Top

Designing Great Organizational Services

Service Design

Orchestrating experiences in context

A column by Laura Keller
December 22, 2014

I began my career over twelve years ago in marketing, defining the user experiences for healthcare Web sites at an interactive agency. At first, I loved the dynamic environment and start-up feel of an agency. It felt great that a large audience would interact with the sites that I helped design. Over time, however, I realized that I wasn’t doing good UX design. Rather, I was doing whatever the agency Account Manager or client Brand Manager wanted, which didn’t always jibe with what customers needed. The Account Manager or Brand Manager wanted site registrations and glossy, auto-play video tours, while customers needed educational content and information about financial assistance. I had lost the integrity that had driven me to choose user experience as a career in the first place. I wanted to design great user experiences for people based on their behaviors, needs, and preferences—not the whims of the agency or client. So, after five years, I decided to leave the agency to work on internal applications at an IT (Information Technology) consulting firm.

At the time, working on employee applications was completely different from working on marketing sites. First, the visibility of my work diminished greatly. Rather than creating a Web site for use by the mass public, the audience for my work was now confined to a single company’s internal employees. I could no longer point to customer-facing sites and say, “I did that”—which, by the way, was really the only effective way of describing my job to most people. Second, in contrast to big brands and agencies, who are always looking to stand out, do something new, and pursue big ideas, the internal IT group believed in standards, consistency, reuse, and leveraging out-of-the-box applications with minimal customization. Third, while I’d had my issues with Account Managers’ and Brand Managers’ pushing their own preferences onto their customers, they had at least appreciated that those customers mattered—and could potentially leave and go to a competitor. The IT group’s perspective was that employees must use the tools that they provided. There was really no choice if they wanted to work at the company.

The Consumerization of IT

Fortunately, in recent years, there has been a shift within IT organizations. Outside of work, employees are using services like Uber, Zappos, and Enterprise Rental Cars, who are redefining what a service means. People are using multiple mobile devices, which are slick and have seamless user experiences that they have come to rely on. People buy Nike sneakers and Nest thermometers less as pure products and more as integral parts of their lives. So a problem arises when people go to work, and their seamless, connected, easy world experience comes to a screeching halt. For example, they may have a dozen different passwords for the applications they use for their jobs. They may have to wait until they get home to submit their time on their notebook computer, because there’s no mobile capability. They send email requests to customer support that go into a service abyss. When the user experiences of internal applications are lacking, employees feel frustrated.

Employees are beginning to feel as though they’re living double lives—and this divide between their professional and personal user experiences is not sustainable. Luckily, leadership within many organizations is beginning to do something about this situation, making changes that they often refer to as the consumerization of IT. They’re realizing that the ways in which they’ve historically thought about employees are no longer working. They know that they can’t simply roll out services and solutions and expect that employees will happily use them—no matter how poor their user experiences. Why? Because they’re personally experiencing the same bifurcated world. They, too, must remember numerous passwords, deal with complex software systems, and cope with access issues. So leaders are now looking at the big brands and consumer-facing services and realizing, Hmmm, we need some of that.

What this means for UX designers in IT organization is that we’re now able to apply all of the positive factors from marketing and big-brand thinking to user experiences for internal employees. Over the last two years, we’ve worked on almost a dozen projects to help organizations figure out how to improve their internal services. In this column, I’ll outline the sort of feedback that frequently surfaces on the existing service experiences within organizations, the core principles with which organizations must comply to fulfill their employees’ expectations for these services, and how to translate these principles into service requirements.

Types of Internal Services

Before delving into some of the insights that we’ve gathered from our organizational service design work, it might be helpful to set some context for what I mean by an internal organizational service. Here is a list of some of the more common groups that offer internal services:

  • Human Resources—Helps employees with benefits, performance management, healthcare, and training.
  • Finance—Provides services relating to compensation, taxes, and banking.
  • IT—Provides technology services for employees’ computers, mobile devices, access to systems, audio/visual services, and phones.
  • Procurement—Helps employees purchase products from external vendors—for example, office supplies—and services—for example, from partner vendors.
  • Facilities—Provides services relating to workspaces, temperature control, cleaning, maintenance, and conference-room scheduling.
  • Legal—Helps with the preparation of official forms and documents, lawsuits, copyrights, and patents.
  • Marketing—Provides services relating to the use of templates, standards, style guides, and creating business cards.

This list is not exhaustive. Within an organization, each group providing internal services often has its own service-request process and back-end operations that manifest in diverse service experiences such as portals, call centers, documentation, and email-notification systems.

