The Service Design Maturity Model: An Introduction

Koos
Niels Corsten

Reading time
8 min read

Date
Sep 17, 2019

We have seen service design change. Over the last ten years we have worked on a fair share of projects. These projects ranged from increasing the reach of a local Amsterdam butcher to helping startups like Munnypot and large organisations like Aegon. However, we have seen a shift occurring in the last year or two. Increasingly, organisations have started to see the value of service design and show a growing desire to embed service design as a core capability. Where earlier projects were focused on operationally designing or improving services, they now tend to take shape as strategic endeavours to make sure our clients are able to design and improve services on a continuous basis. We were lucky enough to be involved in such endeavours with some of our clients, including a leading European bank, a health insurance company, a telecom provider, an energy utility company and the Dutch railways.

In this blog, we will be sharing a strategic framework that we created to help organisations embed service design at scale; the Service Design Maturity Model. We will shortly elaborate on the different maturity stages. The next blogs which will follow soon, will be deep-dives on each of the maturity stages and will provide some thoughts on our biggest learnings using the framework.

Making a case for the Service Design Maturity Model

We don’t believe it’s a coincidence that design as a discipline is gaining territory. Customer expectations are rising quickly, as they are being influenced by cross-industry experiences. Experiences with Netflix may influence your expectations for your cinema visit and an order at Amazon influences your expectations when buying a car online. Next to that, it is becoming increasingly easy for customers to substitute to competitors. Even if customers had just one bad brand experience, up to one third of them would go elsewhere.

However, it’s not just customers who benefit from well designed experiences. So do organisations. As early as in 2014, the Design Management Institute showed that design-driven organisation outperformed S&P by 228% in ten years time. It showed that using design as an integrative resource to innovate was a huge driver for successful business. That trend has been even more relevant in the last few years. In their prominent article on the business value of design published in October last year, McKinsey confirms DMI’s research that design-led organisations can outperform benchmark growth by two to one. Most recently, Invision has published an extensive research that shows that customer satisfaction, brand equity and revenue, amongst other things, can greatly increase when using design as a key driver. No wonder organisations are jumping on the design bandwagon by the dozen.

Embedding service design capabilities within an organisation is somewhat of an unexplored territory for many service designers. After me and my colleagues were involved in several projects dealing with this topic, we took some time to reflect and share learnings. We started to see patterns emerging and observed striking similarities between the different projects. Many of the organisations that we helped had the same demands, experienced the same barriers and moved forward using the same strategies. We decided to combine our experiences to create a framework for successfully embedding service design within organisations; the Service Design Maturity Model.

Obviously, we were not the only ones working on such challenges. We were familiar with the Design Ladder of the Danish Design Center, which defines four different levels of design application in an organisation. We also knew the existence of the elaborate UX Maturity Model, coined by Nielsen Normann Group. However, both models give descriptions of what happens in certain maturity levels, but lack the description of barriers that keep an organisation from further maturation. They also don’t provide strategies that help organisations to overcome those barriers. Moreover, we felt the need for a model that was specific for service design, as it brings typical and unique challenges to embed service design compared to other design disciplines such as user interface design or product design. We envisioned a framework that not only described the different maturity levels, but also provides actionable advice on how to overcome maturation barriers, helping organisations to embed service design at scale. So that’s what we created.

Introducing the Service Design Maturity Model

The Service Design Maturity Model is a five-stage model that shows the process of embedding service design into an organisation and structures the transformation towards a service design-led company. The five stages are ‘Explore’, ‘Prove’, ‘Scale’, ‘Integrate’ and ‘Thrive’. Below, we briefly describe the five phases and what happens in organisations in every maturity level.

1. Explore

The initial stage is all about discovering service design. Working in an organisation where there is no service design, there is no responsibility, no budget, no time and no facilities available. But above all, there are no people and skills. People on the organisational forefront of innovation (we call them ‘crusaders’) have their first encounter with service design. They will start to explore service design as a new methodology and gain some knowledge on the subject. Enthusiasts are uniting to start a first initiative, generally in the form of a customer journey project.

