The Rapid Rise of (Digital) Service Design

The Rapid Rise of (Digital) Service Design

When people talk about digitalization – and that is very often – they often just discuss technology. While technology is certainly required to make processes digital, another key component is to understand what the processes are in the first place and which ones would benefit from digitalization? Who would benefit? How should the solution be built?

As digitalization has advanced in Finland, being able to answer these underlying questions has been driving the rapid rise of service design, whose role in building new products and services can cover everything from research to user experience design to technology choices. In fact, there are very few business and government applications where service design is not beneficial.

Fundamentally service design is about finding ways to better serve your customers or in the case of internal tools, your workers. The aim is simply to gain a positive business impact by offering better service. Sometimes that means improving existing tools and processes and sometimes the creation of new ones.

Service design in practice

Service designers utilize a number of different tools, but the work almost always begins with research. Research can be for example ethnographic (observing how people behave without interrupting) but the point is to gather information about existing user behavior without making any assumptions beforehand.

Once adequate information regarding the obstacles that users face has been gathered, a solution is proposed. The suggested solution itself can be anything from a new business model (such as moving from selling to renting) to an updated user interface and everything in between. Usually the solution is rigorously tested with real customers to find out whether the proposed solution was the best one and to see how it could be developed further.

Approaching a business problem from the customer perspective can be eye-opening, even for organizations that claim to be customer-centric. The whole point is not to jump into conclusions (as we are often prone to do), but to approach the problem with a fresh mind – as a blank slate.

An example is office furniture manufacturer Martela. Instead of just selling furniture, they’ve created a service design based business unit that analyses a customer company’s ways of working and proposes the development of the company’s work space based on that information. According to Martela, a service design approach to planning office spaces can improve job satisfaction by up to 50% and increase productivity by up to 40%.

As another good example, for a long time dental care was notorious in Finland for having long queues and unfriendly booking methods. Making a phone call between 1pm–2pm on the first Tuesday of every month in order to get an appointment nine months from now was not a great way to lure customers. Megaklinikka changed this by creating an easy online booking and cancellation system complete with a service process that included handling all dental issues at one go instead of bouncing the customer from one specialist clinic to another.

Finland has strong service design knowledge

While exporting services has traditionally not been a strong point for Finns, in recent years several Finnish companies have noted that the competences of Finnish service designer are world class. Whether that is because of our innate ability to be better listeners than talkers or the Finnish attention to detail is hard to say, but several companies have been touting their service design expertise and expanding internationally.

Famous examples include IT company Reaktor, who have opened offices in New York and Amsterdam and service design specialist Idean, which was recently acquired by French consulting giant CapGemini after Idean had made great progress in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Service design as a subject is also taught at several institutions, including Aalto University and several universities of applied sciences. Don’t forget Slush, the startup event that brings a huge number of startups and investors to Finland, as the event features a large amount of companies that have design thinking in their DNA. So, the future looks bright as Finland is producing a steady flow of talented service designers and the topic receives a healthy amount of attention.