Is service design different to experience design?


Service design and customer experience have coexisted for almost 20 years. Are they basically the same thing or in fact quite different? Have your say. 

21st Apr 2021

In the past I have seen service design and customer experience as being basically the same thing, albeit from different perspectives.

Service design was the D-school perspective, driven by a more empathetic, human-centric approach to design. In contrast, experience design was the B-school perspective, driven by a more brand-centric, commercial approach.

Both have coexisted for almost 20 years, albeit without much cross-fertilisation between the two, despite using common frameworks such as customer journey mapping and service blueprints.

Recent developments have made me start to think that they may in-fact, be quite different things. That service design should be about designing the MECHANICS of providing a service (from a co-created, SDLogic perspective) whereas experience design should be about designing the PERCEPTION of the service in use (from a phenomenological, affective psychology perspective).

This dichotomy actually helps us to think through the evolving (SD+CX =) SX models, as businesses start to move beyond fixing broken service experiences, and start to adopt interaction optimisation, journey orchestration and conversational commerce as competitive differentiators.


Replies (6)

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By Nisha Batel
22nd Apr 2021 09:27

I've never liked the phrase experience design. I don't think you can design experiences because there are so many other elements that are out of your control. The customer's mood. The reliability of technology. The weather! But services can be designed. So the difference is that customer experiences are much more holistic and also factor in things that are out of the control of the organisation.

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Replying to Nisha Batel:
Dr. Graham Hill
By Dr. Graham Hill
26th Apr 2021 13:07

Hi Nisha
You raise an interesting point, namely, that many things about the experience of a service are outside your control. But I don't think that means you can't design elements of the experience, just that you can't control how the experience will be perceived as the customer uses the service.
The key is to step back from the the service itself and ask yourself, how will the customer sense the service? How will they feel about it as they are using it? What will they think about it? And how will they relate to the service provider afterwards? These questions, set out in Bernd Schmitt's insightful book, 'Experiential Marketing', provide a simple framework to start to think through how we should design elements of the customer experience.
The proof of the pudding will, of course, be in the customer's eating of it.
Best regards, Graham

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By JaneAir21
22nd Apr 2021 11:30

Service design is a comprehensive, root and branch, assessment and appraisal of your organisation/service across all channels etc and the most important thing is that it is an ongoing process, but experience design is more product-based and is often a single big project that details what a brand wants their customer experience to be once they have analysed all their product offerings.

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Replying to JaneAir21:
Dr. Graham Hill
By Dr. Graham Hill
26th Apr 2021 13:20

Hi Jane
If you look at the service experience projects run by various agencies and consultants for corporations you will find that they often confuse services and their resulting experiences.
Different agencies and consultants, and corporations take rather different approaches: from a more customer-driven approach taken by many D-School trained service designers, to a more brand-driven approach taken by B-School trained CX practitioners. Either approach is a good start, but neither approach by itself is sufficient to design great service experiences.
Best regards, Graham

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By jimmy23
22nd Apr 2021 12:02

Great question Graham. I think at the heart of this is the need to establish a clear distinction between service and experience, across the board. Too often experience is being touted as service and visa versa.

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Replying to jimmy23:
Dr. Graham Hill
By Dr. Graham Hill
26th Apr 2021 13:12

Hi Jimmy
The reason I wrote the post was because I see confusion between the process of designing a service (usually to help customers get their functional, social and associated jobs done) and the process of designing how they will experience the service (usually, to help customers get their emotional jobs done). The two are inextricably linked, but they are not the same and require different knowledge, skills and experience to design well.
As you suggested, the confusion has to led to both services and their resulting experiences being poorly designed.
Best regards, Graham

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