2. Prove

The first enthusiasts get ready to start a first project, even though they are still dispersed around the company and separated by brick-built siloes. With some effort, they find a sponsor willing to allocate some of his scarce budget for the project. Many of the team members have trouble freeing up their agenda to practice service design, as it’s packed with daily tasks that remain ‘important’. Most of them also have trouble proving the value of service design to their colleagues and superiors. They try to get others interested in their project by being overly fanatical about their customer journey maps and service blueprints, which is often ineffective. 

3. Scale

Finally! More and more people get interested and involved in service design. Skills and knowledge are being spread outside of the initial team of enthusiasts. The first employees start to specialize and might even set up a center of expertise, most notably in the form of a CX department. The CX department is generally where the first customer-centric KPIs are being set, which is a noticeable way for businesses to show they are interested. People running projects start to hijack rooms and facilities across the office – post-its everywhere.  Development of a service design toolkit and service design training make sure a unified methodology is adopted. However, it’s not all fun and games. Other colleagues may feel that service design is interfering with their existing way of working a.k.a. ‘the real world’. 

4. Integrate

In this stage, it is time to systematically embed service design into the company’s way of working. The siloed organisational structures are torn down and built up to form a design-led foundation. The majority of employees is ‘down’ for service design, aware of their impact on customer experience and is hopefully working hard to structurally improve services. Now that most of your colleagues have had a training or two about service design, the expertise is decentralised and present in each team. At this point, the teams are in desperate need of some mandate and ownership, which is often hard in a hierarchical company.  Old roles and responsibilities and defective bonus systems that reward siloed thinking inhibit fully breaking company siloes. Moreover, when everyone is working on improving service experiences, teams tend to constantly ‘reinvent the wheel’. Different teams are crafting similar insights, solving similar problems, or creating similar solutions.

“We are not an online retailer, we are a customer journey agency. We want to be a leading example of a customer-centric business. Ultimate customer satisfaction is not just a metric or a goal, it is part of our corporate culture.”

— Pieter Zwart CEO CoolBlue

5. Thrive

Service design has now risen above its role as methodology, and can now thrive as an ingrained part of the company culture. Colleagues are involved in service design as part of their daily work and push the envelope of what it constitutes. The new organisational structure allows for high levels of collaboration within and between teams. They act from the right mindset instead of just following a methodology. Service design has not only found its place being present at C-level, but customer centricity has become an important KPI for the entire C-suite. A Dutch organisation that is well-known example for its customer-centricity is CoolBlue. CoolBlue CEO Pieter Zwart states: “We are not an online retailer, we are a customer journey agency. We want to be a leading example of a customer-centric business. Ultimate customer satisfaction is not just a metric or a goal, it is part of our corporate culture.”

Maturity indicators

From structuring the five stages of the maturity model, we saw similar topics popping up in each of them. We identified four factors that indicate the maturity of your organisation and serve as guidelines for further maturation of service design. The four indicators are the following:

What’s to come…

There is so much to say about this topic! We will be publishing five separate blogs, with deep-dives on each one of the five stages. Keep your eyes peeled, as we will be discussing the role of resources and people allocation, service design tools and capabilities, organisational structure, and metrics and deliverables on service design maturity. Moreover, we will be sharing the most common barriers within each stage and present strategies on how to overcome them and grow your service design maturity.

Too eager to wait? Read the more elaborate article about the model in Touchpoint Magazine 10.3 on Managing Service Design, or contact us!

Want to know more?

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Touchpoint Strategy Canvas  –  a practical tool for combining service design with UX design

3 pitfalls in combining service design with UX design

Looking back at the Service Design Experience 2019

What is service design?

Service design in Shanghai

How to use UX design to safeguard users’ privacy

Take-outs from the Service Design Global Conference 2018

The difference between design thinking and service design

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