The Think Blog

Service Design for Your Internal Customers

Brad Sukala Senior Vice President, User Experience December 5, 2019

If you’re a regular reader of our posts, you saw Brittany’s great piece about service design and how it’s more than a buzzword or fad.

If anything, our appreciation of and attention to the practice of service design has been under-developed in the U.S., while Europe and others are well into their second decade of leveraging its strengths to improve their customers’ experiences. We think it’s time to start recognizing the value a strong service design approach can bring to American businesses.

We focus a lot on B2B experiences here at Think Company. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how people might look past service design—often presented as a customer experience-focused approach—when thinking about the experiences and services they provide to their employees. That is a mistake.

First, Redefine your Customer

Defining customers as those who pay for your services is limiting and short-sighted. Take a moment to redefine them as those who depend on your services. Suddenly, you may have an entirely new (or at least broader) audience to consider. Some of our most successful client partners have had very clear ideas of who their customers were—and they were primarily internal.

Bonus… not only does this new definition help us better focus on who really matters to your service, it also reframes your value proposition around what you provide (a thing you control) rather than the actions of others.

How are you meeting your customers’ needs and simplifying their end-to-end experience with your service? Does the fact that they’re internal customers rather than external ones change their need for quality, convenience, or satisfaction? I’d argue not, but unfortunately internal customers are often treated as less important—to the detriment of employee satisfaction, retention, and effectiveness. If you can’t see the impact that has on your business we probably need to have a different conversation.

As with any customer, your employees’ experience is a collection of multiple touchpoints. It’s in your business’ best interest to design great experiences for the services you provide to external and internal customers equally.

Consider the Business Environment

While we’re talking about the benefit a service design approach can have on your internal operations, let’s address a common knock on the service design approach. Namely, that it privileges customer experience at the expense of business and operational realities. You may have heard (or experienced for yourself!) stories of exciting service design solutions left to gather dust on the shelf because they weren’t cognizant of the business environment in which they’d be implemented.

The world’s best customer experience means nothing if the employees responsible for implementing it aren’t given the necessary tools. Processes must be modified. Silos must be broken. Buy-in must be established. This is the hard work that goes into the back end of organizational change and without which a service design plan rarely succeeds. It’s also no different than any other design project we’ve taken on in the past 10+ years. Our approach has always been to balance user, business, and technology needs.

Remember That Design is More Than Pixels

We’re not toiling in coal mines by any stretch, but the real work of design consultants isn’t glamorous. If anything, our clients can sometimes get antsy through our research, discovery, and other foundational work, wondering “when will the design start happening?” That clichéd iceberg diagram is clichéd for a reason—it’s highly representative of the distribution of work on a well-executed design project. Lots of work floats under the surface and what most folks see sits on top.

The point being: you’re not going to take the next major step forward in serving your customers (internal or external) by conducting a workshop, producing a journey map, and calling it a day. It’s going to take a concerted and focused effort. That effort must not only explore what customers need, but also the ways in which your organization will have to evolve to meet those needs in terms of both business processes and technology. Once that exploration is complete there’s then the small task of actually doing the thing.

This is a process through which we at Think Company are uniquely positioned to guide and support you. We’re a bunch of talented designers, sure… but we’re also a team of clear-eyed realists and technically savvy consultants who value implementation over ideology and progress over perfection. We’ve built our reputation on the relationships we forge with our client partners and we’d be excited to do the same with you too. Give us a shout and let’s get started.