The customers interacting with these departments’ services are other employees within the organization, who have their own responsibilities relating to their real jobs. For example, in a pharmaceutical company, research scientists’ core responsibilities relate to drug research and development, but they must also complete administrative, corporate tasks to interact with various departments’ services. The more time they spend on such overhead tasks, the less time they have for their real jobs.

Feedback on the Current State of Services

As you can imagine, when an organization asks us to help them improve their internal services, these requests are typically broad and conceptual in nature. When you consider all of the elements that go into any group’s service offerings, you realize that solving such problems is not about coming up with a single business process or designing an isolated user interface. Therefore, the deliverables are usually at a higher level than a wireframe or sitemap. The ultimate goal is to communicate to an organization where they are today—usually by providing a blueprint of the service’s current state—and what they should aspire to be in the future—with a future-state blueprint. These blueprints are helpful in illustrating the direction in which an organization needs to go to improve their services. They should provide a realistic implementation plan, comprising various phases, moving from the current to the desired future state.

While service blueprints are effective in communicating the functional aspects of a service—what should happen, when, and how—it’s also important to communicate internal customers’ attitudes, opinions, and feelings about the current service experience that you’ve learned through your research. Across the various service-design projects that we’ve done, we’ve noticed some consistencies in employee’s attitudes and feelings about the experience of interacting with internal services—regardless of the service type. They perceive such services as being

  • complex
    • Employees don’t know where or what group to go to for particular service requests.
    • Employees are often unsure about what services are available.
    • Internal customers often have to use many disparate user interfaces and processes—with no clear logic behind them—and must interact with various people to handle one service request.
    • A lack of communication on the status of service requests leaves customers in the dark.
  • technical
    • Communications—whether in-person, over the phone, or via email—are full of jargon that is unfamiliar to customers.
    • Service requests often require employees to provide background information and obtain knowledge that they don’t have.
  • transactional
    • Service employees often merely follow a standard script and are not prepared for problem solving.
    • Service employees often care more about closing service tickets or pushing them to another group than helping customers.
  • inconsistent
    • A single type of service request might get handled differently each time.
    • Interactions with service employees can vary greatly, depending on each person’s training, region, personality, and the amount of emphasis on customer service.
    • Data across different service systems can be inaccurate or incomplete, leading to miscommunications throughout the service experience

Such experiences frustrate internal customers, making them feel as though they are on their own or are themselves responsible for ensuring that their service needs are fulfilled. Many internal customers have indicated that they often had to follow up themselves to see how things were progressing. Unsurprisingly, this can lead to dissatisfaction and lack of trust over time. More importantly, customers of internal services are less productive because they’re spending time on the overhead of corporate service requests rather than doing their real jobs.

Principles for Creating the Future State of Services

Once you’ve communicated the state of the current service experience to an organization, you need to illustrate what the future could look like. To address the current-state feedback and the problem statements that you’ve identified through customer research, creating a set of high-level, guiding service-design principles is valuable in communicating what internal customers want from organizational services. Organizations can leverage these principles strategically in making decisions about their future priorities, organizational structure, and investments.

Here are four service-design principles that we have consistently applied across our internal service-design projects:

  • accessible
    • Internal customers know what services are available to them.
    • Multiple channels exist for initiating a service request.
    • Internal customers know how to obtain services across these channels.
  • seamless
    • The service experience feels fluid, integrated, and consistent.
    • Throughout a service experience, information is up to date and accurate.
  • intelligent
    • The service model proactively predicts internal customers’ needs, depending on their role and region.
    • Internal customers get the right information, at the right time.
    • Internal customers can customize their service experience to the extent that it suits them.
  • intuitable
    • Internal customers know how to use a service with minimal explanation or documentation.
    • The process of interacting with a service is quick and efficient.

When a service fulfills these principles, employees can trust the service-request and delivery process, feel confident in its completion, never feel that they are on their own, and can be more productive doing their real jobs.

Defining Service Experience Requirements

Similar to user experience and business requirements, service design requirements should inform the design and implementation of a service. When you have a set of core guiding principles, you can translate them into actionable requirements that an organization can implement. Here are some examples of requirements that would satisfy the underlying principles that I outlined earlier.

Accessible Services

The following requirements make a service more accessible:

  • Minimize the number of log-ins for an internal customer.
  • Allow customers to track the status of their service requests through their preferred channel.
  • Don’t make customers employ multiple systems; instead, consolidate similar or related service systems.
  • When a customer initiates a service request, set clear expectations regarding the timing of service delivery, who their contact is, steps in the process, and escalation paths.
  • Proactively raise awareness by targeting communications to customers to keep them informed about important service information, and distribute these communications¬†through a variety of appropriate channels.

