For Startups, Service Design Is a Hell of a Deal

For Startups, Service Design Is a Hell of a Deal

When you hear the word “design”, what’s your first thought? Powerful websites? Interior design? Fashion lines? Futuristic tech gadgets? Design has many shapes and meanings, but one form of it goes way beyond just the visual and is particularly important for startups determined to succeed: service design.

We all know the hype about chatbots and what they are capable of, or the famous story of robots stealing our jobs in the future. With the constant advancement of AI, transferring one part of the workload to the machines has become quite normal. Technology penetrated every segment of our lives. It already transformed the way we operate and made a significant impact on the economics. But as an entrepreneur, you have to understand people are (and will remain) the heart of services.

Leading a successful business implies knowing how to build relationships – not only the ones between service providers and customers, but also those within your organization. And one gets there with well thought-out service design.

But what does service design actually mean? And how does one business ensure it’s great at it?

Leading a successful business implies knowing how to build relationships - not only the ones between service providers and customers, but also those within your organization. And one gets there with well thought-out service design.

If you’re an enthusiastic startupper devoted towards getting better every day, you’re already halfway there. It’s all about listening to what people want, thoroughly analyzing feedback, making needed changes, and improving services in the process. That, in short – is service design. It implies planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication channels, and all the material components of the service – with a goal of improving the quality of the service, as well as the interaction between service providers and users.

Clients and customers need to feel a real connection to your business which is why you need to focus on this human-centered approach. You need to design with people, not just for them, and logically – the first precondition is knowing what your customers want and need.

service design

Understanding the Importance of Service Design

Given the fact service design includes investigating your audience and then defining the best way to systematize and “pack” your service so that it becomes their primary choice, you might ask yourself how is marketing any different from service design? Well, these two notions are complementary, with a slight difference in the focus. As authors of the “Service Design: From Insight to Implementation” wrote:

Marketing excels in understanding markets and how to reach them through the classic four Ps: price, promotion, product, and place. We are focusing on the fifth P, people, and how we work with people to inform the design of a service. Market research is typically quantitative and prefers large numbers of respondents.

For example, quantitative market research can give you valuable info about the number of people who are users of a certain service and help you gain a fuller understanding of the industry you’re operating in. But detailed insights about why they use it or what makes it good enough is usually left out.

Statistics are not of crucial significance to service designers, so qualitative research is what businesses should turn to. It’s actually useful to have a smaller number of respondents involved, but to run a deep and thorough research. These insights are precious for business growth.

service design

Just Because You Can’t See It Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Design It

You might think you’re doing a splendid job at pleasing your customers while the truth can be shockingly different. Just take one glance over the research conducted by the Bain & Company: 80% of  the surveyed companies said they believe they deliver a “superior experience” to customers. But only 8% of the customers agreed.


On the bright side, businesses are getting better at realizing the fact we live in the age of customers. According to Gartner, by 2017, 89% of marketers will shift their focus on customer experience and make it a top priority. This is where service design steps in and it’s more than visual and material elements as it unifies

  • user experience
  • customer experience
  • service provider experience
  • human experience

UX (and UI) design are all about connecting functionality with appealing visual forms, so that when users interact with technologies, they can perform a certain task pleasantly and with ease. Need guidance on what makes great UX design? If the design needs explaining, then it needs improvement. Great design is intuitive and adapted to the user.

Stunning 80% of the surveyed companies said they believe they deliver a 'superior experience' to customers. But only 8% of the customers agreed.

Customer experience is just one piece of the puzzle and it goes beyond designing an eye-catching, user-friendly business website that clearly describes your startup’s mission and the way your product/service works. It is the wholesome way customers interact with your brand, online and offline. If you’re looking to perfect your services, you shouldn’t perceive your customer as happy or unsatisfied as these two categories are incomplete. Watch out for the gray areas and constantly push yourself to going an extra mile, even when you’re tired or think it won’t make any difference. That’s exactly what sets you apart from the competition and makes them choose you, not somebody else.

Let’s not forget the service provider experience: service design takes in mind both sides and functions as a two-way street. Great service design implies creating a smooth-running business where every participant of the system has the optimal level of satisfaction, for it is the only way to bring your company forward. Only a satisfied team can be a top-performing one

Remember what we said about building relationships? Taking care of the human experience means service designers need to be aware of the impact they make on people and their personal sense of identity, and then create something relatable they can build their marketing strategy around. This spreads across one of the most important things for your company – the perception and the feel of your brand.

service design

Proven Methods of Collecting Insights

Startups have to face the high dynamics of changes in today’s market and properly adjust their sails to the wind. However, due to the “go with the flow” attitude, they are prone to making the ultimate mistake of building their businesses on sole assumptions instead of real research and data.

