Erik Flowers is a Principal Service Designer at Intuit, the powerhouse behind products such as QuickBooks, TurboTax, or Mint. He also maintains a highly informative and influential blog about his experience as a Service Designer as well as being one of the founders of practicalservicedesign.com
The following interview was conducted by Prof.Birgit Mager, President of the Service Design Network, at the Service Experience Conference 2015 in San Francisco.
Birgit: Erik, could you share insights in what your role is, and what you’re doing at Intuit?
Erik: I am the first Service Designer for our design organization, where I work out of our Customer Care Department. I take the top customer journeys and issues and apply service design thinking and service blueprinting to bring together the teams and various stakeholders around central artifacts and shared knowledge. So, we can start acting like an ecosystem and fixing things more holistically.
Would you say your work is mainly about improving existing journeys, or is it also aiming at innovating the service strategy or the service portfolio of Intuit?
A lot of the work is around improving existing services and existing experiences that have a legacy of pain for internal broken structures. And then, there is a portion of it that is about innovating on new offerings, services, and approaches. A lot of the job is about changing the way people think. And giving them a new way to work and new tools to be able to do any of that in the first place.
You say you’ve been with Intuit for 18 months now. Before your arrival, was there any Service Design in the company?
No, there was nothing like service design in the company. There was a strong user experience design culture and a lot of designers who were working on the product. But, there were no real dedicated resources to working on the holistic experience and the services we offered as a collection of different products and offerings all together into one, holistic customer experience. There wasn’t anyone assigned to working on that altogether.
Do you know why, 18 months ago, they decided to create that role?
I think a few key people, my boss included, simply saw a need. If we were going to be a ecosystem driven company and an service driven company with long term customers that stay with us for years and years, somebody has to break out of just building products and digital themes. We had to start looking at services to evolve past just being a software company and into a service offering company.
What role do you have within the organization?
I work inside of the UX organization, which has about 200 people and maybe 150 interaction and UX and visual designers. And I’m one of two service designers now.. I also partner with Product Management and Customer Care looking at the kind of aggregate issues that arrive in the Customer Care organization. Longstanding things that drive people to seek out customer support – it’s a collection of products and touchpoints that end in that customer support call, or chat. So, I work across the entire business unit because there are too many owners and there’s too many touchpoints, product managers, care product managers, designers and developers have to be tied to one central group. Because once you start to look at the service blueprint and the customer journeys it crosses, you come to know all the teams. And so, I kind of float around from team to team trying to connect all of them.
You have to bring the right people together, you have to motivate them to work on a project, invest in their time and resources. How much formal decision making power does it take to be a successful service designer within such an organization?
A lot of the power and numbers comes from the owners of those more extended services and experiences that have some problem or another and have been trying to tackle it one touchpoint at a time. Because they’ve been working in small tactical areas, they’ve never had any sort of tools or insight into the bigger picture, and service design helps them see a higher level. A lot of the time, they’re already trying to fix something that the service design aspects can help them with. This helps gives them the power and the leverage to push forward and show the leadership and the rest of the company that we made a lot of big progress. We uncovered a number of things that are now solving problems holistically in multiple places at once. Therefore, there isn’t necessarily any formal service design authority for decision-making. It comes up through the facilitation and synthesis of what these larger, disconnected groups are doing in their silos. We bring them together and break down the silos to approach these problems with the service design mindset. From there, everyone’s able to go empower themselves. Because we came together and solved some of the much larger problems than any single team would not be able to do by themselves.
The questions of how to bring service design successfully into an organization and how to create awareness, acceptance, and help implementation were raised many times throughout the conference. What are your thoughts on the matter?
What has worked best for me at Intuit has been creating proof points up front, visuals, and output. Like the first service blueprint is an output for the people who’ve gotten together who believe in it from the start. Even if it’s a very small group or team. And then showing, “Here’s what we were able to uncover. Here’s what we were able to solve that we weren’t able to solve before. Here’s what we’ve now been able to identify and understand across a larger group of people that otherwise never would’ve happened.” And so, it’s about those small groups, and about demonstration and showing examples because asking and seeing, it’s not what gets people motivated.
Do you have any specific channels you use within the organization to get that viral effect of success stories going?
Right now, things come up in product reviews and design reviews that are always going on. And team members are starting to bring the blueprints as the thing that they want show the leaders. The executives and directors in the room, who are usually there to review design decisions and products, are being shown and told, “Hey, now we’re here to review a bigger, holistic ecosystem decision, in a much longer timeframe of customer relationships, that we can now design.” And so, people are able to see a service instead of a design of a interface or a product. So the channels are mostly other people sneaking it into their work. And then talking and saying, “Hey, if you’ve got a big complex issue that you’ve been working on for a long time, get a hold of Erik. He’ll come in and he’ll help do the service design and the service blueprinting. And we’ll break it open.” And we’ve had huge success. It’s been word-of-mouth success stories.
So, it’s about blueprinting that helps to visualize complex processes and long term relationships that you’re focusing on. I know that you have a specific passion for the methodology around it. Do you want to share a bit about that type of work that you are doing?
Yes. The methodology that we’ve developed has been all about co-creating the blueprints and the documents with the teams that represent the touchpoints along the whole journey. So, it’ll be a lot of people who’ve never met before; they’ve never worked together before because they had no reason to. They each made a piece of technology, or they made policies in Finance and Marketing, or they’re designers. The method is really about that co-creation and letting everyone build something together. The new initiatives all came from a central source of work that uncovered more than just the customer journey- it uncovered behind-the-scenes processes, systems, policies, and unknown stakeholders that no one ever saw before. They certainly never had reason to look at all of those things separately and then connect them together and go, “Wow, this whole blueprint, this whole journey, has so much going on behind the scenes that each individual silo might have known. But, none of us knew all of this, and that’s why we could never fix it.”
And suddenly, you are enabling the organization to fix problems that they were not aware of and create a successful breakthrough.
Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me and the SDN. We wish you all the best with your future projects.
If you want to share your thoughts with Erik, stop by his blog or follow him on twitter @Erik_UX.