Seamless Services

The following requirements ensure a seamless service experience:

  • Implement and maintain information architecture, visual design, and communication standards across service-delivery channels to ensure that all systems are consistent.
  • Track and drive the ticket-resolution process from beginning to end—ensuring that a particular service employee is accountable for its resolution and is concerned about the customer’s satisfaction.
  • Teach content owners how to properly maintain documents and their associated metadata, and put governance models in place that require them to do so.
  • Close a service request only once all parties have agreed that it is complete.

Intelligent Services

An intelligent service experience can better meet internal customers’ needs—for example, it might do the following:

  • Predict what customers will need at each step in a process and present those options to them.
  • Present localized communications to create a more comfortable and personal experience in a customer’s own language.
  • Proactively provide status updates whenever they are relevant to a customer.

Intuitable Services

A service experience that is easy to understand and use does the following:

  • Integrate all of the steps in a service-request process, focusing on the customers’ workflow, not content ownership or departmental siloes.
  • When services are prolonged or comprise multiple phases, create a single service request for a customer and have the service provider coordinate delivery.
  • Align nomenclature with customers’ expectations and describe services in plain language.
  • Ask for all required information and confirm its validity in a single step before processing a service request.

Of course, there are additional requirements that are necessary to maintain a service model, make it sustainable, and continuously improve it, such as the following:

  • Base performance metrics on customer feedback and satisfaction, not just speed of resolution.
  • Provide multiple ways for users to provide feedback on their service experience.
  • Employ content governance standards so the quality of content is consistent across channels.
  • Track search terms and other analytics and use them to influence subsequent tagging, improve search quality, and influence strategic decisions.

The Future of Consulting

When you think through what would really transform internal services to make them more customer focused and on a par with people’s good service experiences outside work, you’ll realize that you must handle much of what you need to do from inside your organization. The aforementioned principles and requirements are much more far reaching than just IT. They relate to communications and marketing, to change management and training, to governance and measurement. It is very difficult for an external consultant to have the necessary impact, at both the depth and breadth necessary for the successful transformation of internal services. But before any consultants—myself included—become fearful for their jobs, let me explain what I mean.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen organizations employ a variety of methods to help them transform into more customer-focused organizations. Some hire a few experts, create a Center of Excellence (COE), and use those new employees to provide optional, value-added services within the company. Some are more ambitious and make these new employees an integral part of existing processes, attempting to standardize methods across the organization. Some leverage internal talent, training employees with skills relating to service design or customer experience. These service models can evolve organically, making less formal COEs more formal if they prove valuable, and they can integrate other existing employees into the COE as demand increases. Some companies go all in and acquire an outside firm that specializes in UX or service design. For example, Capital One is acquiring Adaptive Path.

But many organizations need one thing before moving forward with any of these service models: guidance. Most companies don’t know what it means to be customer focused, and they’ll openly admit it. They don’t know what good looks like or how their organization needs to change to get there. They don’t know how this transformation will impact people’s jobs and ways of working. They don’t know how to measure their success in becoming customer focused. They don’t know the right scope for organizational transformation. They know only that all of their competitors are doing this and that it’s important, but they need a roadmap to get there. This is precisely where consultants can help.

What we do on service-design projects—figuring out the current and future states and helping organizations to determine how to get there—is not different from the help an organization needs when trying to create a customer-focused culture. Plus, we have the benefit of having experienced our own challenges and the lessons we’ve learned when evangelizing and integrating experience design into our own companies and those of our clients. For me, making good experience design and service design practices systemic and sustainable within an organization is an incredibly exciting prospect—a lot more exciting than being told to make a registration callout bigger, as I was twelve years ago. 

Director of Strategy & Experience Design at NTT Data

Woodbridge, New Jersey, USA

Laura KellerLaura’s 10 years of experience have focused on representing the human element in any interaction with a brand through actionable, business-impacting insight gathering and design. At NTT Data, Laura leads cross-channel experience design strategy engagements for clients. Clients have included AstraZeneca, Hachette Book Group, GlaxoSmithKline, Prostate Cancer Foundation, Honeywell, and the NBA. In addition to her Service Design column for UXmatters, Laura has written articles for the Service Design Network’s Touchpoint: The Journal of Service Design, User Experience Magazine, Communication Arts, and Johnny Holland. She has presented on service design at SDN’s Global Service Design Conference, the Usability Professionals’ Association International Conference, IxDA New York City, and IxDA New Jersey.  Read More

Other Columns by Laura Keller

Other Articles on Service Design

New on UXmatters