Introduction to service design and customer experience

Understanding the fields of service design or customer experience design is key in modern product development

In this article, I will shed light on this field and do a fast introduction to digital product development and the field of Service Design and Customer Experience. A “crash course” and surface scratching into some of the terminology, concepts and methods used within this multidisciplinary field.

The field of service design and user- or customer experience and digital design has evolved substantially over the past years.

Fueled by the technological development, service offerings are now accessed and utilized across multiple customer touch point. Industries across the board have move to digital service and sales models. Your traditional retail store can be found online and we shop on online market places; your bank branch is substituted by web banking and your public services such as municipalities and citizens services have moved to online self-service platforms.

As a result, the customer touch points have increased – now including, web, apps, plus traditional touch points such as branch offices – making the service landscape and utilization of services somewhat more complex. Meanwhile, the person-to-person interaction has been minimized to drive efficiency gains.

In order to make this transition work, and make customers capable of utilizing the service offerings, the need for focusing on service design has increased, and the customer experience becomes a differentiator and mean for driving customer satisfaction and retention, and a mean for driving adoption os efficiency gains of digitalisation.

So, how is this done, what is all about, and how do you work with service design and customer experience in (digital) product development? Here is a brief introduction…


Service design and customer experience design is becoming institutionalized practice

The professional disciplines of product development and customer-centric processes have evolved quite substantially over the past decades, industry standards, tools and methods have emerged and are being widely developed and implemented across the globe, where the field coined as “Service Design” has evolved into a professional discipline in itself. Service design and digital labs are being institutionalised as part of the product development process used in both large, incumbent organisations as well as niche service and consultancy agencies, specialising in assisting larger companies in re-inventing their services to match ever changing customer demands.

Niche companies include iconic companies like IDEO, and their Danish founded substitute DesignIT. These companies specialise in product and service design – or rather the process and method for product design – and help companies re-invent existing services and products as well as introduce new ones. Key for both these companies is a grounded, fundamental believe in customer-centric design, using anthropologic methods to gain deep insight into customer behaviour and understanding what the actual customer needs are, and combining these with creative processes to provide new design, testing and validate the findings and designs via user feedback.

Looking at larger companies, both IBM and McKinsey & Co. have established “digital labs” to enable rapid development of visualisations and “pretotypes” (very early prototypes). The need has been realised for building tangible deliverables, in order to go from conceptualisation to more hands-on tangible deliverables that can be used for internal alignment, making conceptual thoughts more “real”, hence easier for internal stakeholders to relate to and envision. Secondly, this approach enables validation of the conceptual thoughts, in order to guide decision making – i.e., validating the conceptual thoughts with customer input, in order to gain a better understanding of whether the conceptual thoughts will fly or not.


A multidisciplinary field with many names

When talking about Customer Experience, Service Design or customer-centric design, it is somewhat difficult to pinpoint the exact wording and terminology that covers this somewhat overlapping field of a wide array of professional disciplines.

So, a bit of terminology…

Relationship between Customer experience, user experience and usability

Relationship between Customer experience, user experience and usability

Traditionally, “usability” is about the ability for people or users to actually utilize a given – most often – digital product – like a website, an app or the like.

The field of “user experience” (UX) covers the methods and process for developing digital design – i.e., methods for involving users in the research or design phase of a project, guidelines and heuristics for structuring content, navigation, etc.

“Customer Experience” (CX) covers the wider span of products, and is not limited to digital services, but covers both digital and physical services and the multiple touchpoints that all in all constitute the full service offering. “Customer Experience”, “Service Design” and “Design Thinking” are used somewhat interchangeably.

All elements have an impact on customers’  brand experience, hence brand perception, but is of cause different from the disciplines of marketing and branding.

Key is that modern product development is about:

“The ability to provide something that users will and can use – identifying and solving a “job to be done”

For more information on “Jobs to be done”, read the section “Identifying jobs to be done” in the previous post “Design of future financial services”.

This includes looking at technology trends and emerging new services to identify new possibilities, finding out what customers want and in what context they operate through the anthropologic inspired discipline of elicitation of customer requirements, as well as the creative process of designing validating and testing services and features.

The below framework from Stephen P. Anderson captures the key elements very well.

Stephen P. Anderson


To answer the questions raised in the framework above, you rely on a rather wide range of professional disciplines, as these interlink with both value proposition design and overall strategic thinking. Below, I will go through each of the spheres: Research, Design and Strategy, and provide some examples of both activities and artifacts used within these domains.

Multi-disciplinary field of Customer Experience

The field of Customer Experience is multi-disciplinary, embracing a wide set of professional skills

Research is about discovery of current and future customer needs

Research involves activities that lead to better understanding of the users or customers and their needs – current as well as future. This includes both qualitative and quantities analysis, looking at macro trends etc.

