Designing Your business for Your customer

February 29, 2016

Quality is not enough.

All cars drive. All computers compute. All phones let you make phone calls. Almost all things you can buy work equally well. This is why forward looking companies have realised, that competitive advantage no longer comes from cramming in more features or options, but rather from how the customer experiences the product or service. In short, the challenge is in delivering value for the customer without getting hung up on what for the company is difficult and therefore should be valuable.

Consequently, companies are exploring methods of research and development that are culturally more responsive, looking to explicitly embed distinct behavioural advantages into their products and services. This means learning and getting the whole company to stick to a user-centred development process wherein the actual customer is continuously involved from research through to analysis, ideation, prototyping and testing.  In short, doing service design.


Focus on user needs, not things

Service design is a method of developing products and services in which the users needs are placed at the centre of the process, instead of the company’s capabilities. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, “define the user experience you want to deliver and then figure out  how to do that rather than develop a product and then look for someone to buy it.” A user centred approach will at its best deliver  an experience that simply works the way people expect it to work. By integrating sociology, anthropology and psychology into the development process allows service designers to influence the  development process with customer need-based input, to ensure that the outcome resonates with real people, both today and tomorrow.


It is important to distinguish between needs and things. Things are by definition transient: paper yesterday is an iPad today. The need to record or consume information, however, is a need that has been around for as long as people. Service design focuses on needs.

According to Shaw & Ivens, “Eighty-five percent of business leaders  agree that traditional differentiators are no longer a sustainable business strategy [while] 71%…believe that customer experience is the next corporate battleground.”

The service design process is split into four steps:

– Investigation: research and analysis

– Ideation: divergent and convergent thinking, prototyping

– Implementation: detailed design, development, testing and deployment

– Iteration: measurement, analysis, learning, documentation and opportunity identification




Uncovers customer needs through ethnographic research, such as field and online research as well as day-in-the-life studies. Service designers actively solicit customer feedback about the current experience through in-depth conversations as well as surveys. It is important not only to engage with the main customer group but also with extreme users: the “haters” and the “lovers”. These latter customer groups know what they (dis)like and have much more insight to offer than the average majority, that may in fact be incidental customers.

Following in-depth research synthesise and communicate findings. It is often at this point that things get interesting as the project focus may need to be reframed. Sometimes research insights uncovered present a bigger or different problem that is more important to solve, than what you started out to solve. It is crucial at this stage to remain open-minded, to be willing to challenge one’s most fundamental presumptions and focus on doing the right job, not just getting the job done right.



Based on the uncovered insight it is possible to develop ideas that meet the customers needs. There are many brainstorming methods and which one to use depends on the team and problem at hand. However, which ever way one goes, quantity trumps quality at this point. Once the team has “poured out” of their heads all the random ideas that came to them during the investigation phase one can begin to synthesise them into functional concepts.

The next step is to make the ideas tangible through low-fidelity prototypes that allows service designers to test the ideas on real customers to uncover specific usability problems, without investing undue amounts of time in realising final concepts. Repeating this process several times while adding refinement and additional levels of fidelity quickly lead to an optimal and realistic solution.



With the prototyped solution in hand, detailed design and testing can be begin, without the need to return to basic principles. Releasing (if possible) the solutions as soon as they are viable, rather than perfect, provides quick real-time and real-life feedback, which can immediately be incorporated into the final design.



Once the final version of the product or service is launched it is crucial not to forget to digitally document the whole service or product concept using, amongst others, personas and customer journey maps. They will serve as a visual guide (and reminder) of how the concept should work, what need it is providing for as well as being the basis for further iteration. Next versions should of course, follow only with feedback and input from people using the product or  service.

Further development and iterations should keep in mind the user-centric development process, addressing customer needs and what type of experience that should be delivered. It is imperative to focus on where the value is created for the customer and accept that over time, perhaps the whole concept needs to be completely upended.