Tag Archives: service design

User stories & customer journey mapping

noun_1213168A big mistake that many organisations make when they try to map the customer journey is that they stick too close to their own perspective.

The result may be a customer view of their process map, but it’s not a true customer journey map.

Why not? The tell-tale problems are:

  • Too much detail
  • Ignoring context in customer’s life
  • Focused on products, processes & touchpoints
  • Starting too late in the journey
  • Finishing too early in the journey

How can we overcome this tendency to let the inside-out view dominate? The best way is to use qualitative research and allow customers to lead the creation of the journey map.

User stories are a really useful tool to make sure you approach the journey with the right mindset. They’re normally written in the form

As a__________ I want to__________in order to__________.

Doing this will allow you to stretch your view of the journey, so that you start when the customer became aware of their need, not when they first got in touch with you. This more accurately reflects the customer experience, and opens up opportunities for innovation.

It also puts the customer’s goal (not your product) front and centre. This helps you to make sure that the experience you design is addressing the right problem, and opens you up to the possibility of solving it in new ways.

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”

—Theodore Levitt

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Van Halen were design thinking pioneers

noun_106427Van Halen used to insist on a bowl of M&Ms with all the brown sweets removed as part of their rider. It’s a story often used to illustrate what absurd primadonnas they were, usually as a precursor to Dave Lee Roth smashing something up if the request wasn’t complied with.

It’s probably not the first thing that comes to mind as an example of design thinking.

According to Dave Lee Roth himself, there was method in their madness. Van Halen’s staging was huge, complex, and unusual. The demand for “M&M’s (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES)” appeared towards the end of a multi-page contract specifying the exact technical requirements of their stage show.

It was there as a test.

If the band arrived to discover brown M&Ms, they knew that their contract hadn’t been read properly. What else might have been missed? Were the girders strong enough? Was the floor? If the brown M&Ms were there, then there was a good chance some important, and potentially dangerous, technical errors were too.

It’s a great example of design thinking because it combines an understanding of human psychology (people are too lazy to read the contract) with an innovative solution. It’s simple, pragmatic, and effective.

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The Graphic Gameplan

noun_75258My job is to give clients actionable insight about their customers.

“Actionable insight”—what a dreadful phrase! Can we make it a bit less management speak?

My job is to help clients understand what their customers want so that they can do a better job of giving it to them.

The trouble is that understanding is only the first step. If we stop at understanding we’re likely to do more harm than good. I like to quote Bruce Lee:

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply.

Willing is not enough; we must do.”

Bruce Lee

So how do we turn our knowledge about customers, and our willingness to improve, into action?

You need three things: top-level commitment, buy-in from throughout the business, and ideas. To get them, you’re going to need to go further than simply presenting the results of your customer insight—you need to involve your colleagues in creating an action plan.

That means some kind of workshop. Workshops are great, but they can often be feelgood days that generate loads of ideas and enthusiasm with little in the way of concrete results.

Good workshops require structure. Build exercises to explore and generate ideas, but finish with a converging exercise in order to deliver a clear way forward. ‘Gamestorming’ is a great book I turn to when I need an exercise for a workshop.


One of my favourites for helping people move from insight to action is the “Graphic Gameplan“. The beauty of this exercise is that it forces participants to break ideas for improving the customer experience into specific actions, slotting them into a strategic timeline view. It leaves you with momentum, accountability, and a clear vision of what is happening next.

If you don’t have a gameplan for improving your customer experience, maybe it’s time to organise a workshop?

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Stories are about change

noun_2005Storytelling is a favourite topic of mine.

On our storytelling workshop we go through a whole load of different ways in which organisations can use customer insight to communicate more effectively with their customers and staff.

I also try to wear a storyteller’s hat when I’m finding the best way to visualise and present data.

Why is it so effective?

There’s lots of evidence for the benefits of story. Story forces you to articulate why and how a particular course of action will work. It increases the emotional impact of research and brings customers to life. Those are important strengths, but the big one is that stories are the best way to achieve change.

Stories are all about change.

Duarte‘s useful model for the shape of an effective story makes crystal clear how fundamental change is to the argument that a storyteller is making. A good story shows our audience a future they want to achieve, contrasts that with the status quo, and shows them how to get from here to there.


Stories in fiction describe change, stories in business drive change.

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Rules vs. Recipes – Process and Trust

noun_222171There are three types of cook…

Some people follow the recipe exactly, carefully weighing every ingredient and reading through all the instructions twice before they start.

Others use the instructions as a guide, but tweak the meal as they go by adding more of this ingredient and less of that. They might even leave out an ingredient entirely, or substitute something else.

Then there are the ones who scoff at the idea of following a recipe, and simply make it up based on instinct and experience.

Which gets the best results?

They can all work pretty well, but in my experience the most reliably good meals are the ones cooked by those who taste and make judgements as they go.

Using the recipe as a jumping-off point, rather than a rigid rulebook, allows the cook to adapt to minor differences in the size or taste of ingredients, and to cater for individual preferences. Sometimes the ones who just make it up may hit higher highs, but they also sink to much lower lows with the odd inedible disaster.

Customer service is exactly the same.

There’s nothing wrong with having a process. It’s very helpful for staff, especially the less experienced, to have a clear sense of what we’re trying to achieve and how we get there. Like a reliable recipe, a good process should give us the sense that if we follow these steps we won’t go far wrong.

