Service Design

What Makes A Good Service?

Sehel Khandwala

All of us interact with services on a daily basis, from using a bank account to booking a doctor’s appointment, or interacting with shopkeepers at a store. Yet the services we interact with are often not intentionally designed. A good service can create a loyal customer base, boost an organization's reputation, and ultimately, drive growth and success. But what makes a service "good"? Is it the speed of delivery, the quality of the product, or the friendliness of the staff? 

In this blog post, we'll explore the essential elements of good service design and the key factors that influence customer satisfaction; summed up as good service principles laid out in Lou Downe’s book “Good Services: How to Design Services that Work”. We discuss five of these principles with practical examples from the Ideate Team to understand real world applications of good (and bad) service design.

A good service sets the expectations a user has of it 

When it comes to creating a good service experience, setting clear expectations is crucial. This includes things like stating how much something will cost, how long something will take to complete, or documentation you may need to provide. Some expectations are universal in nature, meaning that other similar services work in the same way. Hence, straying away from such norms would only confuse people. For example, when going to a restaurant there is a universal expectation to wait at the entrance before being seated. By setting realistic expectations and meeting universal expectations, service providers can build trust with their customers, leading to increased loyalty and customer satisfaction.

Ideate Innovation had the experience of applying for a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a major telecom company in Pakistan. The procurement process and scope of work were extremely unclear, and hence it was unable to set the applicants’ expectations. The company wanted applicants to share their response for “multiple projects”, yet did not clearly outline what information they wanted in the applicants’ proposal. Moreover, they had not laid out a plan for notifying successful or unsuccessful candidates which made the entire process confusing and tedious. When Ideate asked them for a decision, we received the following email:

An application process that meets this design principle is the Fulbright Scholarship program. Applicants are informed about the deadlines of the various stages (shortlisting, interviews, selection) and are notified by email if successful. The unsuccessful candidates are told to wait until a certain date to hear back from the Scholarship committee, otherwise assume that they have not been chosen. They also announce via social media when each stage has concluded, so as to let applicants know their status. This process sets clear expectations in contrast to our experience with the telecom company!

A good service requires no prior knowledge to use 

One quality of a good service is that it is intuitive and easy to use, requiring little or no prior knowledge to get started. Customers should not have to spend time figuring out how to use a service or struggle with complex instructions. Designers can use their knowledge of user needs and behaviors to make their services easy to navigate. By prioritizing ease of use and simplicity, service providers can ensure that their customers have a positive experience and are more likely to return for future services.

We’ll illustrate this point with the example of banking applications. They’re notorious for using financial terms that could confuse or scare even the most savvy users. While performing basic activities like transferring funds, users do not want to be held hostage to questions with difficult language that many aren’t aware of. Here’s an example of a drop-down menu while having to fill out the “purpose of payment” before making a transfer in a certain banking app.

Such terms become alienating for the user and make this feature redundant as information can be filled out incorrectly. It is important to carefully consider the language and terminology a user is familiar with, rather than presenting language used within internal processes and systems. We would rather that banking apps use simplified terms based on common behaviors such as ‘online shopping’, ‘school fees’ etc. that people will instantly recognize.

A good service is agnostic to organizational structures

Customers should never feel like they are experiencing “the weak side” of a service. They should not have to worry about internal company hierarchies or communication breakdowns that may affect their service experience. The problem is that many organizations operate in silos, with a lack of visibility and sharing of data across teams. A good service should not expose users to internal organizational structures, meaning it should work seamlessly across different departments, teams, or systems. 

Think back to the last time you booked a service over the phone or online. You answered questions diligently about the bus you wanted to take, and you were given assurances about a safe and pleasant trip from the representative. However, when you showed up to the bus station, your seat was double-booked and the employees on site had no idea who you were and were equally confused as to how two people got the same ticket. This or similar experiences are actually quite common due to the lack of communication or visibility between departments. 

It should never be expected of the customer to “understand” this problem. To a customer, the owner, manager, service provider, and customer care employee are all the same. They expect that the information provided to one node will automatically be passed on to the next and for internal systems to work seamlessly.

Banks are much better at acting as a unified organizational structure. Due to the sensitivity of user data, banks are more coordinated when storing and sharing user information within the system. Representatives have access to the same portal which they can use to facilitate customers in general cases and specific issues alike.

A good service clearly explains why a decision has been made

Customers should be informed of any decisions related to their service request, including the reasoning and justification behind the decision. For example, this could include the reason why an application was unsuccessful or why someone is not eligible to access the service. This builds trust and credibility with customers, even in situations where the decision may not be what they were hoping for, also giving them a chance to correct and change their circumstances if needed. By providing clear explanations, service providers can demonstrate that they value their customers and are committed to delivering an honest and fair service. It can also help to manage customer expectations and prevent misunderstandings, ultimately leading to a more positive service experience.

In our case at Ideate Innovation, we made sure to inform unsuccessful candidates on a job application why they might not have been selected. This clarifies that the interaction has ended and gives the applicant a sense of closure and ideas for what steps to take next. The detailed reply seen in the email is intended to clarify that there is a set criteria for the selection of candidates and also highlights how they might have failed to meet that criteria, thereby fully explaining the decision. 

A good service should have no dead-ends

Services should be designed to minimize dead-ends or situations where customers are unable to complete a service request. A dead-end occurs when a customer encounters an obstacle or an error that prevents them from moving forward, resulting in a frustrating and negative experience. A well-designed service should provide multiple pathways and options for customers to complete their request, or at least signal ways to access timely support. By anticipating potential roadblocks and designing contingency measures, service providers can increase customer satisfaction.

Forgetting social media passwords can be a dreadful experience. Especially since dead-ends are abundant in the account recovery process. To ensure security, social media apps tend to limit the options to recovery. That means if you changed your number or email address, or are facing a cyber attack that is interfering with your account passwords, you are now stuck in a loop going from one option to the next. One team member rendered their Facebook account useless because they forgot their password and no longer had access to the recovery email or number listed. 

To avoid such peril, service providers need to think through every potential customer interaction and make sure each touchpoint results in a clear outcome or alternative route out. They can also build more robust customer support channels, where human representatives or AI-based chatbots can understand complex queries and present solutions to avoid dead-ends.

Achieving Customer-Centric Service Design

Designing and delivering a good service requires a customer-centric approach that prioritizes ease of use, clear communication, and a seamless experience. From setting expectations to avoiding dead-ends, each aspect of service design plays a critical role in delivering a positive customer experience.

By following best practices in service design and placing customer needs at the heart of their processes, service providers can achieve these outcomes. At Ideate Innovation we use such service design principles and methods to understand challenges first-hand, and help organization’s deliver services that truly work for their customers. For more information about our work, visit our website.