Examples of activities include:

User research, contextual inquiry and customer interviews, meaning visiting the customers and doing inquires in context of the customer, eliciting and observing what he/she does in order to identify which “jobs to solve”, and looking at the context and environment in which the user operates – e.g., artefacts that the users use as part of a job routine, the place that the task is carried out.

Doing usability testing and behaviour analysis of current solutions to capture obstacles or difficulties that the user has with utilisation of the product or service. Watching or tracking how users interact with services – e.g., do they understand how to utilise the service, are they struggling or having difficulties at certain steps or sequences.

Trend spotting where new solutions and best practice from both own and related industries are captured, where emerging tech trends and changes in consumer behaviour is condensed into insight that will shape future solution design. Identifying what others are doing well and doing “macro-like” analysis of what will constitute future customer experiences or services.

Examples of work products include:

Segment into user types to separate the users or customers into distinct sub-segments in order to meet their needs.

Develop personas to capture the personal preferences of the different users that you are designing a solution for.

Example of personas. Source:

Example of personas. Source:

Drawing Empathy maps to visualise the feedback captured by user inquiries in terms of what the user do, feel, see hear.

Summarise findings of current service level in Customer Experience maps to visualise how customers experience the service provided across sequences.

Design is the creative discipline of creating new solutions

Design is about bringing to life the new design or future solution, giving it flavour, and constantly validating that the design matches user needs – i.e., that the users can actually use the service or product and that it “serves for purpose”.

Activities and work products include:

Developing user scenarios and use cases where the interaction between user and service offering is developed and documented – sometimes captured in just a numbered lists, other times visualised as story boards, cartoons or in simple animations or explainer videos.

Example of sketching a user scenario

Example of sketching a user scenario in story-board like format. Source:

Creating mock-ups or prototypes where solutions or part(s) of solutions are designed in order to be presented and validated/tested with user in order to get feedback on the design and identify potential pitfalls and improvements points – e.g., via visualisations, mock-ups and early prototypes to ensure to “fail fast”, learn and iterate.

Doing interaction design meaning mapping out steps that the customer must go through in flow-analysis, identifying and aligning means of navigation across process steps and touch points to ensure that the user understands the navigation and causality between actions and steps.

Sketching the information architecture, organising where the content and information is provided to the user and carefully align this to the situation – providing required information, but not overloading the user, placing the information in the right spaces to ensure that the user to orient in e.g., a “digital space”.

Create the graphical or visual design providing the right look and feel – e.g., making user interfaces “appealing”, wrapping and boxing aesthetic, and cater for a “human touch” (a famous Steve Job quote is that “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.”).

Doing usability and A/B or split testing where early solution prototypes and other solution means are presented to users in order to get feedback and iterate on solution design and where variations of the same solutions are tested on users to identify which variation performs better.

Strategy is the more business-oriented disciple of ensuring the long-term perspective

Strategy is all about ensuring the long-term fit of ongoing product and feature development. Making sure that the product/service and related value proposition matches the overall visions of the company, and ensuring return of investment – not only monetary, but also realisation of “softer” benefits.

Activities include:

Goal setting ensuring direction of ongoing product development – e.g., limiting calls to contact centres, increase in revenue from sales.

Strategic segmentation meaning doing the business analysis of e.g., profitability of different segments to ensure that product development is aligned with overall goal by focussing development activities towards e.g., profitable segments.

Develop Product roadmaps to ensure that development of product features are priorities and aligned with and coordinated with overall strategic direction and related projects.

Validate and measure in order to ensure that concepts and ideas derived within the organisation correspond to – and are designed to actual consumer needs and context – fail fast, fail cheap – e.g., setting goals for user adoption and iterate on product design if adoption goals are not met.

Drawing customer journeys for the end-to-end service to set direction for projects and services that are part of the full customer journey in order to build a coherent service offering.


Have in mind that the customer is not always right!

Means for meeting ever faster changing customer demands, and ability to provide the right solution, includes developing and injecting mechanisms for being faster at adjusting solution design. This includes founding the design on customer responses with ongoing testing and validation of design hypothesis such as providing answers to questions like: what is the job that the solution must solve for the customer, what are key features, how will customers adopt and start using the service, what can be charged for the service, how does the service fit into the customer’s existing business processes and tools?

The customers are of course a key resource in this process, since they are the real users who will – hopefully – end up using the services we develop. Their feedback is critical in building a great product!

But, have in mind that the customers will not tell us what to design, nor will they provide all the answers you need to make a great product. Customer feedback will provide guidance. The elicitation of the actual “jobs to solve” for the customers and the actual design and solution for solving this job will not be provided by the customers. It is the job of the designer – and design team – to carefully study, resonate findings, and provide design and continuously test and validate this design with users in order to ensure development of the right solution, not just a solution.

Sources for further inspiration:

The Book: This is Service Design Thinking, by Stickdorn/Schneider

The website: User Interface Engineering and related podcast “Brain sparks