Service design and how its principles can improve your business
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Service design and how its principles can improve your business

Have you ever been all set to attend an important online conference but the video link didn’t work? Ever gotten irrationally angry at customer support after being passed from one department to another, explaining your issue repeatedly as each person doesn’t know anything about your situation? If this sounds familiar, then the chances are, that these organisations haven’t applied service design principles to their product.

In this blog post, we’ll examine how service design can help to create brilliant user experience and provide an example of the challenges it can solve. We’ll also share our top tips on how organisations can apply service design principles to their product.

Service design facilitates excellent user experience by allowing organisations to consider all aspects of their service. It allows organisations to gain an understanding of what their users interact with, what processes need to be in place and what people are required.

To fully understand service design, it’s important to have a good grasp of designing great user experience. To help get you up to speed, we wrote a blog post exploring the different ways to design ethical user experience. The process of designing a seamless customer experience focuses on everything that a user interacts with. Service design can be thought of as the other side of the same coin, as it ensures that everything behind the scenes is positioned to facilitate excellent user experience. Neglecting the behind-the-scenes operations, including; people, props, and processes, can lead to failure. This can then result in a poor user experience, wasted money, and unhappy employees.

So, what are the benefits of service design?

It facilitates the user experience

Focusing solely on user needs without considering the employees and behind-the-scenes processes will, unintentionally, ruin the user experience. A lack of support behind the scenes can make the service similar to the man behind the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz.” Where there are no functions to back it up, the experience will fall apart. This is where service design comes in, as it helps create a better user experience by considering all aspects of the service, ensuring that the intended user experience is supported and can happen.

It helps to foster a positive work environment

According to Simon Sinek, “Happy employees ensure happy customers. And happy customers ensure happy shareholders – in that order.” Service design plays a key role in creating happy employees, the first step in the process. When an organisation maps out their entire service, employees gain clarity regarding their roles, within the broader context of the service, and how their actions directly impact the journey of the user.

It promotes collaborative teamwork

Service design encourages collaboration between user-facing teams and behind-the-scenes teams. This mutual understanding and respect will help to enable cooperation and promote collaborative problem-solving, and a more joined-up approach to service delivery.

It identifies pain points and facilitates innovative solutions

A common problem organisations face is a lack of a shared understanding of their entire process. Team members often only comprehend their section of the service which can result in major pain points going unnoticed. Tools such as service blueprints help organisations gain a more detailed overview of their service, identify internal and user-facing pain points, and design more innovative solutions.

Service design in action: booking an appointment at the GP

Service design principles can be used to tackle many different types of challenges, be it in the physical or the digital world. Here, we will explore how service design can be used to improve the services offered by a GP’s surgery. 

Before we begin it is important to understand what type of user we are talking about. This example will explore how a retiree would book an appointment with the GP, attend the appointment and receive treatment. Take a look at our blog post on ethical user experience for our tips on how to correctly represent your users and how to plot out their journeys. 

The first thing to consider is when applying service design principles is everything that the user sees and interacts with. In this example, we will attempt to align the journey as closely with reality as possible, and then see if we can improve it using service design principles.

The user’s journey at a GP surgery

  1. Calls the GP’s surgery at 8 AM
  2. Speaks to a receptionist to book an appointment
  3. Travels to the GP surgery
  4. Checks into the surgery
  5. Waits in the waiting room 
  6. Called into the GP’s office
  7. Tells the doctor what is wrong with them
  8. The doctor prescribes medication for them to take for the next two weeks
  9. The doctor refers them to a specialist
  10. The patient leaves the GP surgery

Behind the scenes

The next stage in service design is to consider what operations should be happening behind the scenes to facilitate this user journey.

