Five common pitfalls in service design projects and how to avoid them

Service design has quickly become a new innovative approach used by numerous companies to improve their business. In this blog post, we list five common mistakes we have observed, which may cause service design projects to fail. In most cases, these mistakes stem from insufficient understanding of the service design process and from relying on service development processes that are based on more traditional product development principles. Avoiding the following pitfalls will multiply your company’s chances of succeeding in its next service design project. 

1. Unclear definition of the desired outcome of service design 

The first mistake to avoid is neglecting the connection between service design projects and your company’s business objectives. As service design gains popularity, organisations might get carried away and launch projects solely for the sake of exploring what service design can offer, leading to the results of these projects often being buried in the archives or lost in the company intranet. When service design projects with vague goals fail, companies unfortunately tend to draw incorrect conclusions about the importance and usefulness of service design.

In order to avoid this, your company should have a clear idea of why the project has been launched, what you aim to achieve with it, what challenges and goals it is linked to and what you intend to do after the project has ended. Although the service design approach allows for the exploration of wide-ranging and often unclear challenges, that doesn’t mean this discussion should be bypassed upon launching a service design project. In one of our previous blog posts, we took a closer look at how we at Hellon connect service design and a company’s business objectives with each other.

2. Overlooking the customer’s underlying needs

The second common mistake we have identified is the tendency to conduct only a superficial examination of the customer’s needs as a basis for the solutions to be designed and developed, rather than in-depth customer understanding. Generally, this means that only the explicitly expressed customer needs are identified, and the customer understanding gained equals the information that can be obtained through a traditional customer survey. Superficial examination of customer needs entails two key challenges: First, it is often difficult for a customer to know and/or give a direct answer to how a service could be improved. Second, easily identifiable needs don’t usually provide a fertile ground for the creation of genuinely innovative services. To quote Henry Ford, one of the world’s greatest innovators, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

The goal of the customer research phase of the service design process is to delve deep into the customers’ everyday life and routines to uncover the motives and underlying needs that guide their operations in addition to the identified needs. In short, in-depth customer understanding allows us to create solutions that other service providers may not offer or may not have thought of. 

3. Excluding the customer when generating ideas for solutions

Another pitfall we have identified is linked to the transition from the customer research phase to generating ideas for solutions. Regardless of how thoroughly the customer research has been conducted, the risk of the findings being ignored and the design process unintentionally becoming organisation-centric remains. In most cases, this typically happens when the design team cannot develop the findings of the customer research phase into a toolkit for customer-centric design.

For a service design project to succeed, it is essential that the design team is able develop the findings of the customer research into e.g.  customer profiles and customer journeys. This enables the design team to come up with ideas using empathy as the driving force, meaning that the solutions are genuinely created for the customer and not for the design team itself, which is the original sin of organisation-centric development. It is also considerably easier to decide which ideas should be taken into a testing phase when the decisions are based on how well the ideas meet customer needs as opposed to the design team’s subjective preferences.

4. Not testing solutions together with the customer

As a rule of thumb, in traditional product and service development processes, new products or service concepts are developed without engaging the customer. Traditionally, design teams might even do everything in their power to ensure the customer doesn’t get a glimpse of an unfinished concept. When developing new services – expert services in particular – many companies prefer not to show their customers a solution that hasn't been completely finished. However, by not showing the customer a concept that is still in progress, the company might spend too much time (and unnecessary resource) working on a solution in-house without even knowing if the solution in question meets customer needs and preferences.

The service design process does this differently, as one of its key phases revolves around testing the developed concepts and solutions together with customers in an agile way. This enables the design team to constantly assess and iterate the concepts and solutions designed, which plays a key role in the success of a service design project. By testing and measuring the customer’s interest in different solutions, the design team will learn what works and what doesn't in an agile way.

5. Forgetting your most important asset – Involving your employees

At their best, service design projects improve the entire company’s competitive edge while creating customer-centric services and improving the whole organisation’s ability to see the customer at the centre of development. As such, potential is lost when companies only engage a small portion of their employees – or only grant a certain department the privilege of using service design.

A service design project is an excellent way of giving employees the opportunity to learn more about the principles of service design and to develop more customer-centric approaches in their role. Companies should carry out service design projects in a transparent manner and, as an example, make the customer profiles created during the project available for the entire organisation. It should also be borne in mind that the more various departments of a company are involved and learn about service design and its principles, the more motivated the employees will be to implement the solutions created in a project.

What is the situation at your company?

How successful have service design projects been at your company? Did any of the situations described above ring a bell? We are happy to help you with any challenges you may have encountered so that you can avoid common pitfalls and mistakes when planning your next service design project. While you’re here, why not also take a look at our free Service Design Procurement Guide in which we have compiled the key principles of buying high-quality service design solutions.

New call-to-action