Never before has the world felt so uncertain. In some cases, and businesses, the past year has brought the future to the here and now. Remote working, which was in many industries frowned upon, is now a given. Government services that presumably just weren’t possible online have gone online. Delivery services have multiplied like mushrooms after the rain and everything that can be packaged is now available online, if it is available at all anymore.
On the other hand, competition online is more like an oriental bazaar, with everyone shouting out their sales pitches at the same time, instead of the orderly communication and traditional advertising that we used to get offline. On the first glance, many products and services seem incredibly alike and being able to tell the good ones apart from the bad ones is a real challenge. Furthermore, in an era of accelerating technological innovation and information flow, it is a real challenge to ensure that your product or service is actually fundamentally different from your competitor’s. Especially since most companies are keenly aware of what their competitors are doing, presuming also that they must know something more, and then copy whatever it is that the others are doing.
More and more we fall back on an adage that we’ve used since Brand Manual’s founding in 2009: most companies are saying the same thing about the same thing at the same time. Quality is not unique anymore and more features just make choosing harder. However, talking about and delivering quality is easy and adding features seems logical and therefore that is, what is done. However, for customers who are literally bombarded with information (most of which is irrelevant) more choice is debilitating, not liberating.
What does your customer actually value, from what he or she buys from you? Surprisingly, many companies and organisations simply do not know. The presumption is – quite logically actually – that since whatever they are making is also currently selling it must be what people value. And, again quite logically, since the sales are growing, making more of the same or similar stuff, must be a good idea. And since competitors are also doing it, then what could possibly go wrong?
Where is value created for your customer? Professor Noriaki Kano way back in the 1980s defined that every product or service competes on three levels. The first level is the hygiene factor. This is the level where the product or service does what it says it does. A car drives. Planes fly. Winter jackets keep you warm. Grocery stores have a wide variety of groceries. Hygiene factors are the basics, without which you would not be considered at all.
The second level includes linear factors. Cars drive faster, are more efficient, cheaper, have more features. Flights are cheaper or connect faster. Winter clothes are warmer or lighter or better made. Groceries are fresher, more organic or cheaper. Linear factors are understandable in the sense that more is more, or less in the case of price. You know what you pay for. They are rational.
The third level includes delightful factors. These are the reason people come back. What they really value above and beyond what they actually pay for.
The hygiene, linear and delightful factors beautifully correlate to Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle theory of what, how and why. According to Simon, all companies know what they are doing. Making cars. Flying people. They also know how they are doing it. The processes, the machinery, the production. However, the question of WHY they are doing it, is often undefined and after a longer time in business, unclear. WHY is related to the delightful factor, which is one of the key reasons for customer loyalty. This requires a different outlook. Why do you come to work on Monday? What is the purpose of your existence?
What will the future look like? Who knows. But as long as companies and organisations follow each other instead of looking to understand what the customers actually value about them, the future will always be a fog. As professor Theodore Levitt famously posited, “people don’t want to buy a quarter inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” Similarly, in most cases, they don’t want what you make but rather what they get from it. To acquire this knowledge requires a focus on where the value is actually created for customers, not where the company makes its money. This shift of focus from what you deliver to what customers actually hire your product or service to do for them is something that requires companies to rid themselves of their most basic presumptions and step outside their internal echo chambers.
While we have all heard and read a lot about political and social echo chambers in past tumultuous years, we have often failed to recognise the biggest echo chamber of them all: our own organisation. After all, people working together towards a common goal will inevitably start thinking alike at some point. Furthermore, our own confirmation bias naturally makes us look for data to back up our own conjectures. The only way to challenge our own biases is by going to the source and finding out what actually matters, and is of value, to our customers.
The only way to stop saying the same thing about the same thing at the same time as your competitors is to find out what do your customers actually value about your product or service. This means going outside the echo chamber and your own confirmation biases to talk to customers in-depth. You will find out a lot of what you already knew, but haven’t acted upon or didn’t consider relevant. You will also find some things you never thought about, that if you start acting upon them, you can clear up the fog of your future. You will also find out, that in most cases you are not as important to your customer as you thought you were. Which is actually a very good starting point to answer the “why” question and start delivering on the delightful factor, which keeps your customers coming back to you. Best of all, you’ll stop following your competitors and start following your customers, which is as Jeff Bezos pointed out, the reason for Amazon’s success.
