Service Design Process: Nature, Tools and Techniques

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What is Service Design?

Service design is a multidisciplinary approach to designing and improving services that focuses on the user experience. It is a process that combines elements of design thinking, systems thinking, and user-centered design to create services that are efficient, effective, and user-friendly.

Service design involves understanding the needs and wants of customers, identifying pain points and areas for improvement, and creating solutions that meet those needs. This may involve designing new services from scratch, or improving existing ones through redesign or optimization.

A service is not a single or standalone item that is delivered to a customer rather it is a set of interrelated processes, activities and decisions. Aservice can be provided to customers effectively only if service processes are designed accurately.

A service process is not necessarily the one that is visible to customers when the customer meets the touch points of a service organisation. This is because a service process is directly related to service experience received by customers after receiving a service. Therefore, it can be said that service processes are central to the service design process.

Service design process refers to an activity of planning and organising people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service. The main aim of service process design is to improve the quality of a service and facilitate interaction between the service provider and its customers.

As mentioned earlier, a service is a set of inter-related processes. Each process further involves a set of tasks or activities. It must be noted that these tasks or activities may be performed in the forefront or in the backend.

Front end processes are those where customers have personal experience with service employees whereas backend processes are those that are completed without being visible to the customer.

Elements of Service Design Process

Different elements ofservice design process are as follows:


A customer may fulfil two types of roles. One role is that of being a customer or the purchaser of services. He/she receives a service from the service organisation without himself/herself becoming a part of the service delivery process.

The second role is that of a ‘customer employee’. At times, a customer also forms an important part of the service delivery process by providing materials and information for the service staff. In a way, the customer becomes an integral part of the service process. An example of this type of service is consultancy services.

Front-end and Backend Processes

Front end and backend processes both have their advantages and disadvantages. Front end activities may involve intervention by a customer, which may negatively affect the service delivered.

In contrast, backend activities remain invisible for the customer and the outcome of backend activities remains unaffected by it. Therefore, nowadays most service organisations prefer to have backend processes in place.

Customer Experience

Customer experience is affected by the way front-end service employees deal with customers. Interactions can be done in various forms such as face-to-face interactions, telephone, remote interactions through networks such as internet, etc. The service experience of the customer in turn depends on factors such as customer mind set and customer mood.

For delivering services successfully, it is required that the service provider manages the entire chain of service processes. This is because most services fail to deliver as promised due to a lack of co-ordination among different service processes.

For example, Jindal Naturecure institute located in Bangalore is a naturopathy centre that offers various naturopathic treatments such as hydrotherapy, mud therapy, diet therapy, yoga therapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, physical therapy, etc.

The customer or the patient needs to get enrolled in one of the programs offered by the centre by paying the requisite fee amount. Thereafter, the dates for therapy are scheduled and the patient has to shift his/her base to the centre.

Here, the patient is provided accommodation out of the four options namely deluxe, suite, executive and economy classes. The centre also provides food to the patients. All this is possible because all departments and processes of the hospital are well-coordinated and integrated.

A good service design implies a seamless integration of all processes. Seamless integration can be achieved if:

  • Customers flow smoothly through the process

  • Customers do not experience any discontinuation of the service process

  • Staff members own respective processes

  • Managers view their activities as a small part ofan overall process

  • Managers are able to work in cross-functional teams that assess and improve the design.

Nature of Service Processes

The nature of service processes can be described using the following points:

Product Variety

Aset of processesthat are included in the service may be standardised or customised. For example, a laptop service centre receives requests for the regular maintenance of laptops. Maintenance services include opening up of the laptop, blow dusting and cleaning of all components, reassembling the laptop, testing batteries and finally checking if the system is working fine or not.

These services are fairly standardised as same processes are performed for maintenance and charges are also the same for all laptops.

However, the same service centre also receives requests for the repair of laptops in case they are damaged or if any part of the laptop has been affected. In such a case, the replacement or repair ofa particular part is required. Allrepair requests received by the centre are unique and each must be customised.

Designing and managing services include understanding the mix of process activities. Process activities are of three types: runners, repeaters and strangers. Runners are those standard activities that are quite predictable and are repeated in high-volumes.

For example, requests received by the laptop service centre for regular maintenance involve runner activities. Repeaters are standard activities that are more complex than runners but occur less frequently in the service process than runners. For example, changing or repairing the motherboard of a laptop is a repeater activity.

Lastly, strangers are the non-standardised activities that are associated with one-off activities. For example, when a service centre receives a request for repair of a laptop whose screen has been damaged and all the USB and charging ports have been damaged in addition to motherboard failure; it is an example of stranger activity. The larger the number of strangers, the smaller will be the service process variety.

