The 3 principles of client-centric design

Posted on July 19, 2016

Anna Yip, Director at Seriously Worthy, writes this month’s post. Anna works closely with Nexus to design innovative solutions for government and community service organisations.

I recently returned from the 2016 ServDes Conference held in Copenhagen, where I heard the latest thinking on service design and innovation.

If you’re not familiar with the term ‘service design’, it’s essentially a set of planning principles and practices that are used to improve interactions between a service and a client. Service design also goes by the name of ‘co-design’, ‘design thinking’ and ‘client-centred design’. Many of the concepts in service design come from disciplines such as marketing, product design and project management, but the main point of difference is a staunch commitment to putting the client and their needs at the centre of all design.

We must design within eco-systems

A strong theme of ServDes 2016 was ‘service design within an eco-system’. An eco-system is the context within which your clients see and experience your service. It’s different from the concept of a market environment as an eco-system, in that it’s not just about competing services, it’s about interactions, relationships and circumstances that surround a client and shape their experience of your service (most of which your service can’t control).

If I think about my eco-system right now, there is so much going on. I’m using my phone to hotspot internet to my computer, so I can confirm a meeting appointment, move some money around, email a client and write this article—all while sitting in a co-working space. We jump from phones, to computers, to people, to devices, to places without realising it, except when it doesn’t work. I’m using at least seven services and performing two, and my experience of one can directly influence my experience of another, even though it might be completely unrelated. Not to mention, the physical environment and other things on my mind can also get caught in the mix. All of these interactions impact my daily experiences, and my experiences impact my outcomes.

Service design methods help us understand and make sense of this complexity, so we can find ways to improve experiences and deliver better services. For social services, being able to change someone’s experience is critical if we want to change their outcomes. Tools like customer journey maps articulate the experience of the client (a client can also be a partner organisation) and pinpoint steps along the way that are disjointed, confusing or fragmented across multiple channels, such as website, phone and face-to-face communication. Channel maps illustrate what a client is hearing, seeing and doing at each stage of the process, while rapid prototyping lets us steer away from convincing decision makers about the certainty of untested ideas.

Here are my three take-aways from ServDes 2016:

  1. The first draft of anything is s**t

Advocates of service design like Marc Stickdorn, author of This is Service Design Thinking, are clear about this. The first draft of anything is rubbish. It’s supposed to be. First drafts have gaping holes, bold assumptions and missing information. But they help us learn, and learning is the most important thing about innovation. Service design is about doing: developing a prototype, testing it with your clients, making modifications, then testing it again. This continuous loop of prototyping, feedback, testing and redesign will help you adapt to change and ensure your programs and services are relevant to your clients and accessible in their eco-system.

  1. There is no hero or silver bullet

I took a photo of a slide from the keynote speaker. It read: ‘There are no heroes in service design. It’s a social process’. It feels provocative to say that experts don’t hold the key to innovation, but developing a model or a product is only one part of a solution, and no person knows everything. Implementation opens up a whole new set of challenges as it disrupts assumptions. To make it work, you need to constantly adapt based on real feedback. Innovation is not a one-off event or a finished product, but the behaviour of people.

  1. No service is sacred

A conversation has stuck with me for years. A client of mine said they had a problem with ‘hard-to-reach’ clients. Clients kept dropping out of their programs early and it was really impacting their service performance. I asked them if they knew why, and they were quickly able to compile a list of things that got in the way of their clients’ success. I then asked if they had tried a range of activities to overcome these issues and was told that ‘we don’t really do that’ and ‘that’s not who we are’. This is a good example of the tension between being product-focused and client-centred. If social services are about creating better experiences and outcomes for clients, then nothing is sacred. We should be prepared to redesign everything.

Ready to learn more?

In collaboration with Nexus, I’ll be holding a series of practical workshops on designing referral pathways and improving service engagement using service design practices and tools. In a two-day sprint, you’ll learn how to:

  • map a customer’s journey
  • illustrate a customer’s eco-system
  • identify the channels your customers are using
  • build and test new referral processes with multiple services
  • use technology seamlessly.

The workshops will be delivered nationally. Fear not, we’ll be getting out to rural and remote regions too! For dates and locations or to register your interest, please contact us or email.