Learn how your organisation can harness design thinking and service design. We train a lot of companies. Either through SD4X, the Design Masterclass, or directly. Drop us a line.
If you design a city for healthy young people, then it is accessible for healthy young people.
If you design a city for people in a wheelchair, for people with poor hearing and eye-sight, for elderly and infirm people, then it is accessible to everyone.
After all, accessible by wheelchair also makes it more accessible for skateboarders and parents pushing strollers and bikers. Safer for the elderly (who maybe can’t see or hear so well) also means safer for small children (who don’t pay attention to dangers around them).
The above doesn’t seem like such as stretch. It doesn’t even change the cost of design too much. Making places wheelchair accessible, for instance, doesn’t make construction more expensive or cheaper. Just different. In fact, modern cities are built more and more around this principle and it does make the city a more vibrant and fun place. For everyone.
So far so good.
Online doesn’t play
However, the online the world looks very much like the city built for healthy young people. If you are not comfortable using digital tools, if you can’t read small, low-contrast text, if you are not sure of what the red button does, then you can’t play there.
Online accessibility is a problem. The same way stairs with no ramp option are a problem.
In my family I am technical support. On a daily basis I see how hard it is for an elderly (but sharp and modern) person to navigate all the different platforms, softwares and hardwares, to participate in online life. Tech support from the hosts of different environments is all geared towards explaining tech to the tech-savvy. But to an 83 year old, it is all greek.
The difference between a URL, a website, an online bank and a homepage is not obvious. Neither is the need for different user names and passwords (that you need to remember) and two factor identification based on social security numbers and an app in your phone. And then there is the password to your computer, the user name of it, how that relates to your computer app store account (or doesn’t), how that is connected to your phone (or isn’t). Add on top the need for multi-tasking in various softwares and communication platforms during online meetings, and a person that is a little bit afraid of technology because she isn’t comfortable with it, and you have a recipe for confusion and aversion. In the worst case scenario, it ends with the person not participating at all in online discourse.
The online world is not accessible to people uncomfortable with tech, the way a stair case is not accessible to either a parent with a baby carriage or a wheelchair bound person.
Designed by the designer for the designer
As long as the design of things and services and environments is done mainly by healthy males, then there will be an inherent bias towards making things work well for healthy males. This is discriminatory towards women in general, because everything from the way a seat-belt works in a car to the size of smart-phone is based on male proportions and physiology. But it is especially descriminatory towards young and old and non-typical people in every way. In short: stairs everywhere.
Online accessibility = offline accessibility = accessibility
The online world has to be as accessible to everyone, as the offline world. Ramps and automatic doors and flat surfaces and benches to rest on and so on. In the real world, it starts with putting yourself in other people’s shoes, and trying to access a building in a wheelchair, or cross a road as an octogenarian, or open a door as five year old. In the online world, it also requires a bit of empathy to imagine and work towards making the site work for everyone. Fortunately there are also online tools, to help ensure accessibility for all.
A checklist to consider for accessibility improvements includes:
– language settings (especially for multi-lingual countries)
– enabling visual indicators (for keyboard enabled navigation)
– preparing the site for screen readers (allows you to listen to websites)
– preparing your site structure (a clear hierarchy of text, that can be toggled through in the right order)
– images and galleries with descriptions (for screen readers) for the visually impaired
– text and graphics that are clearly discernable, with legible fonts and type sizes
– reduced motion (less things that move around and are fancy)
– Videos, audio and documents made accessible (videos with transcripts etc)
– Adding an accessibility statement to your site, with a feedback loop, so that users can help you improve.
Just as design for inclusion isn’t common in the real world (but getting better), it is also missing in the virtual world. However, as we move more and more online, there is a real risk of leaving many people behind if we don’t make a concerted effort to bring them along. Making sure your online presence is accessible to all, is a good step in that direction.
If you want to know more about this, or human centred design in general, get in touch with us.
Service design projects or inititatives often suffer from two contradictory ailments: lots of enthusiasm and little team structure. Enthusiasm is necessary as the people involved are put into unfamiliar situations and asked to do counter-intuitive things. But doing this without team structure means, that in the long run the project will fail as presumptions about who does what and when overtake enthusiasm as the driving force.