Volume and Variety of Process

There exists a relationship between the volume of production and the variety offered in service processes. Processes that lie on the bottom left corner of the matrix are focussed on providing standard services.

Processes that lie on the top left corner of the matrix are called capability processes and are designed to provide high variety and capability to customers. These processes are often used to manage strangers and runners. High-volume and low-variety processes are called as commodity processes and are ideal for runners.

Customer Value

A service provider should carefully define where a value should be added for the customer. Adding value along wrong processes will not help in creating a positive consumer experience.

Tools and Techniques Used in Service Process Engineering

Most manufacturing organisations have a department or team that is dedicated to managing production processes so that products can be produced in conformance with product standards. However, these days, service organisations also hire service engineers and have service laboratories in place in order to design, test and evaluate their service processes.

Creating service processes through a well-defined research is called service process engineering. This process is started by understanding the customer’s perspectives and designing services accordingly. For this,service engineers use a number of tools and techniques.

Process Mapping

Process mapping is an activity that involves creating a service process chart or diagram. It is a time-consuming process but its usefulness is worth the effort. A service process flow chart depicts various processes, activities and their interrelationships in a paper or electronic form.

t helps a service provider and other staff in understanding the overall service process from start to finish. In this way, they are able to gain a better understanding of their roles.

Process mapping involves two processes: mapping through mapping tools and using the map as an analytical tool. Process maps can be drawn in a number of ways, and each map differs in the level of detail.

Service providers who are developing the service process map may also use other symbols if they have a common, understandable and unique meaning. Coloured lines may be used for depicting the flow of different activities/information/examination, etc.

For example, blue colour can be used for customers and green for information. After the service process map has been readied, it must be analysed. It is necessary because developing a process map is a descriptive work but it will prove to be useful only if it helps individuals in realising and understanding the nature and complexity of processes.

Aprocess flow chart can be used as an analytical tool if the following questions are answered with the help of a process flow chart:

  • Are processes and activities designed appropriately to support strategic intentions of the operation?

  • Does each activity provide value addition in the process and whether there are anyactivities that can be eliminated or reduced?

  • Is the process executed in a controlled manner?

  • Who are individual activity owners and who is the owner of the overall process?

  • What is the level of detail of the process map and what is the level of visibility?

  • How efficient is the process?

  • Are there any ways in which the process can be improved?

Walk-through Audits

A walk-through audit is basically an enactment of customers seeking services from a service organisation. In this type of audit, the staff, managers and independent advisors act as dummy customers. This activity helps in evaluating and improving services. The audit is conducted with the help of a checklist of questions. The answers to the questions may reveal customer’s assessment of the service.

The checklist should contain questions relating to critical elements of service experience from a customer’s entry till exit. The audit should actively involve internal staff as well as external advisors because the internal staff may not be able to point out minute details that may be relevant to customers.

Using the audit approach, service managers may be able to carry out regular checks regarding service delivery at different times of the day.

Service Transaction Analysis

Service Transaction Analysis (STA) refers to a tool of service engineering that helps in the development of walk-through audit. This tool combines service concept, service process, transaction quality assessment and service ‘messages’ and emotions felt by the customer. Using this tool, the customer’s experience of a service process can be assessed and improved.

The following activities are involved in conducting STA:

  • A service organisation must gain agreement among employees regarding the nature of the service offering.

  • The service organisation hires professional research organisations which send their mystery customers to experience the actual service process which comprises various service transactions. An STAis done by creating a visual depiction/STA diagram.

  • An STA diagram contains three columns. The first column contains a list of all service transactions. The second column contains the assessment of each transaction. The assessment has to be given out of three options viz. delighting (+), satisfactory (0)and unsatisfactory (-). Thethird column contains a description of message/emotions that are conveyed by the service organisation and perceived by the customer.

  • Assessment of+, 0and- are joined and a pictorial representation ofthe overall evaluation of the service process is done. The overall evaluation is also entered at the bottom of the STAdiagram.

  • Assessment of+, 0and- are joined and a pictorial representation ofthe overall evaluation of the service process is done. The overall evaluation is also entered at the bottom of the STAdiagram.

  • Analysis of the STA diagram helps service designers, managers and the staff of the service organisation in determining what all aspects of the service process need to be mended in order to improvise the process. Improvement in service process leads to increased customer satisfaction level.
Article Source
  • Johnston, R., Clark, G., & Shulver, M. (2012). Service Operations Management (2nd ed.). Harlow, England: Pearson.

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