Good Services

Good Services: How to Design Services that Work by Lou Downe ISBN:9063695438 on Experience Design for eGov and the Service Economy



Foreword by Mike Monteiro

Years of dealing with local government services websites have taught me a few things. First, make sure you are alone, because you are going to get angry. Second, have your anxiety medication nearby. Carve out at least half a day. Make sure the dog’s water bowl is full

it was listed in that drop-down list. Along with every other tree on earth. They were all in the list. Including sequoias. Now, I’m the kind of jerk that if someone is willing to plant a sequoia in front of my house, I’ll take it. So I said, yes, give me a sequoia.

Why couldn’t the city just tell me what kind of tree I could have? This went on for a while, until one day I came home to find the city had cemented over the whole thing, and some kid had written LORD SALAMANDER in the wet cement. I never got a tree.

the same city that runs that online service also runs services for starting small businesses, getting married, jury duty, the municipal courts and law enforcement. And I guarantee you those are designed just as well. And that’s just the city stuff

Every day, all over the world, people go online to accomplish things

For the most part, no one wants to be doing these things. They’re not exciting. They’re tolls for existence

as much as Lou cares about design, I think they care about people even more. And that’s the secret. You’ve got to care more about the people on the other end of the screen than about what’s on the screen. You’ve got to help them get on with their day. So they can do the stuff that really matters to them.

Foreword by Marc Stickdorn

When I was teaching at one of these early service design courses in 2008 (at the MCI business school in Innsbruck, Austria) there were still no textbooks out there on this topic. Together with Jakob Schneider, we decided to simply write it ourselves. ‘This Is Service Design Thinking’ was published in 2011 and brought together 23 co-authors from the service design community. It was intended simply as a textbook to be used by students during courses

In this new phase of service design, a discussion on what we’re aiming for when we design services is long overdue

I estimate that 95% of service design projects are about fixing the basics.

In 1984, Professor Noriaki Kano published the ‘Kano Model’, a theory for product development and customer satisfaction. It describes three main factors: basic factors (‘Must-be Quality’) that, similar to hygiene factors, do not contribute to satisfaction but cause dissatisfaction if missing; performance factors (‘One-dimensional Quality’) that can contribute to dissatisfaction when they’re missing, but also to satisfaction when they are implemented well; and excitement factors (‘Attractive Quality’) that only contribute to satisfaction, but don’t cause dissatisfaction when they’re missing.

What is a service?

services exist in the background by their very nature. They are the things that connect other things, the spaces between things – such as choosing a new car and having it delivered or booking an appointment at your GP and being successfully treated. We barely notice them until we encounter something that stands out as good or bad.

A service, simply put, is simply something that helps someone to do something.

Services are often hugely affected by the channel in which they’re designed to be provided, and you can chart their evolution over time by the rise and fall of the technologies we use to access them. It’s therefore important to know a little bit about the history and evolution of services

A (very) brief history of services

Principle 1: A good service is easy to find

Good services are verbs Bad services are nouns

Principle 2: A good service clearly explains its purpose

a user with no prior knowledge must understand what the service will do for them and how it will work.

Purpose of your service = what your service does why it does it how it does it who it’s for

A service’s form follows a service’s function

The product is the service is the marketing

Principle 3: A good service sets the expectations a user has of it

A good service must clearly explain what is needed from the user to complete the service and what that user can expect from the service provider in return. This includes things like how long something will take to complete, how much it will cost or if there are restrictions on the types of people who can use the service.

Understanding what expectations people have of your service

Principle 4: A good service enables a user to complete the outcome they set out to do

in as much of a seamless stream of events as possible

two important lessons: 1That your user defines what a service is by what it is they want to achieve. 2The way your user thinks and talks about your service is likely to be different to the way that you do

A service is still a service even if you don’t provide all of it

Thinking about whole services will change what your service is

When designing your service, try to ask yourself: is this really where our user starts? And: is this really where they reach their goal?

Design whole services from end to end: from when the user starts trying to achieve a goal to when they finish From front to back: the user-facing service and internal processes In every channel: digital, phone, post, face-to-face and

physical elements

Principle 5: A good service works in a way that’s familiar

If there’s an established custom for your service that benefits a user, your service should conform to that custom

But be mindful that not all customs benefit users – some have been put in for the benefit of the organisation running the service

Principle 6: A good service requires no prior knowledge to use

Getting your luggage back without a service like WorldTracer would be long and complicated

Services like WorldTracer exist because many of our services encourage expertise, even expect it of us

new generation of ‘parasitic services’

There is no service that will be used just by people who have used it before

How does someone know your service exists when they need it?