If the team doing the service design work survives the invevitable re-adjustment of team member roles and responsibilities, they will run into the same problem again as the designed service moves from prototyping to implementation. As the design team is always much smaller than the actual organisation being re-designed, the roles and responsibilities of the whole organisation need to also be re-designed and communicated.
Because service design always impacts the larger organisation, because it always creates organisational change, it also almost always faces resistance within the organisation as roles and responsibilities are redefined and reassigned. This is one of central aspects of service design and design thinking and also one of the main reasons why service design initiatives fail.
The Service Design for Executives course (www.sd4x.eu), which Brand Manual helps develop in cooperation with Tallinn University, Stockholm School of Economics in Riga and Maastricht University, has as its central theme (and main homework task for participants) to document and understand the impact of service design on the wider organisation. How redesigning the customer experience and organisational innovation processes necessarily change the way the organisation itself works (and has to work) in order to meet and exceed the needs and wants of all stakeholders.
As a long-term member of the Service Design Award jury, the discussion about the submitted projects has also produced a number for the above described source of failure. Only about 20% of service design projects (as discussed among jury members) end up being implemented. Which conversly means, that 80% of service design projects fail. Experience suggests, that the reason projects fail is because the organisation wants to achieve different results but hopes to achieve them by doing the same thing it has always been doing.
In smaller businesses, achieving organisational change is relatively easier. Often all stakeholders are directly tied to the company and driving change can be done within the context of daily business. However, in public services or large enterprises, where the the delivery of an improved service requires multiple organisations to work together, that may have different mandates, follow different regulations and face different obstacles, achieving the necessary organisational change, is notoriously difficult. Furthermore, as such initiatives for implementing changes are often also (partially) driven by period funding, the initiative often withers when the funding dries up or the political priorities change. On the other hand, when these services really do change for the better, the impact is far greater than just that of a company having happier customers and a fatter bottom line.
Achieving lasting change in complex ecosystems, such as helping school age children from being held back due to social and financial inequality, requires different organisations, from education to health care to social support to work together. However, as all parties tend to have a full days work already everyday, changing the system creates more work that reduces everyone’s motivation to participate. Without being able to define the team and team member’s roles and responsibilities, achieving the transition from “as is” to “should be” is almost impossible. Furthermore, as this change has to be benevolent rather than coercive, it requires on some level, a vision and determination to achieve change. Which brings us to the third critical aspect of service design and achieving real improvements for stakeholders: senior management support and buy-in.
In our practice, where senior management was disinterested or sceptical of service design (and a qualitative approach to organisational re-engineering), the initiative eventually always fails.
In order to successfully implement change throughout an organisation, to work differently and to deliver different and better results to all stakeholders, requires clearly defined roles and responsibilities, authority and backing to try new things and the support to implement them, when they are proven to work. To do this, the RACI principle works very well, in providing the necessary understanding of who is responsible for what, and avoiding the situation where everyone, and consequently no-one, is responsible for the end result.
RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. On the high level, it divides responsibility for doing something and providing the resources to do something in two. This means, that the person that is Accountable for getting something done has to provide the resources to the person Responsible for doing it. Resources are both time, money and authority. This way the person doing it has a source of redress, if they cannot get something done because they were delegated responsiblity without authority and resources. In short – in order to get someone to dig a hole, that someone needs a shovel and time to dig the hole. One without the other doesn’t work. If it is a complicated hole, they also need help to do it. Those are the people who are Consulted, who have the needed skills to dig the hole, whether knowledge or muscles or time etc. At the end of the process, the hole isn’t there to be a hole, but rather to put something into. Which means that there are people who need to Informed that the hole will be dug / has been dug and something else can happen now.
If you are missing one or the other component, then go back one step and make sure you have all three. If you find yourself put in a position to design a better service but don’t have the explicit support of leadership of your organisation, a team to work with and understanding of who does what, then our advice is not to touch the project at all. It will fail.
Stephen Hawking called the 21st century the “century of complexity.” The past year certainly confirmed that hypothesis as normality exited stage right and negative became the new positive. There can no longer be any question that we need to be ready to adapt to change. The only question remaining, is “how?”
