Niels Corsten
Author - Niels Corsten

In the past years, many organisations have been working on pro­­jects to improve service experiences. Increasingly, large ­organisations have started to understand the value of service design. This has resulted in a growing desire amongst organi­sations that ‘understand’ service design to embed it into their companies.

This article by Niels Corsten and Jules Prick is part of Touchpoint Vol. 12 No. 1 - Embracing Change. Discover the full list of articles on this Touchpoint issue to get a sneak peek at more fascinating articles! 

Making a case for a Service Design Maturity Model

For the past years, many organisations have been working on projects to improve service experiences. Increasingly, large organisations started to understand the value of service design. A shift from operational projects towards a continuous strategic endeavour started to emerge. This resulted in a growing desire of organisations that ‘understood’ to embed service design capabilities into their company. We worked on exactly this challenge with some of our clients, including a Portuguese telecom provider, a leading European bank, an energy utility company and the Dutch Railways. At times, we found ourselves building service design capabilities without truly knowing whether this was what the organisation needed. This showed when we created an elaborate toolkit for an energy utility company, only to realize afterwards that we were introducing it to the larger audience of employees before they were even ready for it.

A few months later, we took the time to take a step back and evaluate those projects and validate the model with clients, which brought some interesting insights to light. As we observed striking similarities among the many companies and industries we work for, we soon began formulating a framework; the Service Design Maturity Model. We set out to create a model to understand the service design maturity of an organisation and structure the process of embedding service design into organisations. We envisioned it to provide actionable advice on how to overcome barriers, helping the entire service design organisations to embed service design at scale.

Clients giving first feedback on the Maturity Model during the Service Design Experience 2018 conference
Clients giving first feedback on the Maturity Model during the Service Design Experience 2018 conference

Introducing the Service Design Maturity Model

The model consists of five stages that show the process of embedding service design into an organisation and structures the transformation towards a service design-led company. The model helps to identify the current stage of maturity through five pillars, which then serve as guidelines for further maturation.

  • People and Resources The extent to which people, budget, time and facilities are available and dedicated to service design activities.
  • Tools and Capabilities The extent to which service design methodologies and tools are applied within the organ­isation, and the level of required skills and capabilities that are needed to apply service design.
  • Beliefs and BehavioursThe degree to which the organisational views, rituals and habits promote service design.
  • Organisational Structure The extent to which the organisational structure allows and facilitates multidisciplinary service design work and the assigned roles that are needed to do so.
  • Metrics and Deliverables The shape and form of service design deliverables and the extent to which metrics and KPIs are in place and being utilised to stimulate and facilitate service design.

The five pillars are tied to each of the maturity stages and show the transformation process towards a service design-led organisation. The five stages are ‘Explore’, ‘Prove’, ‘Scale’, ‘Integrate’ and ‘Thrive’.

  • ExploreCrusaders within the organisation are exploring service design as a new methodology and unite with other service design enthusiasts in order to start a first initiative.
  • Prove Painstaking pioneering to get service design established in the organisation, with service design projects and the creation of evidence of its value.
  • Scale Service design expands throughout the organisation through unifying tools and method­ologies and teaching of its capabilities.
  • Integrate The siloed organisational structures are torn down and transformed into a design-led ­foundation. Service design is embedded in the daily way of working through integrated systems and metrics.
  • ThriveService design now thrives in the organisation through leadership and experimentation, and service design is ingrained in the company culture. Methodologies are being evolved as the organisation is pushing the service design envelope.

In the following section, each of the maturity stages is described, showing what you would experience within each stage, and what is necessary to progress towards the next stage.


Stage 1: Explore

What it’s like

In an organisation where service design is non-existent, there is no responsibility, no budget, no time and no facilities available to carry out service design. But above all, there are no people or capabilities. Individuals across the organisation encounter service design through external trainings or workshops, amongst others. This results in some knowledge and expertise in service design being present within the organisation, although it is minimal and scattered.


