Service Design 101: The Essential Guide

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Swetha Amaresan
Swetha Amaresan


The best customer service doesn't just meet customer needs, it creates a delightful customer experience. This type of service requires your entire operation to work together to satisfy the customer, from product to delivery — otherwise known as effective service design.

customer service manager using service design principles to improve strategy

In this post, we’ll break down the meaning of service design, its benefits, and how you can use it to meet and exceed customer needs for your business.

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The point of service design is to create customer-centric services that provide a relevant, appealing, and user-friendly final product. This can be achieved through re-imagining of a business through its:

  • Resource Allocation: Infrastructure, materials, and budgeting required to take customers from the beginning of the buyer’s journey to the end.
  • People Management: Customer service, sales, product, marketing, or any cross-functional teams that have room to improve how they serve the customer.
  • Product Management: Any teams that can enhance or reimagine the product or service offering to better meet the customer needs.
  • Service Procedures: Guidelines or workflows that affect how employees perform outstanding service.

Benefits of Service Design

1. It can improve customer satisfaction and retention.

Effective service design can exceed certain customer service expectations to make prospects and buyers happier.

If the product is being improved with innovative technology, or employees receive continual training on how to better serve customers, they’re much more likely to leave positive reviews, stick around, and advocate for your business to others.

2. It encourages lean process improvement.

Lean process improvement minimizes unnecessary steps in business operation to shorten the time needed to take the product to the customer. By working to improve service design, a business can potentially improve customer satisfaction by delivering the product offering quickly and saving money for the business itself.

3. It can differentiate your business from competitors.

You want to end up with a service that differentiates itself from competitors by being spot-on in targeting customers. This can be accomplished by merely improving a current service or by building an entirely new service.

According to Moz, "Good service design is a series of choreographed tangible and intangible brand experiences that lead users to differentiate and choose between products and services." To help customers choose your brand over others, utilize the following principles.

1. Build the service around your users.

One of the most important steps in service design is designing your service according to customer needs and expectations. Ask your customers for feedback, and listen to what they have to say.

For example, my favorite Boston-based restaurant, Clover Food Lab, executes this idea well. It frequently cycles in and out its menu items based on what ingredients are in-season. However, it sometimes asks customers to weigh in on what sandwiches they'd like to see again.

principles of service design: build the service around your customers like Clover Food Lab

Over the summer, Clover posted an Instagram featuring five past sandwiches from their menu and asked followers to comment on which sandwich they'd like to see return the most. Based on feedback, Clover had brought back one of the featured sandwiches back on the menu soon after.

The entire menu updating process was based around users and their feedback. So, it made sense that the restaurant did well with that sandwich; after all, users voted for it to return, so Clover knew there would be high demand for it when it was back in stock.

2. Involve users in every step of the process.

Similarly to feel empowered to be a part of the brand. Just as brands want insights into the customer journey, loyal customers also want insights into a brand's journey. This also engages customers more to participate in matters related to the brand.

Clover holds a weekly Food Development Meeting at their East Cambridge CloverHUB location. These meetings are open to the public. Employees can experiment with creative new menu items, which are passed out to other employees and customers, to taste test. Customers can offer verbal feedback on the items they try, which are taken into consideration by Clover when considering whether or not to test out the recipe in their restaurants as a menu item.

By empowering people — whether they're die-hard Clover fans or total strangers to the brand — to come to these meetings, interact with employees, and have a say in recipes, Clover involves its community in the most essential step of its process.

3. Employ brand transparency.

Service design reminds brands to design their services transparently with customers. What attracts customers to a specific brand's services is knowing that the brand, itself, can be trusted. A service that consistently exceeds expectations is what transforms one-time customers into lifetime customers.

principles of service design: employ brand transparency like Clover Food Lab to create lifetime customers

Clover has one of the best customer service teams I've personally interacted with. When I recently had an order go very wrong, I contacted the marketing team and expressed my dissatisfaction. As a very loyal customer, I was disappointed by the mistake. However, the team responded soon after, apologizing for my experience, refunding my order, and offering me a complimentary meal.

The brand's ability to be honest about its mistakes, coupled with its emphasis on prioritizing the customer experience, has transformed its audience into a cult-like following.

4. Base the design around steps of the customer journey.

It's best to design your service around the customer journey stages: discovery, education, purchase, post-purchase engagement, and advocacy. This is because it's easy to rest easy once a customer has reached a certain step in this journey. However, if you don't continue to interact with that customer, they will forget about your brand, lose interest, or move on to a competitor.

One way Clover excels at this is moving customers from the purchase stage to post-purchase engagement. Once you make your first purchase with Clover, it asks you for your email address. Once given, Clover thanks you for your purchase and encourages you to download its app to unlock discounts, blog posts, live menus, and more. This entices customers to download the app, which offers many ways to interact further with the brand.

It's essential to always have the next step in place. To meet and exceed customer expectations, brands must plan how to move customers along the customer lifecycle until they become brand evangelists.

5. Provide moments of delight.

The best services are designed to change things up once in a while. These moments of delight are what make lifetime customers feel like their loyalty is worthwhile.

Clover offered a moment of delight recently in honor of their 10th anniversary. Starting a couple months in advance, Clover advertised on their Instagram that it was trying to reach 10K followers. If achieved, it would return its menu prices to its 2008 prices — aka the prices when it first opened for business — on the day of Clover's 10th anniversary for people who ordered through the Clover app. This feat was achieved, so, on October 29th, Clover's menu was extremely cheap. The company could barely meet demand because so many consumers were rushing to place orders.

principles of service design: provide moments of delight like Clover Food Lab with celebratory prizes

For a loyal customer like myself, seeing a special offer like this made me feel like Clover appreciated me for all the advocating I've done for the brand. It also proved its endless dedication to maximizing customer experiences every single day.

6. Be consistent in your messages.

Above all, your brand must stand out against competitors. Nowadays, it's nearly impossible to find an industry so niche that your brand can stand alone in offering solutions for those customers' problems. So, rather than seeing a unique product or service, you must find a unique way of advertising it.

Clover isn't the only vegetarian restaurant that uses fresh ingredients. Many restaurants use local ingredients — hint, hint: Sweetgreen and Dig Inn. However, it's the fact that it considers itself to be fast food, but not in the same sense as a typical fast food restaurant. Clover can dish out its food in minutes without using freezers, preservatives, or any unhealthy consequences of fast food. Somehow, its food is always freshly crafted by employees at that moment. It's still relatively cheap and healthy and can be the quick lunch you grab on your break or the late-night feast you order after going out.

Clover stands by this message in everything it says and does. This consistency helps customers remain confident in the brand and choose it again and again over any similar, local competitors. That is the key to service design.

Improve Your Business with Better Service Design

How you run your business, from product management to customer service, affects how customers perceive and experience your business. By paying attention to service design, you’re better prioritizing your customer’s wants and needs and differentiating your business apart from competitors who aren’t going the extra mile.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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