Future researchers have determined, that in order to effectively adapt, both individuals and organisations have to develop three key skills: preventive actions, ability to change and agility.
Preventive action is the ability to notice the weak signals of coming change, Taleb’s so called black swan. Moreover, it is important to recognise the most likely future scenario and understand the change with the biggest impact, which Michele Wucker referred to as the grey rhinoceros. Various action strategies need to be put in place as soon as possible to help you react more quickly, as the future runs down the door.
Ability to change refers to the skill of turning unexpected change to your advantage. For organisations this means leaving behind presumptions and pre-defined futures and instead accepting constant change as an opportunity for renewal and growth.
The third key skill is agility. This requires organisations to be ready to experiment and quickly change course. The latter is best served by teams that include T-shaped people, with skills and experience from a very broad spectrum disciplines.
How to support the acquisition of these skills is not obvious. What do you do, when you don’t know what to do? How to recognise change? How to handle irregular and unpredictable situations? How to constantly renew without burning out? Finding answers to these questions is what service design is good at. One particularly useful tool in the service design sandbox is the design sprint.
Recently we saw how the design sprint helped diverse, unfamiliar teams address future challenges in just a few days. We applied the design sprint within the first week module of the Service Design for Executives course (SD4X), where 25+ participants from Estonia, Latvia and the Netherlands worked on a real client brief inside a two-day window.
The brief was delivered by the Port of Tallinn, one of the busiest passenger ports in Europe. They challenged participants to find solutions, how to design a functional, democratic and organic public space within the context of the redevelopment of the harbour area, that would attract both locals and tourists alike. The re-construction of the area has barely begun and is scheduled to be completed in 10 to 20 years.
For the design sprint, participants were divided into six teams and each team worked from the point-of-view of a concrete persona type. The brief was the same for everyone: 1) define the key criteria of a welcoming harbour area of a city, 2) find solutions that make the area attractive for the user type and validate concepts with users and 3) propose solutions that could also serve as attractions during the construction period. The participants were pressed for time to find user group representatives and conduct interviews, to clarify the key traits of the personas, describe their user journeys and propose validated and tested solutions to the Port of Tallinn, that would make the area attractive to that persona.
The managers of the Port of Tallinn rated the design sprint results very highly. “Thanks to the broad life experience of the participants as well as the tools and methods of service design, a wide range of interesting and viable concepts were presented that also included very international points-of-view. Although participants were focusing on different user groups, a lot of commonalities still cropped up as needs of all people: accessibility, public transport, food, socialising spaces and activities for children, amongst others. More challenging ideas such as light shows combined with digital wishing wells, port side sauna and swimming (also in the winter!) pools, construction viewing combined with AR / VR tours of both the past, present and future were also presented” commented Piret Üts, business manager, real estate.
The course participants themselves appreciated the desing sprint experience very much. They particularly highlighted the importance of talking to users, rapid and constant testing of concepts, trusting the process even when you don’t know where it will lead you, the inherent strength of a diverse team, the pain (and satisfaction) of adapting to unknown situations as well as keeping the big picture in focus as you delve into details.
The feedback from the participants reflects exactly the reasons why the design sprint methodology works so well. It suits situations that require compact solutions through co-creation, rapid prototyping and qualitative testing with users. Just as the experience in the course showed, participants were able to deliver concrete results within two days, that the Port of Tallinn can now continue to work with. And let it be mentioned, that the paricipants had no prior information about the design sprint topic nor did they know each other beforehand.
Service design helps identify and focus on root causes, which increases the likelyhood of not being run over by the grey rhinoceros. This requires your organisation to become comfortable with future scenario planning in a constantly changing environment.
The service design course, Service Desgin for Executives (SD4X) has been created by Tallinn University, Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, Maastricht University and Brand Manual. Starting in January and ending in August 2021, 25+ executives from very diverse organisations will go through the entire service design process from contextual analysis to problem definition, prototyping and validation. Participants in the program include organisations such as exela, ROC Gilde Opleidingen, Cicero Zorggroep, Sharewell, Rimi Baltic Group, VISTA college, Telia Eesti, Rimi Eesti Food AS, PKN ORLEN, PRIVA, Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, Statistikaamet, Rimi Latvija, Cabo Verde Airlines, GroeiFabriek, Eesti Töötukassa, Riga Airport, Sogeti, If Kindlustus, VIRŠI, Tet.lv. The program is supported by Erasmus+.
