Frontstage and Backstage

Your constantly-updated definition of Frontstage and Backstage and collection of topical content and literature

What are Frontstage and Backstage?

Frontstage and backstage are the areas that border the line of interaction in a customer experience. Customers directly encounter frontstage parts, such as counter staff, but not backstage ones, including back-end staff, systems and other partners. In the best experiences, frontstage and backstage operate in harmony. 

“Bottom line, having a customer-centric culture is more than just a good thing — it’s become a matter of survival.”

  — Jim Marous, Co-Publisher of The Financial Brand & Owner/CEO of the Digital Banking Report 

See why frontstage and backstage harmony is essential for great customer experiences:

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The Long Play of Customer Experience 

In service design, it’s vital to clearly understand how users engage with brands, from their initial impressions online, to their first moments inside the store, restaurant, hotel, etc., and, hopefully, far beyond as loyal customers. This theater comprises two areas:

  1. Frontstage – Everything customers can see (e.g., hotel reception staff)

  2. Backstage – Everything past the point of what customers can see (e.g., kitchen staff, supply-ordering systems)

The frontstage and backstage are divided by the line of interaction—which marks touchpoints where customers interact with the brand/service provider—and the line of visibility, which represents the border beyond which customers can’t see that organization’s internal actions or processes. Particularly important facts to consider include:

  • The frontstage must be consistent with the brand presence encountered elsewhere (e.g., online).

  • Although customers can’t see backstage, backstage actions impact customer experiences.

  • Customer experiences involve many interactions between the various parties who partner to ultimately deliver those experiences, namely:

    • The service provider’s frontstage and backstage staff (e.g., waiters and kitchen personnel, respectively); and

    • Staff and systems of organizations that support the service provider, including ancillaries such as delivery drivers and systems for ordering items.

  • The systems which frontstage and backstage staff use are products involved in serving the end customers. So, staff who use databases, for example, are customers in the sense they require great experiences so they can serve their customers best. 

  • A brand’s backstage also includes frontstage actions of behind-the-scenes supporting organizations. For example, a driver delivering to a bookstore’s goods-in entrance is the brand face of the delivery company, serving the bookstore so the bookstore’s frontstage can serve the end customers.

  • To exceed customer expectations (and abide by relevant laws), great services maximize accessibility, accommodate relevant third-party apps and draw on other aspects of customer experience design.

The frontstage is always visible, but customers also experience impacts from the backstage.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Design for Powerful Performances from Frontstage and Backstage

Here are guidelines to help you see how your brand’s/client’s frontstage and backstage can work best:

  • Create a customer journey map, to chart what customers experience throughout their customer lifecycle with the brand. Customer journey maps reveal touchpoints where customers interact with brands across various channels. However, these show only the frontstage dimensions. 

  • Create a service blueprint. Service blueprints help designers get behind the scenes and identify the interactions and processes involved within the brand itself. It’s crucial to map out all interactions that occur internally so you can understand the scope of impact between the various partners. A good blueprint will present all the interactions and the full range of cause-and-effect chains that run throughout the stages.

  • Appreciate how the backstage culture is crucial to the customer experience. For the best experiences—and to avoid any breakpoints or disconnects—the frontstage and backstage partners must have strong communication as they act together, in concert. A sign of an organization’s maturity is that frontstage and backstage are aligned in their processes and vision. In some organizations, though, the backstage area is siloed away from the frontstage. Customers notice the lack of unity when problems surface on the frontstage, ranging from slight delays to epic fails. However, regardless of the number of interactions and levels you believe you can improve with service design, the organization’s culture must be ready to embrace these changes.

  • Remember, client organizations may have highly intricate systems and processes. So, when you consider how to make improvements with service design, clients might seem reluctant. For example, they might have to negotiate tricky technological or supply-chain issues. Many of these realities can be complex, interrelated matters which your service blueprint might not accommodate comfortably.

In our video example, the customer encounters the staff member in the pharmacy (frontstage). To fill the customer’s prescription, the staff member keys in data and starts a chain of events elsewhere (backstage). This web of interconnectivity includes the drug manufacturer, distributor and other parties who help fill prescriptions. How well backstage partners perform depends on factors such as the efficacy of their software and the processes they have to support the service provider.

Overall, to optimize the customer experiences that frontstage and backstage harmony can deliver, it’s helpful to view every point of interaction within and between the two stages as a customer experience in itself. When you do service design right, you help transform the risk of disappointment during these many interaction points into a chance to delight: a culture of excellence that will help retain loyal customers.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

Learn More about Frontstage and Backstage

Take our Service Design course: https://www.interaction-design.org/courses/service-design-delivering-integrated-service-experiences

This UX Collective piece offers many insights regarding frontstage and backstage: https://uxdesign.cc/service-design-101-ae119981292c

This blog contains helpful advice on how to consider frontstage and backstage in your design: https://blog.practicalservicedesign.com/the-difference-between-a-journey-map-and-a-service-blueprint-31a6e24c4a6c

This academic paper explores in-depth frontstage and backstage aspects, and relevant challenges: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10257-008-0106-0

Literature on Frontstage and Backstage

Here’s the entire UX literature on Frontstage and Backstage by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Frontstage and Backstage

Take a deep dive into Frontstage and Backstage with our course Service Design: How to Design Integrated Service Experiences .

Services are everywhere! When you get a new passport, order a pizza or make a reservation on AirBnB, you're engaging with services. How those services are designed is crucial to whether they provide a pleasant experience or an exasperating one. The experience of a service is essential to its success or failure no matter if your goal is to gain and retain customers for your app or to design an efficient waiting system for a doctor’s office.

In a service design process, you use an in-depth understanding of the business and its customers to ensure that all the touchpoints of your service are perfect and, just as importantly, that your organization can deliver a great service experience every time. It’s not just about designing the customer interactions; you also need to design the entire ecosystem surrounding those interactions.

In this course, you’ll learn how to go through a robust service design process and which methods to use at each step along the way. You’ll also learn how to create a service design culture in your organization and set up a service design team. We’ll provide you with lots of case studies to learn from as well as interviews with top designers in the field. For each practical method, you’ll get downloadable templates that guide you on how to use the methods in your own work.

This course contains a series of practical exercises that build on one another to create a complete service design project. The exercises are optional, but you’ll get invaluable hands-on experience with the methods you encounter in this course if you complete them, because they will teach you to take your first steps as a service designer. What’s equally important is that you can use your work as a case study for your portfolio to showcase your abilities to future employers! A portfolio is essential if you want to step into or move ahead in a career in service design.

Your primary instructor in the course is Frank Spillers. Frank is CXO of award-winning design agency Experience Dynamics and a service design expert who has consulted with companies all over the world. Much of the written learning material also comes from John Zimmerman and Jodi Forlizzi, both Professors in Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University and highly influential in establishing design research as we know it today.

You’ll earn a verifiable and industry-trusted Course Certificate once you complete the course. You can highlight it on your resume, CV, LinkedIn profile or on your website.

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