What to do

Finding and uniting with other enthusiasts is the biggest common barrier in this stage, because the organisational structure won’t allow multidisciplinary get-togethers. Meetups or ‘Service Jams’ can be used to explore service design, scout other enthusiasts and sway newcomers. With those first sparks, it is crucial to follow the energy and nurture those first followers. Don’t waste your energy getting everyone excited, but instead start doing service design with a small group that is engaged. We’ve noticed that it is important not to ask for permission in this stage, because you risk prematurely killing the movement.


Stage 2: Prove

What it’s like

The key of this stage lies in proving the value and laying the foundation for service design. The first enthusiasts form a multidisciplinary project team, even though they are still dispersed and separated by silos. To establish service design, its value needs to be proven to each individual. That’s why it is often experienced by pio­neers as something akin to trench warfare. Many teams tend to put a focus on process and deliverables such as customer journey maps and service blueprints, which actually counteracts the necessary focus on results. Many organisations don’t manage to progress beyond this stage, leaving enthusiasts stuck mapping out customer journeys in minor projects throughout the organisation.

Proving the value of service design before scaling up capabilities at a Portuguese telecom provider.
Proving the value of service design before scaling up capabilities at a Portuguese telecom provider.

What to do

A common barrier is the focus on process instead of results. The risk of putting together service design enthusiasts on a project is that their focus becomes demonstrating how great the process is, rather than demonstrating the real business value. Because a large part of the organisation is still unaware of service design and its value, it should not be set in the spotlight until it can be explained through business value. Therefore, we suggest running ‘Trojan horse projects’ (referred to as ‘stealth projects’ by Marc Stickdorn). Trojan horse projects are service design projects in disguise. This means not naming them with service design terminology, such as ‘customer journey project’, but rather recognisable business activities, such as ‘onboarding optimisation’. This allows the team to experiment, fail and focus on actual value. It’s paramount that this evidence is measurable in relevant business metrics (such as cost reduction or revenue growth). Only when significant impact has been made can the team start evangelising both the results and the pro­cess.

Service design agencies often collaborate with organ­i­sations during this stage of maturity, because they offer the necessary capabilities and improve the project’s chances of success. We helped a health insurance com­pany (who thought it was ready to scale capabilities) to run a series of trojan horse projects to be able to sell the business value of service design before scaling up.

When you are trying to prove the value of service design through customer journeys
When you are trying to prove the value of service design through customer journeys

Stage 3: Scale

What it’s like

More people get interested and involved in service design and capabilities spread outside the initial team of enthusiasts. The first employees start to specialise in service design and a CX department forms, in which the first customer-centric KPIs become defined. As more service design initiatives are started, spaces get hijacked as project rooms. The transition goes hand-in-hand with silos that start to suffer under multidisciplinary teams. Additionally, employees start to feel that service design is interfering with the existing way of working. We have seen this happening in a collaboration with the CX team of an energy company, who sought to scale service design in the entire organisation. When we introduced a tailor-made toolkit, we stumbled upon resistance of people that hadn’t yet been convinced of the value of service design. We had not yet managed to successfully evangelise its business value to the wider audience.

We’ve made a nice customer journey… now back to the real world.
We’ve made a nice customer journey… now back to the real world.

What to do

To facilitate the growth of service design within an organisation, it’s best to spread the former project team throughout the company and start running multiple projects. The risk of service design becoming popular is that unaligned initiatives are started throughout the organisation without a unified language. That’s why it is important to start creating a common method­ology that everyone can use. Where standardised toolkits may be sufficient for the first few initiatives, a toolkit that fits the company processes is needed for a successful company-wide implementation.

With a unified language at your disposal, it is of the essence to start training the organisation, but don’t force everyone to become a service designer. We often apply a simple three-level model, in which we develop basic service design literacy, advanced service design application and service design leadership.

Teaching employees of a large bank about service design during the Scale stage.
Teaching employees of a large bank about service design during the Scale stage.