Our understanding of a new service is based on past experiences

The habit some people have of hoarding receipts is a perfect example of this. A study conducted by Visa in 2012 revealed that as many as 1 in 5 of us won’t throw away receipts immediately after we’re given them

When people don’t know how something works, they make it up

assumptions, expectations and even superstitions that will need to be corrected, adjusted or reinforced, depending on their accuracy. The first step towards this will be to understand what expectations your users have in the first place. This will mean doing user research to find out

Principle 7: A good service is agnostic to organisational structures

The service must work in a way that does not unnecessarily expose a user to the internal structures of the organisation providing the service.

Services in the internet age don’t obey organisational boundaries

Take our example of buying a house. When buying a house, we might expect our users to look for a house surveyor, but they may just as easily look for something that will help them to ‘buy a house’, expecting to find a seamless journey of every step, from reviewing properties to moving in, all in perfect alignment. Our challenge in this situation is to provide a service that helps a user get to their goal

There are four fundamental ways our services are designed that cause siloed, fragmented journeys, despite our ability to join them up across organisational boundaries

Separation of data

Incompatible processes

This can be one part of a journey that takes a certain amount of time, and doesn’t match up with the deadlines of another

Incompatible criteria of use

Inconsistent language

In 1967, Melvin Conway submitted a paper to the Harvard Business Review called ‘How Do Committees Invent?’

Harvard Business Review rejected Conway’s paper on the grounds that he had no proof but, more than 50 years later, Conway’s law has gone on to become one of the most important theories that explains why siloed organisations produce siloed services

Conway said that: ‘because the design that occurs first is almost never the best possible, the prevailing system or concept may need to change. Therefore, flexibility of organization is important to effective design.’

We’re seeing a new economic model emerging, one where a company buys, or makes use of, another company to provide a whole experience for a user – we can think of this as a kind of experience integration

an energy supplier or bank that was at one point in total control of its service and user experience is now beholden to another company as an infrastructure provider

Experience integration can happen to your service whether you like it or not

Rather than looking at the ways we can collaborate and work together better, we fixate on getting the perfect structure that will allow everything to work perfectly with minimal crossover.

Collaboration is the new target operating model

When enabling collaboration and communication, there are 4 things you can do to support people to collaborate on one shared service:


Shared standards

Shared goals

Shared incentives

Principle 8: A good service requires as few steps as possible to complete

How many steps your service has and how quickly your user goes through them is often as important as what those parts do.

we first need to understand why those steps are there in the first place

It’s easy to see all steps within a service as annoying hassles; bits of a broken process that could be eliminated altogether. We dream of a bright shiny future where everything is done for us, and delivered without us even having to ask. Or do we? Every new step in your service is a transitional moment. The difference between choosing something and buying it, or between buying and returning something

When thinking about how many steps your service needs, there is a simple rule: the number of steps in your service should be equal to the number of decisions your user has to make, no more and no less

A good rule of thumb is to think to yourself – if this thing was done automatically without my knowing about it, would that be a good thing?

Don’t just design the steps of your service, design the space between them

If used correctly, these transitional moments aren’t just empty spaces, but spaces with purpose – to give users visibility and control of a decision they need to make to move forward with their goal

zen gardens

Graphic designers have used this principle for years, spending just as much time looking at the space between the words

where you place breaks in your service for additional decision-making is almost as important as putting them there in the first place

Some services might have relatively few steps, but need to be slowed down – either to allow for decision-making, for example, during treatment for a complex illness, or for a user to experience something they might enjoy, like checking into a luxury hotel



it’s useful to think about the number of steps and the pacing between them as a kind of spectrum that stretches from services that are more involved and require lots of decisions or time to think and focus, and faster services that are more transactional, with fewer steps

Involved services

consideration or mindfulness


Transactional services

done very quickly with as little interaction as possible

Highly commercial services often try to become more transactional in order to actively reduce the decision-making involved in a buying situation (Friction)

Review where decisions need to be made in your service

Allow users to focus on one task at a time

Think about how fast or slow your steps need to be

Principle 9: A good service is consistent throughout

regardless of the channel it is delivered through

The language used should be consistent, as should visual styles and interaction patterns

When Ajax football club made it to the European Cup Final in 1969, everyone was surprised

try a new method of coaching his teams, where players took up any position they liked on the pitch

What Michels understood about football was something that would take another 40 years for statisticians David Sally and Chris Anderson to define in ‘The Numbers Game’ – that football is a ‘weak link’ sport.

