5 useful concepts when practicing service design

Towards the end of 2011, Jono and I attended the 3 day Intensive Service Design Course at UNSW (November 21–23) lead by Marc Stickdorn. It was a fun and insightful experience with lots of acting and performing and also a healthy amount of talking and discussion. There were a few topics that strongly resonated with us, and we would like to use this blogpost as an opportunity to elaborate and reflect on these topics.

1. Get beyond the “bad first draft”
This is about making people fail right at the beginning so they are not afraid to fail again. The “bad first draft” is a great way to get the members in a team to work together with greater confidence.

Do a quick exercise (in 10-15 minutes max) where everyone is likely to fail. In the workshop, in small groups we were then asked to come up with a mobile solution in 10 – 15 minutes that introduce online banking to preschool children. The solutions we came up with weren’t the best. But through this exercise, any form of unassigned leadership were removed, and we embraced the “bad first draft”, and celebrated the failure.

This 10 – 15 minute technique can be used on any other service design activity. It works great if you want to get results quickly, get people doing and not talking. You’ll be certain that people are going to come up with something.

2. Train the trainer
Service design as an iterative process it’s more than creating better prototypes each round. As service designers is also part of our “job” to help others express their ideas and accustomed to the way of thinking about service design. “Train the trainer” said Marc is about training our clients so they can practice service design by themselves once our involvement has ceased.

For service design to happen we need to adapt our language to the client’s language, use their language, their jargon. The initial buy-in from the client is essential for service design to happen.

3. Theatre
I took some improvisation classes a few years back in Chicago at Second City, and this came in very handy for this exercise. Marc showed us how theater and some improvisation techniques (such as say “yes, and…”) can be great tools when acting scenarios or situations to elicit deeper insights. But Marc disliked the term “theatre”. He preferred the term “investigative rehearsal” or “theatrical methods”. And clients generally dislikes any word to do with “acting”.

Theatre can create fast and cheap human interactions and emotions, plus it allows us the ability to put emotions together. As an example Mark said a lot of businesses are about creating really cool scripts, but you have to find the methods and how to implement it. Theatrical methods can accomplish just that.

But not everyone can jump on to the stage like that. For theatrical methods or investigative rehearsals to take place, people (actors) need to feel that they are in a safe space, where a level of trust has been ensured.

A quick activity to achieve this is by asking participants to share truth in small groups and to decide what can be shared back with everyone, then incrementally raise the level of honesty and trust. Don’t take yourselves (facilitators) seriously, but take everyone else (clients, customers) seriously. It’s important that your fail yourselves first. After all, if you’re precious and apprehensive about failing, how will you get everyone else to fail and learn from it?

We all had fun but after the exercise, we asked ourselves ‘What happens after the theater?’ Theatrical methods can then be turned into early prototypes, blueprints, or a service advertisement. It can also be used to feed into the presentation back to the client.

4. Subtext
Subtext is a term burrowed from the theatre. On the stage, it is to find out the underlying plot of the play. In service design however, it can be used to make our thinking more concrete by questioning the view in front of us. It’s the “Don’t take it word-for-word” approach. This also adds a level of emotional input into the context, making the scenario richer and thorough. It helps us think in a step by step progression, dwelling deeper and deeper, unveiling the true intention and helping us to gain insight. For example, the statement may say ‘It’s concrete’, the subtext for this idea would be ‘Why is it concrete?’, which unveils the motivation for the action, and ultimately the purpose ‘Why is concrete important to the person?’

Subtext is highly accessible. Similar to the ‘five whys’ that we often ask in the design process. It is also highly comprehensible and people understand it instantly. Subtext is also more about the action of doing and showing the idea rather than just talking about it. Marc said in the workshop, “Doing gets more emotional results. It provides access to my guts rather than just the brain.” The use of subtext however does not reflect others outside of the workshop room. It only concerns what the person inside the room thinks.

5. Evidence of service
While it’s important to provide good service to customers, it’s also important to remind them of the great service you have provided. This is often achieved by producing and doing something that customers can touch and see. For example: the folding of the toilet paper in hotels. The folding is an evidence that a service was performed while you were out of your room. An evidence of service can also prolong customer touchpoint by reminding customers of their experience. For example: the sample of shampoo bottles that salons give you after your visit.

Virgin Australia actually created an artifact that does just this. Because Virgin know that customers often takes away the bottle openers provided on the flight, so they instead of engraving “stainless steel” on the bottle openers, they engraved “stainless steal” instead. This subtle gesture will remind the customers of the vibrant attitude that Virgin markets itself to be, as well as the (hopefully) pleasant flight experience.

P.S. A special thanks to Jono to contribute on this post.

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