Service blueprints were first described by Lynn Shostack, a banking executive, back in 1982 in the Harvard Business Review. They’ve become popularized over the last few years as service design has grown as a profession. In addition to being useful in service design they are often used by operational management to gauge the efficiency of work within an organization.
What Is a Service Blueprint?
A service blueprint is, in essence, an extension of a customer journey map. A customer journey map specifies all the interactions that a customer will have with an organization throughout their customer lifecycle – the service blueprint goes a bit deeper and looks at all the interactions both physical and digital that support those customer interactions and adds a little more detail to the mix.
The blueprint is usually represented in a diagram based on swim lanes (each lane being assigned to a specific category) with interactions linked between lanes (using arrows to represent the flow of work).
Service blueprints enable great service and as Kate Zabrieskie, the world leading customer service trainer says; “Although your customers won’t love you if you give bad service, your competitors will.”
Service blueprints assist with service design which in turn fits into the bigger picture of brand management.
What are the Benefits of Service Blueprinting?
Service blueprints fulfill a number of uses but most often they’re used for:
Improving a service. By understanding the original service in detail – it’s possible to identify and eliminate or ameliorate pain points.
Designing a new service. A blueprint for a new service allows for the creation of service prototypes and testing before a service is launched to customers.
Understanding a service. There are many services which have become so engrained in corporate culture that they are no longer understood by anyone. Blueprints can reveal silos and areas of opacity in existing processes.
Understanding the actors in a service. When there are many actors (customers, suppliers, consultants, employees, teams, etc.) it can be very useful to have a blueprint to help manage the complexity of a situation.
Transitioning a high-touch service to a low-touch service or vice-versa. Broadening or narrowing the audience for a service requires careful consideration as to how that might be achieved a blueprint can help guide the way for this.
Service blueprints can be drawn from business roadmap blueprints as a starting point.
What Goes Into a Service Blueprint?
The five main swim lanes that are captured in a service blueprint are as follows:
The physical evidence. Anything that a customer can see, hear, smell or touch belongs in this lane. This isn’t limited to store fronts and websites but should include signs, forms, products, etc.
The customer’s actions. What does your client base have to do to use the service at the touchpoint? If the customer doesn’t take action, you can’t respond to their needs.
The front office. The activities, people and physical evidence that a customer will be able to observe after they have taken an action.
The back office. The activities, people and physical evidence that is necessary to deliver the service but that the customer cannot see or interact with directly.
Supporting actions. Anything that supports the service without being unique to the service.
You should feel free to split up any of these lanes if you find they’re getting too complicated. For example, you might want to split digital and physical interactions into different lanes for clarity.
There are also some optional inclusions:
Time indicators. It can be useful to show the time taken at any step of the process. Knowing the time can help you understand whether the service is efficient and meeting customer expectations.
Quality KPIs. What are you going to measure and what are the targets for achieving customer satisfaction?
Customer’s emotional state. Not all services deal with distressed customers but those that do should give some thought to the emotions that a customer is dealing with at the point of interaction.
Sketches. Anywhere that words are not enough – feel free to include sketches, diagrams, etc. to make the blueprint more user friendly.
An example of a well-articulated service blueprint – with the swim lanes clearly defined and all interactions clearly demonstrated too.
The Key Elements of a Service Blueprint
Structuring your blueprint is a question of following a simple process:
Identify the process to be blueprinted.
Identify the customers to be served by the process.
Examine the customer’s perspective of the service (the customer journey)
Identify the actions on the service by employees, technology and other actors (suppliers, etc.)
Link activities together for natural flow in order that they occur
Ensure that you have identified the evidence and KPIs for a successful outcome
Notations on Blueprints
There are two common notations on a service blueprint. Arrows and annotations.
Single headed arrows are used to denote the source of control moving to the next dependency. Double headed arrows show that agreements must be reached between actors prior to the process moving forward.
You can make notes any way you like on your diagrams (they are after all, your diagrams) but it can help to build a legend and key for clarity and ease of communication.
Service blueprints can be as detailed as you want to make them. Here you see notes and images against the swim lanes of a service blueprint.
The Take Away
Service blueprints are a great way of fully understanding the process related to a service. They enable you to map all the interactions related with delivering a service and to determine quality and time KPIs for those interactions. In a world where the line between product and service is becoming increasingly blurred it only makes sense for a UX designer to learn how to deliver and use service blueprints in their work.
You can find a technical paper on service blueprints offering more complexity to the process here -
Lynn Shostack’s original article can be found at the Harvard Business Review - https://hbr.org/1984/01/designing-services-that-deliver/ar/1
Hero Image: Author/Copyright holder: Cameron Degelia. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0