Now, you might argue that this is because it is an established product (or service). That it is a standard and that deviating from that standard would make it unrecognisable for the customer and therefore a flop. Consequently, the logic goes, developing a product or service that in broad terms is exactly like that of the competitor, is a safe and brilliant idea. After all, why stick out in the market place?
Developing a new idea, one that is not just a variation on the same theme but really new, requires you to force yourself to iterate. To not stop when it is comfortable, but to keep going until you are in uncharted territory. This is hard, but rewarding.
It is called crazy 8’s and we’ve run this in all kinds of workshops with all kinds of people. Take a piece of paper, fold it three times in half and you end up with 8 rectangles. In the first draw and apple. In the second draw a completely different apple. In the third an apple that is different from the first and second one and so on. What this exercise clearly demonstrates is that everyone’s first apple is exactly the same. The second is a variation on the theme and so is the third one. By the fourth rectangle people are generally running out of good ideas of how to draw an apple and start clutching at straws. By drawing a pack of apple juice instead. And then the floodgates of ideas hit them as they realise, it is also possible to draw apple pies, apple trees, apples seeds, happy worms in apples, I love NY symbols and computer company logos.
The thing is, that not everyone can do this the first time. It requires you to be fairly comfortable thinking laterally about things, not just literally. Working in a group with critical colleagues, it requires real courage to zig when everyone else is only zagging. Within a real brainstorming session inside an organisation, when you have only two hours to come up with new ideas, where you have to be “creative”, it might just be impossible to stick your neck out with an abstract concept when everyone else is sticking to safe and proposing a new and better colour for the shoes, that will really make them stick out in the sneaker category.
Forcing yourself, and your organisation, to really iterate and develop a theme until it is only connected in thought to the initial concept, is difficult. However, as the crazy 8’s exercise clearly demonstrates, if you don’t iterate further, then all you’ll do is end up in exactly the same place as your competitors. Because they didn’t push ideas further either, and came up with the same variation of theme as you did.
Playing it safe is the least safe game you can play. While inside your organisation, it affords you the comfort of not sticking out, in the market place the safe play will disappear on the shelf with all the other safe bets. Consequently, since nothing is really sticking out and making a difference, a lot of effort and finances will be spent on advertising the same-old-same-old product in a new and creative but still safe manner of showing the product at a discounted price, making the only thing that is unique about the product how cheap it is.
Since cheap products cannot be really good products (or services), then you need to sell more and more, which drives consumption but in the end creates very little lasting value for anyone. Which will inevitably lead to another “product innovation workshop” where you have to be even more creative to come up with the next new exactly the same product as your competitor, but now in a nicer package.
Service design tools. The journey map
The goal of a customer journey map is a better service, not a piece of art or just better understanding of your customer. It is a means to an end, not an end itself and the amount of time you invest into making it sophisticated, well designed, beautiful must be in relation only to making it easier to understand for those that weren’t involved from the beginning. When you google customer journey maps on the internet, some of them are very intimidating because they look …just WOW! The question you should ask yourself, however, is “does it tell me something?” If it doesn’t make sense to you then it probably doesn’t make sense to anyone else either, without a lengthy explanation. So what’s the value of that document?
So, consider the customer journey map a two pronged job: one, is to actually understand your customer’s journey from need to satisfaction and two is to ensure that the resulting information is presented in a format, that makes sense on its own. Therefore, it might make sense to work backwards and consider the format first. Who needs to see it, who needs to understand it, who needs to work with it in the future, who has “buy” it and how much time will any of these stakeholders invest into understanding it? To paraphrase Elon Musk, “if a journey map requires a lengthy explanation then it is already broken.” Never forget, that you’re not mapping the customer’s journey for yourself. OK, now that this is out of the way, let’s look at how to actually do this. Or rather, how we do it.
For obvious reasons, you can’t just gather a bunch of customer’s in a room and ask them to explain their journey from need to satisfaction. It’s too big a question and mostly incomprehensible. Instead, the best starting point is to guess yourself to a hypothetical customer journey inside your company.
