nay” to your project is paramount so be prepared and do your homework. Doing a deep dive into how an organisation ticks is essential in creating a need for why your work matters to the growth of their business. Analyse the market, understand their goals and objectives and take stock of their challenges and opportunities. Delivering a high-impact plan with a laser-focus on the business advantage of your efforts and how that ultimately translates into consumer conversion, acquisition and retention is the goal. Know that this is how you position yourself NOT to be the firm's future service design star, but rather their strategic, long-term business partner.

If we want service design to be successful in the end, we have learned that it is about solving business challenges. Hence, to be impactful in the end we must create buy-in at the highest levels of our client’s company. Part of doing that is being able to understand and speak the language of upper management.”

- Maarten Aelvoet - Bart Muskala - Christophe Leuckx, Touchpoint Vol. 7 No. 3


3. Demonstrate You Know Their Customer 

Customers are fickle. Due to evolving expectations fueled by a digitised world, the marketplace is all about what is newer, faster and better. A higher level of business complexity has been established: brand loyalty erodes, customers expectations change, simple touchpoints are no longer enough; the demand for an authentic experience intensifies. Companies, in turn, are left to scramble to figure it all out. 

This is where service design can make a meaningful contribution. 

As a human-centred, co-creative process, service design looks to intimately understand a customer's goals and needs by understanding their experience throughout the service journey. Through this, new services can be created (or old ones re-imagined) that go beyond the ordinary, placing the customer centre-stage and at the core of a business's overall activities. This creates a more meaningful experience for the customer and leads them to a deeper connection to the organisation, ultimately transforming them from consumers into brand loyalists. 

"We're not only designing services but we are helping organisations develop and deliver these services...We are doing what business consultants were traditionally doing. But service designers are doing it in a totally different way: the designer's way."

- Dennis Hambeukers, Touchpoint  Vol .8 No. 3


4. Breaking Down Barriers to Success 

A recent C-suite Deloitte study looked to understand executive "Industry 4.0" readiness and found that one-third of interviewees ranked organisational or geographical silos among their top three challenges in setting their Industry 4.0 strategy. This phenomenon can have devastating effects on an organisation leading to stifled communication, poor morale, staff turnover, wasted resources and lost revenue. The breaking of silos—which can occur in organisations both large and small—is a key advantage of service design and offers a unique selling point to the market. Because our practice focuses on the business as a whole, we work in partnership with all departments to create a space for teams to come together to better understand the needs of the other and to collaboratively build a framework that delivers the best outcomes for all parties. Opening channels of communication, sharing information, eliminating obstacles and creating optimised solutions allows an organisation to flourish, flex and scale. 

Over the last decade, there have been countless examples from the business sector that demonstrate how poor communication can lead to organisational silos. As designers, it is imperative to recognise what we can do within our organisations to break these patterns that lead to inefficiency and contribute to the demise of a collaborative company culture.”

- Ritika Mathur and Terri Haswell, Touchpoint Vol. 7 No. 2


5. What Customer’s Value Drives Value

Despite the fact that service design offers organisations the potential for new value generation, practitioners often find their proposed projects landing under the “Nice to Have” option rather than the “Essential.” When budgets are tight and expectations are high, upper management can find themselves hesitant to fund projects they deem risky or play outside of their corporate comfort zone. 

This is when a customer journey map can help realign such cautious thinking. 

Breaking down the customer journey step-by-step allows you to showcase how your solution solves problems, maximises outcomes and optimises the resources used to ensure the experience takes place as desired. Aligning customer value with where and how costs can be reduced and dollars earned helps businesses see the economic value of your solution. This speaks to the bottom line, and every company loves to hear how their partners can help them save money. 


6. Start Small, Finish Big

Wouldn’t it be great if every proposal you brought to the table was green-lit to go? We know that the reality is something else entirely, which is why it is often smart to take project proposals slowly, especially when dealing with first-time adopters of service design. Unveiling ideas for large-scale or inherently complex projects can trigger fears about resources, budgets, implementation, and more. Look for opportunities to introduce smaller-scale solutions that allow for quick-wins. This builds up confidence in the practice and opens the door for consideration of larger-scale work now that decision-makers have tangible proof of the value of what you do.

Succeeding in Selling Service Design 

No one said selling service design was going to be easy. Despite evidence of its global growth, it’s clear that organisations within both the public and private sector continue to struggle with understanding its role and how it can help their business. Nevertheless, in coming to the table armed with the right talking points, you can effectively open up a conversation that can lead to a way forward. 

It can’t be stressed enough the importance of gaining an understanding of the ins and outs of an organisation’s business before you look to position your practice as a solution to their problems. Be the partner they need to help them achieve their goals by listening, learning and engaging. Objections are of course to be expected but know that you have the ability to reframe them into opportunities. Great services don't just happen on accident and neither should your pitch to a potential new client on the transformational impact service design can have on their organisation.

Dive into Touchpoint — The Journal of Service Design

Order the Touchpoint Anniversary Collection (24 copies) here.

Get inspired by a comprehensive collection of articles, cases and interviews from an international array of service design experts. Published since 2009.

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