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Service Design Framework

Practices and tools for delivering optimal user experience journeys.

Service design overview

When the U.S. Air Force’s Weather Systems Program Office (WxPO) asked Skylight to help them upgrade their services to the cloud, it had a simple brief: Ensure a great initial customer experience for service members and application development teams onboarding onto the new cloud platform.

As Skylight began to examine the pieces that made up customer experience — specifically, how service members and application teams interacted with the cloud platform — we discovered it wasn’t so simple to build a great customer experience. Beyond onboarding, there were many factors at play in the successes and failures of the WxPO’s technology migration, including how roles were structured, work processes, communication materials, and more.

Enter service design.

What service design is

Service design enables organizations to create sustainable and high-quality experiences for both customers and the providers of the services they interact with. Using a set of principles, activities, and methods, the discipline takes a holistic look across a service ecosystem. This includes the “frontstage” (what a customer sees) and the “backstage” (behind-the-scenes organizational structures).

The frontstage, including the audience (users and stakeholders who interact with a service), and the backstage, including the behind-the-scenes processes.

While many organizations focus on improvements to customer experience — which was the case with WxPO’s emphasis on onboarding — frontstage-only solutions often fail without consideration for the systems that support them.

For the WxPO and government organizations of all types, service design provides the tools to understand and improve the whole system. In the WxPO case, this meant looking at the technologies, staff within the office, users of weather data inside and outside the Air Force, and how they all work together. It meant bringing people along in the process to identify problems, come up with the right solutions, and put them into action.

When to use service design

As was the case for the WxPO, many projects don’t begin with a plan to use service design. Once you dig into a problem, though, the complexities start to emerge and the need for service design becomes clear.

Recognizing from the outset what kinds of problems require service design isn’t always easy, but there are patterns to look out for. According to a Deloitte study of government service design projects, each of these problems can present a good opportunity for service design:

  • Lack of knowledge about the customers you serve
  • Siloed communication, processes, and systems within an agency
  • Customers with unique and specific needs
  • Outdated, fragmented, and insufficient technology systems
  • Poor customer service
  • Complicated legal and political landscape

Governments deliver many different kinds of layered services, from legislation and policy to digital products. No matter the exact problem you’re trying to solve, this kind of complex landscape can be a great fit for a service design approach.

Who uses service design

Service design projects usually involve a small team of service designers in partnership with a core government team that owns or helps manage a service. Projects also include key stakeholders, such as organization leadership, staff who administer or interact with a service, and customers of a service. Depending on the nature of a project, teams may include an interdisciplinary mix of roles such as engineers, visual designers, and customer support staff.

While the makeup of service design teams can vary, there are some essential capacities needed for a successful project, including:

  • Decision-making skills
  • Scoping and understanding what’s viable
  • Championing and teaching the process
  • Allowing voices and ideas to be heard
  • Knowledge of methods and when to use them

Embrace service design.

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