Step one in this process is to gather a multi-disciplinary, cross-departmental team and, working with customer personas, imagine what these different customer journeys could be like. The personas (which we’ll cover in another article) are made up customer profiles that people can relate to, that also describe the customer’s need. Working in small groups, you can map the different personas journey from need through transaction to satisfaction.
To make it relevant to your business, you have to divide their journey timeline into specific steps. The generic one’s are attract -> choose -> use -> support -> retain. Make the steps specific for your area and describe what the customer is doing, where the customer is doing it and how it feels.
The benefit of first mapping the hypothetical journey is that you have access to internal information and data. By working in a multi-disciplinary team, you also get all the insights that different people from across the organisation have on your own business, and what they see as potential problems and opportunities. One of the discoveries is usually, that different people from different departments have completely different views on what is a problem for customer and what isn’t.
As a technique, don’t discuss each touchpoint first. As a first step, have every one write their “observations” down quietly and individually. Then have each member, as they post them on the board / wall / paper, explain what they meant with each note. What does this do? First and foremost, you gather more observations. Secondly, you will find that people write one thing and mean something else. By first writing and then explaining you reduce miscommunication in the group. Once everyone has posted their observations for each touchpoint, you can group the notes that actually mean the same thing. (Through the different wordings, you’ll have more nuance to boot!)
Gathering observations like this for the whole customer journey, will give you an incredible amount of data. Depending on your business and the length of the customer journey (there’s a difference between choosing a home and choosing chewing gum), you can end up anywhere from dozens of data points to hundreds. The next step, obviously, is to clean up the journey map by digitising it (or rewriting the observations cleanly on paper, if you want / can keep it analogue). The cleaned up version has a range of pain-points and opportunities, at least according to you. This is now a hypothetical journey map. The job is now to validate it.
Depending again, on your business and the pain-points you’ve defined you can choose to contact customers and talk to them about their journey. For this, you can use the hypothetical journey as a reference for them to reflect on. It is much easier for them to compare their journey than to imagine from scratch. Also, it allows you to ask follow-up questions on pain points, because you now have much more insight on what the possible problem reasons could be, as a result of the workshop you did with internal stakeholders.
If you can, observe customers at different stages of their journey. Observation, of what people have problems with, or why they do things a certain way, is incredibly illuminating. If you can then follow up with conversations, asking them to explain their own behaviour, will deliver very valuable insight. Observation, in fact, is probably the best way to find out how customers actually act, simply because people will lie, when you talk to them.
For each touchpoint along the customer journey, validation through observation and interviews will allow you to clearly define opportunities for development and pain points that simply must be fixed. Throughout the process, you’ll also come up with a lot of ideas for potential solutions. Either customers will suggest comparisons to experiences that are better in one or other particular touchpoint, or your team will find associations and inspiration through the process. Either way, the validated customer journey will, once it is clearly documented, demonstrate shortcomings, opportunities as well as suggest ideas that could be used in developing the service.
When summarising the customer journey, it is important to keep in mind the following:
– clearly label cause and effect: what and why things are happening. Since one aspect of the journey may cause a problem / bottle neck / opportunity at a later stage, it is imperative to highlight these, as they won’t be obvious to people who haven’t been part of the process;
– reduce the information to essentials: like a real map, where you are and where you’re going should be easy to grasp. The details are interesting only if you understand the general theme. Real maps provide an overview and detail, without overwhelming the user;
– make it easy to update and change: investing too much effort into a beautiful document will render it static. However, a journey map is a tool that becomes the foundation of your service blueprint, your internal touchpoint map and as such has to be easy to use and share and change.
The customers point-of-view is the result of how your business / organisation works. The pain points / problems that were highlighted by customers are the result of internal processes and organisation. Focusing on the problem touchpoints, and working with your inter-disciplinary multi-departmental team, you can map also the internal process steps leading to and from each problem touchpoint. Often there are “very good” reasons why some customer inconveniences are the way they are. The very good reasons are usually “this is the way we have always done things.”
Understanding the internal perspective is crucial. Improving the customer experience requires organisational change and being able to draw a straight line between internal processes and negative customer experiences highlights in a very effective manner, the need for change.