The best customer service doesn't just meet customer needs. It exceeds expectations by solving problems customers didn't even know they had. It understands customers better than they can themselves -- at least when it comes to the service your company provides.

So, recently, a new field was born surrounding the idea of meeting and exceeding customer needs for your services.

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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 a completely 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." In order to help customers choose your brand over others, utilize the following principles.

6 Principles of Service Design

1. Build the service around your users.

The most important step in service design is designing your service according to customer needs and expectations. Ask your customers for their feedback, and actually listen to what they have to say.

My favorite Boston-based restaurant, Clover Food Lab, executes this idea well. It frequently cycles in and out their 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. Over the summer, Clover posted an Instagram featuring five past sandwiches from their menu and asked followers to comment which sandwich they'd like to see return the most. Based on feedback, Clover had the Japanese Sweet Potato sandwich back on the menu soon after.

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

2. Involve users in every step of the process.

Along the same vein, users want to feel empowered to be a part of the brand. Just as brands want insights into the customer journey, loyal customers want insights into a brand's journey, too. This also engages customers more to take part 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, as well as 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 to be completely transparent with customers. What attracts customers to a specific brand's services is knowing that the brand, itself, can be trusted. A service that always exceeds expectations is what transforms one-time customers into lifetime customers.

Clover has one of the best customer service teams that 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, is what 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 stages of the customer journey: 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 onto a competitor.

One way in which Clover excels at this centers on 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 for them to further interact with the brand.

It's important to always have a next step in place. In order to meet and exceed customer expectations, brands have to plan ahead for 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 follows. 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 29, Clover's menu was extremely cheap. The company could barely meet demand because so many consumers were rushing to place orders.

For a loyal customer like myself, seeing a special offer like this made me feel like Clover was appreciating 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, it's essential that your brand stands out against competitors. In this day and age, 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 finding 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. Lots of 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 the use of 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.

For more information, check out this post about how to avoid creating a bad design experience.

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Originally published Jan 7, 2019 8:00:00 AM, updated October 30 2019

Topics:

Customer Experience