According to the mentioned book (“Service Design: From Insight to Implementation”), there are several ways of collecting insights and turning them into action:

  • Depth interviews: Lengthy, in-context interviews that reveal user’s motivation, perceptions, needs, and behaviors. By giving the users enough time and room to explain how they see things, businesses can benefit more than in case of organizing a focus group. Depth interviews make one of the best forms of seeking feedback, especially if conducted by a person who knows how to lead an engaging and informal conversation.
  • Observing customers’ behavior: In short, this is the “watch and learn” method. You observe a person who uses the product or service and analyze the way he/she engages with it. This is useful because every user spontaneously finds a way around a certain problem so to make the whole experience less tiresome.
  • Participating yourself: Taking a role of the user itself helps you perceive the flaws of your product or service. This enables you to understand both the service and the customers firsthand, which allows you to implement changes better and empathize with users.
  • Comparing with other services: Let users switch between different services (but those of the same concept) in shorter period of time so they can distinguish what makes one better than the other.

service design

Obviously, Products Are Not the Only Ones That Need Prototyping

Taking in mind all of this, you should always test your service before going all in. Not only is this the optimal way to rationally spend your resources, but it will also create the necessary starting base for business scale. While in the scenario of launching product prototype, you test the functionality of an actual tangible thing, with services – it’s a bit more complicated.

It’s crucial for startups to focus on customer experience, but it might be confusing how to utilize service design.

People need to have an opportunity to interact with multiple touch points while it’s your job to track how these experiences evolve in different contexts and with time. You can choose to launch a pilot (i.e. a sustainable service that has its place on the market) right away, but it might be a better idea to turn to other types of prototyping and mix them up for the best results. Launching might take anywhere between one week and a year to finally happen, but it is most certainly preceded by

  • Discussion: handling the biggest issues with the service in order to avoid pitfalls
  • Participation: implementing improvements in the field of touch points
  • Simulation: improving the real experience

This testing period doesn’t have to last for months, on the contrary. With smaller number of participants who are truly willing to commit and give precious feedback, these events can be organized within a week, while the pilot phase might last up to a year.

In order for your prototyping to make sense, you have to design user’s journey that you plan on testing. In the process, make sure you have a solid answer to these questions:

  • Do people understand what your service is about?
  • Do they need it and see value in it?
  • Is it clear to them how the service functions?
  • How do people respond to the language and terminology, instructions, and the way you’ve organized the service?
  • How can you improve their experience?

After all of this, you can run a final testing of the service in real context and iron out the possible problems.

service design

So, How Do You Know You’re On the Right Track?

Just like with any purposeful testing, you have to measure your performance after implementing design changes. It is the only way to control your business and pivot, if necessary. Logically, your measurement criteria will revolve around the customer.

In order to see the success of your service, you need to have data from the period of before and after the launch.

If you notice improved numbers after the implementation of the new design, you can attribute the success to the fresh design. Sure, there are various factors in place when it comes to your increased sales, but if a more dramatic change happens – it’s clear as a day you’ve done something right with your design.

So, what do you measure? Here are a few ideas:

  • Data indicating increased acquisitions of new users or increased retention
  • Increased sales in other services you’re offering
  • Customers have a better perception of your service (the amount of value for the money increases)
  • You have become more competitive and built a firmer position on the market

When it comes to prototyping, you need to have a whole team on board. The key collaboration in the process of the measuring results is the one between managers and service designers. It’s kind of like a domino effect, actually. Top management has to cooperate with the operating management while including the staff in the process, so the staff can deliver and effectively communicate with customers. Service designers hover over, make suggestions, and execute, while respecting the set business goals and existing evidence of the success so far.

In addition to the famous marketing saying “content is the king”, the age we live in has brought us a new one - “user is the king”.

Managers need to understand how crucial design is for getting the most return of investment and they have to speak loud and clear in case they have some suggestions or critics for the designer. United, the two parties should define key goals and targets and track relevant data accordingly.

Agility should be your top priority, especially when your business begins to scale. Keep in mind: one does not simply do a research, design a service, and consider his work done. Not only do you have to measure customer’s experience during different phases of the journey, but you also must understand that users’ needs change over time and it’s your job to adapt. You have to investigate their expectations, look at the real state of things, and bridge the gap standing in between in any way you can.

Service design is challenging, but it is also a hell of a deal. Industrial design will remain important, but in a much different context in the 21st century. In addition to the famous marketing saying “content is the king”, the age we live in has brought us a new one – “user is the king”.

One has to create a user-centric approach, go back and forth when seeking feedback, and pay close attention to the key moments from the customer’s journey. In addition, nurturing a holistic approach, where you are mindful of the context is advisable.

And what about being present online? It is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to satisfying your customer, not to mention it gives you a clear competitive advantage and incredible visibility. You can count on to give your business a personal touch and help you stand out from the crowd. A unique domain name is what can bring success on the market, so give your startup a boost and skyrocket your business with .ME!



Goran Bogunovic

Now, you're probably wondering how I got here! Running a marketing agency, educating people about branding, and helping you to develop your own presence online. To understand, you’ll need to follow me @Domain.Me

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