But a recipe book is not a rulebook, and your processes shouldn’t be either. Good service happens when people use their judgement to make minor variations to a process if they think it will result in the best outcome for the customer.

Season to taste.

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A simple test of trust

noun_29932I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about trust recently.

While researching my talk at our client conference this year, I dug deep into different theories and models of trust. The more I dug, the more I became convinced that trust is the single most important underlying factor in almost every aspect of our working lives; as organisations, employees, and customers.

Interesting stuff.

But it’s nice to step back from the detail sometimes, and reduce all of the theory to one simple idea. As he so often does, Seth Godin nailed it, and it’s a frightening thought:

Organisations routinely lie to their customers.

Seth gives the example of “unexpectedly high call volumes”, but we could think of a thousand more. Lies that we tell customers, knowing full well that they know we’re lying.

So why are we surprised that they don’t trust us?



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The best design advice

noun_62505While having a bit of a clear-out of my desk at work, I found this snippet I’d saved.

“No one gets it right the first time.”

It’s from a very short answer Dan Saffer gave when asked for the best design advice he’d ever had, and I think it applies to pretty much anything. The advice came from Marc Rettig.

It’s deceptively simply, and dangerously easy to forget.

The things we admire—whether they’re charts, infographics, presentations, photographs, websites, songs—rarely appear fully-formed in the mind of a genius.

What we see is the final version. Maybe it’s version 2, but more likely it’s version 42.

One could argue that professionalism, or craft, is about honing the process of getting from first draft to final product in the fewest possible steps.

The art is learning to enjoy the process as much as the outcome.

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Too early to tell or too late to change

DonkeyEdward Tufte, the “godfather of information design”, has a really interesting take on how people resist changes.

Products existed only in two states: either too-early-to-tell or too-late-to-change.

Think about some examples from your own experience, and I’m sure you’ll start to see how insightful this is.

Variations on too-late-to-change are:

  • But we’ll lose our tracking data
  • That’s what we’ve said on the website
  • Everyone else does it this way

You might see too-early-to-tell in the guise of:

  • Let’s gather another month of data before we decide
  • We’ll wait until the new director starts next month
  • That’ll be addressed by a project coming down the pipeline

The solution for both is to commit to action, now.

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On predictive analytics

At a recent conference one of our clients, Roger Binks from RSA, spoke about their use of predictive analytics to anticipate and prevent complaints.

Digging through the data they found that 70% of customers who had to phone in more than twice during a home insurance claim went on to make a complaint. 80% of storm and flood claimants who had not been contacted for over 6 weeks complained.

In other words, RSA knew that a chunk of customers was likely to complain before they actually did, which meant they could pre-empt the complaint by picking up the phone and calling the customer.

That saved the business money by replacing irate inbound calls with much more positive outbound calls, and it made customers more satisfied.

And the data had been there all along…they just needed someone to sift through it and make the connections.

That’s the true power of predictive analytics.

Not fancy statistical techniques. Simple analysis, applied to data you probably already have, which delivers instant benefits for your staff, your customers, and your business.

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The importance of risk in service innovation

Rock climbing is different to many sports because it is a little bit dangerous. The psychology of a successful (long-lived) climber cannot simply be “go for it”. Business is much the same—we know we need to take some risks in order to succeed, but which ones are reasonable?

Yes-fail and No-fail

The sports psychologist and climbing coach Arno Ilgner has a useful approach: climbers should consciously evaluate objective danger before deciding whether they want to attempt a move. He calls this judgement “yes-fall” versus “no-fall”.

Separating out judgements of difficulty and danger enables us to be both safer (we don’t get lulled into danger by easy climbing) and bolder (we can risk failing on a hard move if we assessed it as safe to fall before starting). If we never risked a fall, we’d never reach our full potential. I think there’s a clear parallel here with innovation, and particularly with service innovation.

Jeffrey Baumgartner writes about an innovation process he calls ACT or Anti Conventional Thinking. One of the most powerful ideas in his approach is that the risk-averse part of our brain he labels the “mental bureaucrat” is merely silenced in a traditional brainstorm.

That’s why brainstorming produces stacks of mediocre, conventional, ideas. Not bad ideas, necessarily, but almost never creative ones. Being anti conventional means not just silencing the mental bureaucrat, but actively opposing them.

The mental bureaucrat is the organisational equivalent of self-preservation. Unless we actively judge that we’re in a “yes-fail” zone (like Ilgner’s “yes-fall” zone), we’ll always tend to play it safe.

It’s easy to think of “no-fail” situations. When we’re dealing with a customer that has already been let down we cannot risk any sort of failure, so now is not the time to try something new.

But what about the rest of the time? When do we put ourselves in a “yes-fail” situation. How often to we deliberately separate out the act of thinking about customer experience versus the day to day of doing it? Do we prototype creative new experiences to see how they might make people feel?

Givens and delighters

There are aspects of the customer experience which do not lend themselves to creativity. We tend to call those “givens” or “satisfaction maintainers” – things with a high cost of failure and low reward for success. But to create a really great customer experience, I believe you have to be prepared to accept some risks.

The most important, and it really does set the best apart from the rest, is trusting your staff. Humans have an amazing ability to react flexibly to the customer in front of them and anticipate their needs. Perhaps one day computers will be as good, AI is a topic for another post, but they’re nowhere near there yet.

That creates huge opportunities to delight customers, if your staff feel empowered to act on their instincts. It requires a culture that supports them…in other words a culture that will accept appropriate risks in order to achieve its objectives.

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