Calls at 8 am

  • A working phone line is required
  • A trained professional needs to be ready to answer
  • The professional needs to be able to access patient details and the doctor’s availability

Travels to the GP surgery

  • Physical signposting is necessary
  • A car park with accessible parking is important
  • Up-to-date information is needed online to help people locate the office

Checks into the surgery

  • A system for patients to manually check themselves in or a trained receptionist with access to the same software is needed

Waits in the waiting room

  • A clean and comfortable seating area
  • Signage indicating waiting times

Called into the GP’s office

  • A member of staff calls the patient

Tells the doctor what is wrong with them

  • Access to the patient’s medical history

The doctor prescribes tablets

  • A system to issue medication

The doctor refers them to a specialist

  • Contact details for the specialist

Improving the service and the user experience

Now that we can see both what the users interact with and what is needed to facilitate these interactions, we can begin to improve the overall experience for the user, through better service design.

Calls at 8 am

Can more resources be given to GPs to allow patients to book emergency appointments more easily than only at 8 AM? As our user is a retiree, they may have hearing difficulties, so there should be an option to accommodate those with hearing impairments. Services like Relay UK could provide  helpful solutions to this.

Travels to the GP surgery

To accommodate individuals who are unable to leave their homes and have difficulties getting into the surgery, a pickup service could be provided.

Checks into the surgery

Manual check-in services would ease the pressure on reception staff and streamline the process, but machines like this tend to be avoided by retirees, preferring to speak to a person. It may decrease queue lengths to have dedicated members of staff manning the manual check-in machines to support people who are uncomfortable with the new technology.

Waits in the waiting room

Placing hand sanitiser dispensers, disinfectant stations, and paper towels throughout the room can enable patients to maintain good personal hygiene by cleaning their hands and seats. This approach may help to ease the workload on NHS cleaning staff, while fostering a consistently hygienic environment.

Called into the GP’s office

A tannoy system could be used which tells the patient when it is their turn, rather than depending on a member of staff physically shouting.

The doctor prescribes medication and refers the patient to a specialist

The use of a standard NHS system which communicates with all NHS institutions and pharmacies (this doesn’t currently exist).

How to apply service design to your organisation

All of these principles are fantastic ways of improving any service, here are our top tips for how to do this at your organisation.


Before attempting to do anything else, it is crucial to understand who your customers are, how they interact with your service and how they feel about it. To discover more about the research stage, take a look at more helpful stuff around ethical user experience.

A range of perspectives

It’s important to gather a wide range of perspectives during this process. Every member of your team will have a slightly different understanding and may be aware of pain points unknown to anyone else. Collaboration is key!

Map it out

Creating a service blueprint is an excellent way to apply service design principles to your organisation. This will allow you to gain a clear understanding of how your service works, what the users see and what is needed to facilitate it. This is where your broad range of perspectives will be invaluable as each person will be able to provide a little piece of the picture.

Co-design solutions

Having a variety of perspectives not only helps to spot pain points but also drives the creation of more innovative solutions. Co-designing solutions with a diverse range of stakeholders makes the most of resources and expertise already in the organisation

Just as different team members may be aware of the pain points unknown to anyone else, they may also be in the best position to come up with the most relevant, user-centric ideas to address them. Co-designing solutions can boost the sense of ownership throughout the organisation. When people feel like they’re part of the solution, they’re more likely to feel invested in ensuring the success of the service.

Start creating great services

Now, you have the tools to begin to create great service design built with your audience in mind. But, if you’re looking for even more insights on how to create seamless services , follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn. For more updates on the latest news from Matchstick Creative, sign up for our monthly newsletter.

Service design resources we think you may find useful

There are many great resources available to help you understand more about service design, here are some of our recommendations that we think are particularly helpful;

  • Lead Innovation  provides three examples of great service design in the real world.
  • When it comes to all things user experience, Nielsen Norman Group is the gold standard. This article from them not only gives more information about what service design is, but also tells us why it’s beneficial.
  • Another excellent resource for exploring more about the benefits of service design comes from the government website,  which more broadly attempts to standardise many of the user experience and service design principles.