As service designers, we like to think that we bring to projects a unique approach, creative skill and a deep understanding of people and their needs. But what about allowing those people to design and implement for themselves, without us orchestrating the entire process?

A Seren service design approach

In a recent successful project for a leading telecommunication company, Seren tried to go beyond the conventional approach by encouraging users to take our recommendations, enhance them and make them their own.

Our objective was to improve retail experiences for customers across the UK. The intended outcome was to make relevant recommendations that would ensure that the customers would leave a store feeling amazed, excited, reassured and looked after.

We applied Seren’s methodology of interacting closely with stakeholders in the company to get an insight into their business proposition. We traveled around the UK and conducted in-depth ethnographic studies, interviews and workshops. This gave us an excellent understanding of the perspectives of two key groups: stakeholders and end users.

The second stage of our process was customer journey and moment mapping. Seren uses this method frequently to map customer journeys through an entire experience. Within the journey we identify moments or areas where we can make an impact through design and creative thinking.

This is particularly valuable because it allows us to create ‘moment clusters’ within a journey or even an entire organization. For example, it helped us realize that the time when we needed to create the biggest impact was before the customer even entered the store.

Once we had identified key moments, we brainstormed with a cross-disciplinary group of business owners, retail store managers, retail staff, designers, writers and customers to develop recommendations that would enhance a person’s journey.

Looking through a different lens

As service designers or investigators, our focus is the customer or the end user. What do they need, what do they want and what can we provide for them? However, we seldom ask ourselves whether the customer is the right person to design for. Typically we don’t challenge the core assumption that the customer is our audience.

This Seren project was unique because we chose an approach that considered the staff and the customer journey in parallel. We realized that we had to design for the people who would implement the recommendations and not just for the customers who would be experiencing them. For example, if our research tells us that customers want to learn more about products, we are quick to design better information graphics, add more content and empower staff with relevant material. But how do we encourage staff to share their knowledge in the right way? How do we make it an enjoyable process and create a real sense of ownership so that they continue to make it part of their role? How do we go beyond training and reading material, so they are naturally motivated to share their expertise with everyone who enters the store?

Flipping usability on its head – the implementer’s journey

Recommendations that emerged from the needs of customers and business stakeholders were designed from an equally evolved staff and customer perspective to address day-to-day user needs. This led to three conclusions:

  1. You can create great ideas that address customer needs but you have to tailor them to the people who will implement them. Often the implementer or staff journey is seen as a support process. However in order to create a sustainable service it is crucial to give the back office as much consideration as the front office.
  2. Lots of companies spend time, effort and money documenting customer needs, but they seldom look at staff needs. For example, many previous recommendations for retail stores failed because they addressed the customer without considering how little time staff had to implement them.
  3. People who are the closest to customers, like store managers, often have imaginative ideas and an acute sense of what will actually work. Therefore the design process should enable them to collect and sift ideas alongside the designers. This should be a collaborative process that goes beyond the familiar concepts of “engagement” and “co-creation workshops”. It should allow the implementers to influence the design process itself. This approach also helps us develop the implementer and customer journeys together.

Based on the above three insights, we shared our recommendations with key implementers from various retail stores, including store leaders, managers and staff. They were then given responsibility to take forward the recommendations, contextualize it in a way they felt were relevant into their stores.

They then went on to integrate them into their day-to-day managerial tasks and train staff to implement them.

‘ I had a little idea for work within the fourth recommendation. This is a massive opportunity for us right now. What better way to develop relationships with these local, small businesses? This could be a great idea if done right, and a task with great potential for a staff member to evolve.’ Store leader


‘I am really looking forward to contributing to the group and giving you all an insight into how we are working on trialing new bits and pieces!’ Store staff

Our recommendations have evolved dramatically in the last few months. Stores have adopted our ideas and made them their own, developing tools, designing staff incentives and building training modules.

Over the last few months of trial we witnessed a 143% rise in new customers and a 133% rise for small to medium business customers.

By designing for the users who would implement the services, we ensured that the application of the recommendations would be relevant to each individual and to the context of the store. Again, by designing concepts that people could make their own, we have allowed for them to evolve and grow as the company at the same time, store and the brand philosophies change and develop.


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