Why your business needs to build a service blueprint

Image source: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/df/26/98/df2698e6f854cfbaf6e7b1683d35e3ca.png

Image source: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/df/26/98/df2698e6f854cfbaf6e7b1683d35e3ca.png

We're often approached by forward-thinking businesses who want to learn more about their customers, start innovating and kick-off their own digital transformation projects. We help them do all of this with a tailored programme of customer research, co-creation workshops and digital consulting.

When we begin, it's normal that businesses aren't quite sure what they want to transform into yet, or what they should innovate around, though there's always interest in offering better customer experiences and finding new revenue streams. Our clients are energised, ready to try new ways of working and launch new ideas that customers love, but they don't always know where to begin. Our first job is often to help them work out where to direct all this energy and enthusiasm for the best possible return and growth. A sensible starting point is to assess how customers experience the business' service and products today, identify  areas that matter to customers but which fall short of expectations and start innovating there.

What's a service blueprint?
A service blueprint is an easy to read, visual map that lays out the complete picture of how customers consume your service, and what's going on behind the scenes, too - how your staff, network and IT systems deliver it. The blueprint distills a lot of complex information down to something easy to reference, lets everyone see the big picture, and gives them a common way to discuss big changes  outside of the usual company departments and silos. In many cases, we find this is the first time companies have ever had a complete overview of everything they do and how it all relates to customer experiences.

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Service blueprints have been around for decades. The VP of Citibank, G.Lynn Shostack, first published early drafts in a 1984 Havard Business Review article, using a simple shoeshine service as her case study (above). Her diagrams showed the steps involved in delivery a service over time, related them to cost and revenue, and even included important activities that the customer doesn't see, such as buying supplies for the shop. Over the years it has become commonplace for designers to add more detail on staff and systems involved in service delivery, but the basic idea remains the same.

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What makes up a blueprint?
Today, the blueprints service designers create are divided into several parallel rows, which much like Shostack's shoeshine example, describe the delivery of a customer experience over time, but with added detail to describe staff, IT systems and any other related support systems. From top to bottom, these rows show:

The customer journey
Shown step-by-step, including detail on customer thoughts, goals and emotions at each step. These rows might show how a customer learns about and buys your product, how they ask questions or complain, or how they carry out an insurance claim or product return. Using the blueprint, anyone can follow the service as your customer experiences it, understanding their thoughts and feelings at each step. If you've ever heard of a customer journey or experience map, that's the same thing. It's the extra rows below that make it a service blueprint.

Frontstage activities
Below the customer journey map, we show every touchpoint where the customer and business interact and the format, be it a face-to-face meet, phone-call, website etc. The middle rows of the blueprint describe what are often referred to as 'frontstage' activities, using a theatrical metaphor to separate the those parts of the experience customers are aware of - such as sales staff, customer support, retail stores, websites etc - and 'backstage' activities which they aren't aware of, but which nonetheless are critical to delivering what's frontstage.

Backstage activities
The bottom rows describe the staff who work behind the scenes, often with no direct customer contact - perhaps in logistics, customer support, insurance underwriting or ordering stock. They often too, describe company IT systems and networks which enable frontstage digital interactions to happen, which is particularly important to know if we want to begin planning a digital transformation. These people and systems may be backstage, but they are critical to delivering the service and need to be understood if we are to start making any changes.

Pain points
Alongside the customer journey, we also indicate the quality of that experience as the customer perceives it. This needs to be easy to see at a glance, so is often shown as a graph of the experiential highs and lows, or with the lows (or pain points, as they're often called) marked out in red. Ensuring everyone understands where the experience is poor is the first step towards working out why and planning what can be done about.

How you gather the information you need
Creating a service blueprint is of course, only possible once the Pancentric team have a clear understanding of customer journeys, what people are thinking and feeling throughout their journeys, and who and what is involved front and backstage. Gathering and organising this information can often take weeks or even months for large companies, but the time invested pays dividends as it ensures businesses invest in improving touchpoints which we know matter to customers.

- Pathfinder workshop
It takes the knowledge of a range of business stakeholders to piece together the complete picture of the front and backstage processes. We facilitate Pathfinder workshops to get to this understanding quickly and start building the draft blueprint right in front of the whole team.

- Service safari
For large companies, knowledge and expertise can sometimes be silo-ed in departments, and it's necessary to engage a wider range of people around the business to get the complete picture and spot trends. A service safari is a series of small workshops and interviews run with internal staff to fact-find and gather opinion, and can be done in different office locations if required.

- Customer interviews
Data and analytics provide valuable insights into customer behaviour, but they only tell half the story. Qualitative research techniques are required for us to know what people are really thinking and feeling. Our designers and researchers regularly recruit and interview real customers in order to get the most valuable insights for you.

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- Observational and diary studies
In assessing a how a service is experienced, it's sometimes best to run through a real scenario with customers, observing how they experience it first-hand, or if over a longer time period, getting customers to record their thoughts and feelings as part of a structured diary study.

What you use a service blueprint for
The blueprint lets all project stakeholders reference the same, holistic view of their business and keeps discussions focused on that which matters most - the customer experience. In planning goals for digital transformation or any kind of innovation project, we typically refer to the pain points marked and ask what the business could do to improve these poor performing areas.

The next step is to begin innovating - generating viable new ideas for tackling pain points or defining entirely new service blueprints. Pancentric have years of experience in using Design Thinking methodology to run a creative process that always delivers results. Some of our most popular creative sessions include:

- Co-creation workshops
Over the course of just a few hours, our design team can guide your stakeholders through an engaging and efficient creative process to arrive at viable new concepts. Starting with pain points and customer needs, we run through a structured series of exercises that enable us to generate hundreds of ideas in very little time at all, before appraising the most promising and arriving at a handful of hypotheses ready to be developed further. Hypotheses that come out of these sessions will be raw and conceptual, but will also be technically feasible, viable for the business and tailored specifically to tackle customer pain points or unlock new business value.

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- Design Sprints
Based upon a practice first trialled at Google Ventures, the design sprint is an intense, collaborative group activity that evolves workshop concepts into functional digital prototypes, validated by real customers in just 5 days.

Starting with sketch ideas or storyboards, a multi-disciplinary team of designers, developers and business analysts – which can include your own staff – sit and work together, detailing the design and bringing the concept to life as an interactive digital prototype, storyboard or service artefacts. They then carry-out face-to-face testing with customers to determine how much value and business potential the concept has.

For only 5 days investment, you can determine if the concept is worth developing further, or simply pick another and repeat, minimising project risk.

What happens next
As the project progresses, and new ideas are prototyped and tested with real customers, we can begin estimating how the blueprint might change in future and what kind of improvements we can expect to see. If we are trialling an entirely new service, we may create new blueprints to illustrate how things will be different in a range of possible futures and allow stakeholders to discuss the impact of transformation.

Service blueprints quickly becomes a key reference for people all across the business to go back to regularly, ensuring we keep customers in mind and are reminded of the reason we work on new products or new technologies - that they must ultimately deliver a customer benefit that is frontstage and make a noticeable difference to their experience.

To learn more about service blueprints, the research we do to inform them and the design we do as a result of making them, get in touch with us Corrall Design.

(Originally written whilst working at Pancentric Ltd)

Matt Corrall