I was recently asked by a client what they should consider when they were thinking about building a service design team from scratch.  It made me think about how we went about building out our service design team from scratch.

It seemed like at the time that we grew based on instinct, but it turns out there was some method in the madness and that method has been reflected in how we’ve helped other teams build their service design muscle. I wanted to share these thoughts with you so hopefully we can help out some other people who are looking to build their own service design teams.

What’s the most important job you need to get done?

The first challenge is defining the organisation’s biggest need.  To thrive, you’re going to have to find a way to make service design famous. Usually this comes from solving a clear, recognised, and measurable problem:

  • Is it revenue growth or diversification? Then you need to be experimenting with new propositions, products and services. If so, your service designers might be working on creating and launching new services from scratch.
  • Do you have issues with complaints or low engagement with existing services? Do they cost too much to deliver? Are they failing to deliver impact you need?  If so, your service designers might need to focus in on transforming existing services.
  • Is it innovation or ways of working? Then you need to be experimenting with and showing them how to use new methods. If so your service designers might need to be working with other parts of the business to design and run experiments, or support

You can do all three, but whatever you start with you’ll be known for, at least for a while, even if you’d prefer that isn’t the case later down the line.  The answer to this question is also inexorably influenced by where your service design team sits within your business.

Sometimes it’s decentralised in the business unit teams. Sometimes it sits in the business units. Sometimes in the transformation team. Sometimes in the design team. Sometimes in the digital team. Sometimes in continuous improvement. Sometimes in innovation. Sometimes in more than one place. It really depends.

What’s the right mix of strategy, research and design?

The second thing is, unless you’re planning on growing a really big team,  you’re going to need to choose the skill set and experience of the service designers who join your team based on what you want to be famous for.

Service design as a discipline is huge. There are so many different skills from different fields of design that need to get involved in making services desirable, usable, useful effective and efficient (hat tip to the design council for this definition). You’re never going to find a service designer who is an expert in all aspects of the practice (don’t believe the ones who claim to be experts in all areas!) so you need to choose.

Typically the kinds of skills you’re looking for in a service designer will fit into (hat tip to Richard Elkman for this model) three very broad categories: strategy; research; and design.

A strategy oriented service designer is skilled in setting the business, prop or service strategy. This can include:

  • Market: What market/ space should we go after and what’s our plan to get there?
  • Proposition: What are we offering, to who and where?
  • Service: How do we translate our proposition into an actual service  our customers can use? What are the stages and steps in the service? How is the service delivered?

A research oriented service designer is all about deeply understanding and championing the users.  They can lead qualitative and quantitative research that helps to answer:

  • Customer needs, pain points, jobs, behaviours
  • Does a proposition work for customers
  • Will a customer actually choose and (if relevant) pay for our service
  • Can the customer use our service in the way we intended
  • How can we continuously improve our service

A detailed design oriented service designer is all about the detailed design of the interactions that make up the service:

  • Design of the experience end to end using whatever tools they require (ecosystem maps, journey maps, blueprints etc) including service principles
  • Design of digital touchpoints, including voice and chat
  • Design of offline touchpoints, such as over the phone or face to face
  • Design of operational elements of the service including the team design, data, systems, processes, policies etc

As I mentioned before, it’s practically impossible to be an expert or even mildly competent in all aspects of all three. In our team people tend to be strong in many of the elements of 2 out of 3.  But we also wherever possible pair our service designers with product designers, product managers, technologists and developers.

Who are the key teams that you need to work with?

We can do that because we’re an agency, but not every team is going to have that luxury, so it’s worth thinking about how your service designers are going to interact with the other teams you need to deliver services that are effective, efficient, useful, usable and desirable. Some of the key teams you might want to engage with include:

Research or customer experience teams – they tend to own the customer data. Get to know them and make them your friends.

Business & customer service teams – they’ll sponsor your work and give you access to the customers you need.

Product design & mgmt teams – consider the overlapping objectives and skill sets. A lot of service designers have been product designers before and like to maintain that skillset. It’s also good to specific when you’re looking to hire service designers who are comfortable working with digital touchpoints and developers – not all are.

Operational & process teams – if you’re designing new services you’ll need to design the supporting service with these people. If you’re fixing existing services you need to get them onboard and customer oriented so they’re comfortable moving away from how things are done right now.

Technology – you need to make friends with this crew to cover the data, systems and technology aspects of building and launching new or fixing existing services. You have to do this if you want to have a chance of delivering the kind of service experience you’re shooting for

So, how do you find a good service designer?

With great difficulty! When you find a good service designer hold on to them.  Some of our team are classically trained visual designers who wanted to do more research.  Researchers who wanted to move beyond insight generation to implementation and launch. Ex-product designers who wanted to influence more of the service strategy. Business analysts who wanted to get involved in detailed design of the teams who deliver services and reformed management consultants who are transitioning from knowers to learners. Varied backgrounds also helps with the diversity of thought.

If your team is sticking their nose into strategy, research, proposition, detailed design, build and launch, it’s likely you’ll want a bit of everything. So, the kind of mix you want in your team should be determined by what you want to be famous for – the impact you want to have. They might need to be skilled in working with developers. Or comfortable with organisation design, data models and process changes. , but again, it’s worth hiring against what you want to be famous for first, then going from there.

Where do I start?

If you’re a business leader who thinks they need some service design in their life, start at the beginning! Work out what challenges you have that might interest and inspire a service designer. Get approval to hire one (try to find a senior one to start if you’re completely starting from scratch) then go go go.

If you’re or a service design leader who’s been hired to build a team, start with the job your organisation needs you to do and what you want the team to be famous for and go from there.

Let me know how you go! I’d love to hear if this post has been helpful to people.

Also let me know if you’d be interested in a follow up post on building service design muscle in organisations? I’m @dagnabbit_ on twitter.

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