Stage 4: Integrate

What it’s like

In this stage, it is time to systematically integrate ser­vice design into the company way of working. Service design is now decentralised and present in each team, and the majority of employees are engaged with the methodology and are utilised in a structured way. Dedicated service design budgets are now in place across teams or departments. Customer-centric KPIs are now being adopted throughout the organisation, which goes hand-in-­hand with assigning customer-centric responsibilities to C- level.


What to do

This stage calls for a definite transformation of the silo-based organisation into one in which agile teams are assigned to customer journeys. It assigns the role of ‘Journey Owners’ to systematically work on the improvement of service experiences, thereby creating a service design continuum. Moreover, a community is built to maintain the unified way of working and facilitate the sharing of new service design knowledge. It is best to create an internal community, because openness about failure and experimentation are critical.

When many people are working on the improvement of services, the organisation runs the risk that different teams do similar work. This situation demands that systems are put in place that allow for both consistency in service innovations and the prevention of repetitive work across the organisation. Great examples are design systems, research systems and service patterns. Service patterns define standardised service experiences and internal processes to be applied to repetitive parts of a service. The British government portal GOV.UK applies service patterns to common services, such as applying for something, submitting documents or verifying identity. This makes the wide breadth of services more consistent for citizens and more manageable for local authorities.

A snapshot: The five pillars explained per maturity stage
A snapshot: The five pillars explained per maturity stage

Stage 5: Thrive

What it’s like

When everyone is involved in service design and it is integrated into the way of working throughout the entire organisation, it can now thrive. It has risen above its role as methodology and became ingrained in the culture. The new organisational structure allows for close co-creation of service experiences in each team, where each initiative is tied to customer-centric metrics and deliverables. Service design is not just represented at C-level, but customer centricity has become an important KPI for the entire C-suite. A Dutch e-commerce company that is well-known for its customer-centricity is CoolBlue. CoolBlue CEO Pieter Zwart has said, “We are not an online retailer, we are a customer journey agency. We want to be a leading example of a customer-centric business. Ultimate customer satisfaction is not just a metric or a goal, it is part of our corporate culture.”

What to do

In this stage, it is no longer a matter of managing methodologies and processes but safeguarding the customer-centric culture and core principles. The organisation can allow for experimentation with new tools and methodologies, simply because the mindset is right. Whereas in previous stages it was important to share project evidence and value, now you can focus on nurturing the sharing of knowledge and building a learning community. Thriving in service design is now about inspiring others and reinventing the game.

Conclusions and learnings

This model has already greatly helped us to structure transformations for our clients by defining their situa­tion and overcoming barriers to maturation. The most important learnings can be summarised as:

  1. Determine where you’re at
    Be aware that the maturity stage can differ across company departments, teams and even people. Differences in maturity across the organisation often explain tensions or resistance occurring during transformation.
  2. Work the weakest link
    We advise always focussing your efforts on the part of the organisation that is least mature, to prevent enlarging the gap and creating more resistance.
  3. Combine movement and mandate
    Many organisations exhibit a bottom-up movement when it comes to service design. The most common barriers are in the hard work necessary to prove the value of service design to each individual employee, as well as working against organisational struc­tures that don’t allow multidisciplinary work. Prove service design to higher management to create mandate to then open the path for further implementation. However, a top-down approach to service design doesn’t always result in easier implementation. At a leading bank we worked with, the agile team structure was implemented top-down to show commitment to multidisciplinary customer-centric work. However, the employees were neither shown the evidence of service design value nor were they trained with the capabilities to act upon the structural transformation. They are now catching up to do so.
  4. Mind the changing role for service designers
    The maturity of an organisation has great implications on the role of service designers. Moving through the maturity stages, the role of a service designer changes from scout to hands-on doer, to trainer, to facilitator, and ends at leader. Each of those roles requires a different mindset and capabilities. Our profession is changing.

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