Service Design: Good intentions aren’t good enough

By Anna Ho, Strategist

Recently, like many Americans, I have become much more focused on the quality of this country’s most prominent service provider — the federal government.  Having worked with clients seeking to disrupt and innovate within large organizations steeped in legacy and complex infrastructure, I have much empathy for those in public office. It is easy to lose sight of your organization’s mission and the underlying value of your product or service without a cohesive strategy and a shared understanding of the people you serve, the value you provide, and the outcomes to be achieved.

For any organization, whether public or private, looking to improve the impact of their services and ensure value through cross-channel interactions, we here at SI can’t stress enough that strategic innovation begins with Service Design.

The Service Design Starter-Kit

With something as complex and nebulous as “service”, it’s sometimes hard to know where to begin. We’ve found that successful Service Design is rooted in three defining activities.


  • Identify key service touchpoints & the people, activities, and artifacts involved.


  • Agree on end-user of services & determine driving service goals.
  • Uncover critical pain points & inefficiencies.


  • Identify what influences the behavior of end-users & service providers.
  • Define tactical approaches to influencing behavior & improving service experiences.

Here’s a breakdown of the theory behind our approach and how we’d put our thinking into practice, using federal public services as an example.

1) Discovery

This initial phase of research is aimed at building a comprehensive understanding of key people, activities, and artifacts that make up the service ecosystem. An ethnographic approach to research provides the basis for the Service Blueprint, a visualization of all touchpoints and support systems needed to deliver service(s) across multiple channels. This document is critical in helping form a shared understanding of existing practices and systems.


The thought of mapping out the service ecosystem of an organization as large and intricate as the federal government can be daunting. The goal, however, is not to exhaustively map out organizational processes, but rather, offer a starting point for understanding the various points at which the federal government provides a service to the American public. Through interviews with stakeholders from all major domains in the service ecosystem, we can gradually build a working blueprint that outlines key touchpoints with end-users — the public — as well as interactions between government agencies and groups that impact service delivery.

Often times in public service, there is a big disconnect between those defining services and those tasked with implementing services. A broad understanding of the activities and resources needed to deliver services, such as IT or regulatory agents, lays the groundwork for a smart approach that ensures that those relaying services directly to the public are better prepared and motivated to deliver on the organization’s overarching service goals.


2) Stakeholder Alignment

Innovation of your organization’s service ecosystem can impact many different groups, not just end-users. Alignment amongst stakeholder groups on goals, outcomes, and a collective understanding of critical pain points will help mitigate the inertia and resistance that typically stymie change efforts. We have found that with the Service Blueprint as a touchstone, alignment happens best through a collaborative workshop that pulls together groups, establishes common goals, and diagnoses problems and operational inefficiencies.


A stakeholder, in the case of public service, is anyone with a vested interest in how services are delivered to the public. Alignment amongst, including those charged with service deployment, such as civil service agents, and not just executives helping to define services, can sometimes seem impossible — especially when politics are involved! That is why stakeholder alignment often requires the support of impartial, third-party facilitators. A skilled facilitator will not only help stakeholders to confront the reality and complexity of the existing service ecosystem, but will also challenge stakeholders to empathize and consider pain points and driving goals of all service stakeholders, not just their own.


3) Motivational UX™

At the heart of Service Design is a human-centered approach to design that takes into account the perspectives of both end-users and service providers. At SI, we are champions of Motivational UX™, a multidisciplinary approach to helping service organizations consistently build better relationships with their end-users through all touchpoints.


As Lincoln once said, government is “of the people, by the people, for the people.” The end-user in the case of the federal government are those ultimately on the receiving end of services – the American people. Unfortunately, more often times than not, those in public office are quick to jump to solutions and desired outcomes without providing sufficient time to understand the needs and motivations of those they serve, not to mention those on the ground, people directly responsible for providing services to the public. Smart solutions and impactful service experiences begin with an understanding of what influences human behavior.  Only once these influences are identified, are we able to plan a tactical approach to improving services and public engagement.


The bottom line: when it comes to effective service, good intentions aren’t good enough.

Service is often characterized by good intent, a heartfelt aim to bring value to people. Intent is only part of it. Effective and meaningful service, much like a successful product, comes from a strategic approach rooted in discovery, learning, and planning. Any organization serious about providing value through service must take a human-centered approach to Service Design.

Related Posts

Hi! Let's stay in touch.
Sign-up for our newsletter!