Ajax won every match because, unlike other teams, there were no weak links in their team under any circumstances

But it’s not just in sport that the idea of ‘weak links’ explains why things that involve multiple people delivering an outcome either succeed or fail. The theory was used in economics by Charles Jones to describe why certain developing countries remain less economically successful, despite investment into specific economy-boosting industries like manufacturing and roads

A clothing manufacturer in Addis Ababa, for example, will not just need cotton to make their clothes, but clean water to wash them, power to run their sewing machines, roads to move goods in and out, and a skilled workforce to manage the work – to say nothing of a thriving sales network (See Jane Jacobs)

The most recent iteration of its development has been to widen the scope of people who can use their services by expanding the gendered honorifics

However, if a customer happens to wander off the digital pathway, their experience soon changes

what sits behind this inconsistency of user experience is an inconsistency in the way that the teams who provide these services work

A tragic example of this is the story of Victoria Climbié, an 8-year-old girl who lived in Haringey in London, who sadly died as the result of abuse

she was known to four different local authorities in London

they focused on a few elite specialists, creating weak links in their teams as a whole (Big difference in scale)

if we are aware that the failures in our services are the fault of weak links in the way we work as a team, why do we persist in thinking about protecting or growing our stronger links when situations like this happen?

oligarchs don’t just buy teams to win matches, they buy them for lots of different reasons including hanging out with good-looking players and selling lots of shirts

we don’t value the weak links because they aren’t the superheroes

being able to complete a service from start to finish is far more important than having a great experience in one moment, then not be able to complete the rest of the journey

one part of our service might be developed more easily if it’s focused on in isolation to the others.

While it’s vital for services to be consistent, they are also complex and varied, and some parts of your service will need to look and behave differently from the rest

responding and working with a user’s individual circumstance with freedom requires empowered staff.

This is something that the US online shoe and clothing brand Zappos understood when hiring customer support operatives

When thinking about consistency, think about these four dimensions

Consistency across user journey

Consistency in each channel

Consistency over time

Consistency between users

You may offer premium versions of your service, but make sure it is clear why you do this

try to remember the following principles:

Every breach of consistency is a breach of trust

Focus on the abilities of your whole organisation, not on the skills of your superstar players

Empower staff to make individual decisions about users

Principle 10: A good service should have no dead ends

A service should direct all users to a clear outcome, regardless of whether the user is eligible or suitable to use the service

Although Uber’s service is designed to be used on a mobile, it hasn’t been designed for the scenario where that mobile phone is lost, despite the many people around the world who have no doubt lost their phone in the back of a cab

Dead ends happen when someone strays from what we like to call the ‘happy path’

The first step is to understand the reasons why your user might face a dead end in your service

1. They’re not eligible to use your service

try to deal with these dead ends as elegantly as possible, providing onward links to relevant support where possible

2. They’ve strayed off the beaten track

Sometimes dead ends happen more gradually than simply giving someone no option to continue

If your service has complex elements further down the route, it’s best to explain these at the start, rather than giving users the expectation that your service is simple all the way through

3. They can’t do something

You will need to do some user research to find out the barriers within your particular service, but common ones include:

The ability to remember long numbers

The ability to follow complex instructions

The ability to remember dates, times and appointments

The ability to get somewhere physically

The ability to get somewhere or do something during working hours

The ability to read a language fluently

The ability to read PDFs or access ‘non-accessible’ digital services

4. They don’t have access to something

Below are the most common things most services presume users have ready access to: •A phone number •A bank account or credit/debit card •An email address •Official identification, such as passport, driving licence or state-issued ID card •An address, or proof of address

by far the most common thing we presume users have access to is the internet

being abroad with high roaming charges or living in an area with poor reception can have an effect on someone’s ability to use the internet

Principle 11: A good service is usable by everyone, equally

The service must be usable by everyone who needs to use it, regardless of their circumstances or abilities

Principle 12: A good service encourages the right behaviours from users and staff

The Labour Party had given GP surgeries a very clear target – make sure people can get an appointment in 48 hours. To meet that target in the most effective way possible, surgery managers across the country had banned advance bookings to keep their appointments free for people calling 48 hours in advance

Principle 13: A good service should respond to change quickly

a change in a user’s circumstance and make this change consistently throughout the service

Principle 14: A good service clearly explains why a decision has been made

Principle 15: A good service makes it easy to get human assistance

Every service fails at some point

What differentiates your service is not whether or not it fails, but how it deals with failure when it happens

what we expect to get from a human is not what we expect to get from a machine

In a study conducted by the Government Digital Service in 2014, roughly 80% of the cost of government was spent on services. Not surprising, since government is the oldest and largest service provider in the UK. What was more surprising was that up to 60% of that cost was spent on calls and casework

the smallest number by far were calls to do with complex cases, at just around 2% of total calls.

In essence, most human contact to our services is unnecessary, but generated by badly designed services

Hiding your phone number just pisses people off

there are a number of factors that will increase the need for human contact within a service

Services that are complex

Services that are high risk

Services that are high value

Services that are tied to the physical world

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