5 principles to designing better service experiences

By Manlio Minale

If you take a moment to think about what your favourite brands are, chances are they are also the ones that give you the right level of service and value that you are looking for at that particular instant.

Whether it’s enjoying a nice home-cooked meal at Virgin Atlantic’s clubhouse or being able to chat to someone who actually knows you at First Direct to sort out your financial woes or finding a trusted cab in seconds on your Hailo app. 

We now live in a service economy with 80% of GDP in the UK and 65% of GDP in the US being generated by services and growing rapidly year on year. However, in general, people’s experiences of services are often poor.

When CEOs were surveyed, 80% of them believed that they delivered an excellent service experience to customers, while only 8% of customers believed that were receiving one. And 64% of these people actually switched to a different company because of this bad service experience.

The problem lies with the fact that businesses often think too narrowly about service. They often see it as ‘customer service’ (which although is very important) is generally thought of as fixing problems and a cost centre whose bottom line needs to be reduced and even outsourced.

Whereas designing ‘service experiences’ is in fact critical to the growth of a business, powering existing and new revenue streams and should be placed at the heart of a business. Better service design can help businesses attract new customers, keep them for longer and stretch into new areas to create value for them. The prize is indeed significant with 84% of customers saying they would pay more for a better brand experience. (Scroll down to read our 5 principles of service experience design).

Service design is about re-orientating your business around the user. Using insights gathered about the user to design even more useful services and tools for them, to enhance their experience of your brand. The democratisation of technology and abundance of data makes this even more possible for businesses to do. The best brands now involve their users upfront in their design process to co-create and rapidly test services and tools with them across the whole experience.


1) Nike’s Fuel Band motivates its users to lead healthy lifestyles by connecting its shoe products to its Nike+ GPS/social media tool to measure how well you are doing in training and let you share that data with your friends and peers.

2) Hailo, the amazing taxi firm app, allows you to quickly find a trusted black cab who will whisk you home without the need to pay cash. It then lets you rate the driver, so the next customer can see what they are like.

3) Square is a new way for small businesses to let their customers pay for services through their iPhone, in a cost effective, smart way. It allows payments on the go and helps companies track their most loyal customers.

The common thread between all three of these examples is that they are all trying to crack a bigger user need or challenge. They aren’t focusing on small, incremental product improvements or features (which businesses often do because they are less risky).

They want to revolutionise the way things are done and create better experiences and realities for their users. They realise that it’s the products and services that people now talk about – rather than their adverts! So this is the key battle to win.


When designing better service experiences, it’s helpful to think about the following five things:

1. People not products

Always design the service around the user and their needs. How do we want them to feel at each stage along the experience? What are their frustrations and needs, and how can we create services and tools to fulfill these in better, more effective ways.

2. Across the whole user experience

The best services look at the whole journey that users go through - from pre-, to during, to post-purchase. Businesses often just focus on the purchase or transaction phase, whereas it’s increasingly the pre- and post- user experiences that offer the best opportunities for winning and keeping customers.

3. Embrace new technologies

The cost of new technologies has reduced dramatically which means it is now possible to embrace these to create services and tools that give the power to the user, allow them to access these services at any time and in any place, and to react to the user’s needs instantaneously.

4. Test, learn and improve

No services are perfect. The key is to rapidly prototype them, test them in situ and use this data to continuously improve the user experience, creating new and more valuable services and tools for them. Being in perpetual beta, is an advantage and enables your users to feed into the process and create the services they want, rather than you trying to second-guess what they may need.

5. Build advocacy platforms

Word of mouth is the best advert for your service. As part of service design we need to think about how we create networks of advocates that can recommend, use and feed into your service development. We need to look after these networks and make sure they are getting rewarded for their continued loyalty with beta versions, enhanced features and offers.

With these ‘rules’ in mind, let’s all set about creating useful services and tools that change the way people do things and improve their lives – not just ‘slightly improve’ them. 

So hopefully we can say ‘Hailo’ to more great services soon!

Manlio Minale is a senior strategist at Wolff Olins.

Image via Hailo 

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