In my first Service Design column for UXmatters in 2011, “Why UX Professionals Should Care About Service Design,” I defined service design and began to explain how it’s conceptually different from user experience. As a reminder, services function effectively only when an organization orchestrates all elements of the service—including the people, communications, processes, time, technologies, space, objects, and information—holistically. A core difference between digital UX design and service design is that great service experiences acknowledge the equality of the service provider and the service recipient—or customer—so service design looks at the service as a system of elements with equal weight rather than a single channel that has priority.
Since I wrote my first column, many UX professionals have expressed interest in knowing more about the differences between digital UX design and service design in the hope of understanding how they can begin to shift their own careers. Thus, in this column, I’ll outline how UX professionals can evolve the way they think, how they engage in projects, and what work they must do to have more strategic outcomes—and, ultimately, define their own career path.
Shifting the Questions That You Ask
To shift from doing digital UX design to doing service design, you need to be unremorsefully analytical and inquisitive. Questioning the value and the context of what you’re doing represents a great first step toward broadening the scope of your work.
For example, let’s say you’re about to start a project for a human resources (HR) portal. The portal will consolidate all of an organization’s currently separate and antiquated HR-related systems—including timesheets, time-off requests, benefits, and insurance—into one cohesive, self-service Web site experience. On a digital UX design project, you would focus primarily on how to create the best portal experience and would likely consider some related aspects of the experience such as email messages, mobile access, and intra-site links.
Your questions regarding the optimal user experience for the portal and its related digital elements remain important, but to create the best experience possible, you must also have a broader understanding of the overall employee service experience because that’s an employee’s context of use for the portal. What if an employee uses the portal for some aspects of HR services, but decides to call the HR call center for others? What if an employee is new and isn’t aware of what he or she needs to do to make a request? When you’re thinking about designing this new portal, think of it as more than just a Web site. Think of it as a centralized, self-service HR experience with broader strategic considerations that are important to creating the best experience:
- What other channels exist to fulfill the same requests? Call center? In-person support center? Local HR representative?
- Why would an employee choose the self-service, online channel versus some other channel?
- Would employees go back and forth across channels for a single service request?
- What should the overall service delivery experience look like?
- Are there services that employees can get only online or only offline?
- What feedback can employees provide about their current service experience—both online and offline?
- Are the stakeholders for the portal the same as those for the offline channels?
- What else does HR do to support employees beyond the current online services that won’t be part of the portal? How do employees access those? Are they related to the proposed services for the portal? What do employees think about that?
- How would a new hire experience the portal differently from a long-term employee?
- What would be the most effective way of changing employees’ behaviors—getting them to go from to the existing sites to the new portal?
These are the types of questions that UX professionals who are evolving to take on a more strategic role should begin to ask on their projects.
Shifting Your Engagement
Equally important to the questions that you ask are the circumstances in which you ask them. You should ask stakeholders to involve you in project discussions earlier—prior to scoping—so you can influence what the project ultimately becomes. Early involvement is key because, when you’re designing a service experience rather than just a digital user experience, your decisions relating to the end-to-end experience have a broader impact.
Returning to the HR service experience example, let’s say you discover that, while employees are likely to use the HR portal for most service requests, when issues become complicated, they’ll call the HR call center or visit the in-person support center. Through more discovery, you realize that HR representatives follow scripts for various types of calls that they receive at the call center and the applications that they use need to support that script. After even more digging, you realize that the current experience is broken where the HR representatives’ scripts and applications don’t sync with the information that employees have. These insights impact the requirements for not only the new HR portal, but also for the current call center tools and scripts. Only through early involvement on a project can you influence its scope to include design decisions that deliver the best service experience across all channels.
Realistically, you may not currently be involved in making early decisions about project scope. Gaining the early access that lets you influence such project decisions can take time. Nevertheless, even if you’re involved later on, you can and should ask similar questions to show that you’re thinking about the more strategic aspects of the project. How you phrase your questions and statements is key. For example:
- “I know you want to take this design approach and that’s certainly an option, but I’m wondering whether another approach might solve the same issues and be better for employees?”
- “It’s important that I understand what else employees are doing before and after using the software. Can you tell me what they’re doing before and after?”
- “I know the team has already solidified the requirements, but I’m wondering how this would be different from the existing solution?”
What might happen?
- Sometimes you’ll actually get to change small aspects of your current project for the better–with minimal impact on timing or budget.
- Often you’ll create opportunities for longer-term or later-phase work—whether relating to the design itself or to relevant change management or training activities.
- Your broader team and client stakeholders will realize that you ask hard, but valuable and important questions. They’ll begin to see you as more than someone who just “does UX design”—as a strategic partner who wants to do the right thing for them and the organization.
- You’ll become more confident about asking questions—and more importantly, know the best time to ask them and who you should ask.
When you do all of this on your current projects, your earlier involvement and greater influence on projects will become stronger possibilities over time.