Our Thoughts

When to use service blueprints

24th January 2020

The most widely known tool of service design is the customer journey map, and understandably so - after all, the purpose of service design is to create experiences that help customers get things done.

Unfortunately there is a tendency for organisations to talk about mapping the customer journey when what they really want to do is more akin to process mapping. They end up with something  I sometimes refer to as a "functional journey map", i.e. a map that concentrates on the steps a customer goes through, often completely ignoring customer needs, expectations, and feelings. That can be a useful exercise, but it's missing the essential point that a customer journey map needs to map the experience from the customer's point of view.

There are a few signs that you're not really getting the customer's perspective:

  • The journey is named after your process, not a customer goal
  • The first step in the journey is an interaction (e.g. a phone call)
  • There's no information about the context of the customer's life
  • Emotions don't feature anywhere
  • Someone settles an argument with a flow chart

...and one sure-fire fix: qualitative research with customers.

Sometimes, though, the organisation does need to take a step back and review its processes. A journey map is not the right tool for the job, but service design boasts a host of tools and techniques beyond journey mapping, and one of the most useful is the service blueprint.

It allows you to map out a high level view of the internal people and processes that support a customer journey, highlighting bottlenecks, inefficient handovers, and places where the customer is waiting without enough information.

The key strength of the service blueprint is that it separates out:

  • Customer actions
  • "On-stage" touchpoints
  • "Backstage" process steps which are invisible to customers (it's often helpful to swimlane these by function)

Work at a relatively high-level view, and give a loose sense of time from left to right (as a rule of thumb, keep anything that happens within hours in one column). The result will be a picture that shows the flow of a customer journey and internal process laid alongside each other.

You'll find the process of creating the service blueprint to be tremendously productive in helping staff from across different departments to understand each other better. It's common to discover myths and misunderstandings, as well as lots of wasted work and inefficiencies in the process.

Look out for some distinctive signs of trouble:

  • A wide "U" shape, indicating that the customer goes a long time with no updates while things are being progressed "backstage"
  • Multiple incoming arrows from the customer, which may mean they feel like they're doing all the running
  • Places where loops can occur, for example where a form is incorrectly filled in, often resetting the clock on SLAs and resulting in a long wait for the customer

If your "customer journey mapping" workshops keep turning into process arguments, try a service blueprint next time and you'll find that you learn much more from the session.

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