Why service design is fundamental to purpose and growth

By Joel Bailey, Managing Consultant EY Seren and Michael Von der Geest, EY Partner and CEO EY Seren.

Businesses are increasingly aware that purpose can drive performance. What’s often less well understood is the role that service design can play in creating, embodying and delivering that sense of purpose.

What do we mean by that?

Let’s take the example of a fictional bank, whose fictional purpose is to help its customers become more prosperous. That purpose may well have a powerful internal impact by motivating staff and clarifying service offerings, but in reality how is it followed through with customers? Traditionally, it’s the role of marketing and advertising to make the brand promise and ‘tell the story’. But the range of tools available to today’s organisations go well beyond that. The shift to digital and the resulting inexorable rise in available data has created a wealth of new opportunities.

Organisations can move from making a brand promise to actually delivering it at every touch point, continuously and interactively. Yet, too many companies are more focused on selling customers the latest products instead of satisfying the human need encapsulated by their purpose. Our fictional bank, for example, may spend its time selling us new mortgages, insurance and savings products rather than focusing on designing services that fulfil its constant and continuous purpose: helping customers navigate the journey towards financial well-being.

Design for retention not acquisition

This matters more than ever because, with low growth on the horizon in many countries and industries, we must be ready for a retention economy rather than an acquisitional one. In such an environment, keeping your existing customers satisfied is more valuable than the traditional ‘leaking bucket’ approach, where any customer losses will be more than made up for by those drawn in by the latest sales push. This is still a world where, as with some mobile phone providers, in order to get good service, customers have to threaten to leave. However, today’s leading digital organisations are increasingly creating a world where customers never want to leave because their service continuously meets their customers’ immediate, changing and long-term needs.

Traditionally, designing good service, great customer experiences or better engagement has been about removing friction and increasing usability. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s simply not at the same level as purpose. Identifying and understanding human needs and then designing services around them has the potential to be a much more powerful route to growth.

Looking at design differently

As you will probably have gathered, the way we’re talking about design covers a lot of ground. It goes right from designing services that meet as yet unrecognised human needs to designing a logo or the interface that we use to check our bank account. That’s also reflected in the increasing number of jobs with design in the title and the number of other jobs, like information architect or CEO, where design of services is a crucial element of the role, but does not appear in the title. So, it may be more helpful to recognise that, as people interact with services, they are continually and simultaneously interacting at four distinct levels where design plays a crucial role:

Human level

At this level the individual has a deeper underlying need but does not yet know how to meet it. The designer is operating at a deeper more purposeful level, identifying the underlying need and helping people to improve their lives.

Consumer level

The consumer is in the market, they know what they need and are looking to find a solution that they like. This is where the design of service propositions lives.

Customer level

The customer has found the service provider and is now in the customer journey. It’s more about how they want it than what they actually want. This is where we design experiences.

User level

At this level the customer is trying to get things done: fill out a form, read something, submit something etc. This usually happens at some sort of interface, which needs to be predictable, reliable, and understandable.

Meaningful long term sustainable growth

Thinking in these levels isn’t new. The model was first established by Ben Reason and Livework in their pioneering book Service Design for Business. What is changing is how organisations are working across these levels. Organisations often spend too little time and investment on the first two levels and too much time on the last two. That may well be because the first two levels require greater change and the financial benefits are less immediate. But the top two is where all the big wins reside. And organisations which design services at those levels will be better placed to fulfil their purpose and accelerate growth. In the next in this series we’ll explore how we’re helping organisations do agile design across all four levels.


To find out more about we can work together to design better services contact:

Joel Bailey

Michael Von der Geest

Follow our blog

Click here  to sign up to our blog series.

Visit our website to find out more.