Now that I have formal education and experience in service design, I can look back on projects I did before to reflect on what I can learn for the future.
While not all of these are directly related to using service design methods and tools, it is related to how you ‘sell’ and do the process internally. From my knowledge, my organisation (or at least my part of it) had never purchased a service design project and I can pretty much guarantee that nobody I had worked with had heard of or used service design in the past. I say this just to set the scene for my reflections.
Also, the institution that I worked for was a matrix organisation. Working in a matrix organisation can be tricky; you have responsibilities for areas in which you have no authority- well, that was my experience with it. It is possible that it works differently in different organisations or even in the private sector. But I was in the public sector at a University and I had responsibilities where I had no official authority that others recognised- that was a difficult place to be. My KPIs were set to achieve various targets but I was not necessarily given the tools or ability to accomplish them.
My role had shifted over the years but the core of it had stayed quite the same…it amounted to managing the on-campus experience for international students (and in my last year, international staff) and to be involved with international student recruitment. This put me in touch with the whole process from enquiries and marketing to on-campus services straight through to Alumni. I was so determined to make the international student (and staff) experience better and smoother…but I had some lessons to learn first.
1.Trying to do it on my own
Before I really understood what I was creating and taking on, I assumed that I could do this…on my own. But as I was soon to find out once I started my academic studies, service design must be a co-creative process. It is not for one person to do. One person cannot (and should not) do everything. My problem was that I could see my vision in my head but I didn’t have the language to explain it to others. This inability to explain to others is a problem in itself as you will see when you read on. Trying to do a service design project by yourself is like trying to run a 30-seat restaurant by yourself…you cannot seat the people, take the orders, cook the food and deliver it yourself. It will fail and it will not be pretty. Service design, like I said, is a co-creative process and it needs to involve the users and the staff that will provide the service (and others who will not in a best case scenario).
2.Having too big a project
In my project I was trying to create what we called the Student Journey…this was end-to-end (cradle to grave as it is sometimes called) map. Starting with initial enquiries right through to the alumni/donor segment. I was trying to do that by myself. It seemed reasonable at the time and, more specifically, no one else seemed interested in doing it. While I really felt that it needed to be done (and it DID…I was at least right about that). But just like I mentioned above, it is not the job of one person. One of the important things that I learned during my MBA in Service Innovation & Design is that what I was trying to do was a mission impossible. The scope of the project was way too big. It needed to be broken down into much more palatable chunks. It probably would have been easier to “sell” as well. That takes us to the next problem.
3.Too little internal buy-in
There were two issues that were most important affecting the lack of internal buy-in: 1) I couldn’t fully verbalise what I felt needed to happen and 2) the project was too big. These are mistakes 1 and 2 above…and those two together led to this mistake of too little buy-in. No one had signed up for this mammoth project and people couldn’t necessarily see how this work would make their jobs better/easier. I knew it…but again, my ability to explain it well enough was lacking. It was difficult to experience this at the time. It led to some bad feelings and confusion. Not good for working relationships. There needs to be a reason people will go the extra mile or will help you complete your tasks.
4.Not explaining what the goal is
Overall what I saw was that I was unable to really explain what my goal was or what the outcomes would be. This is totally on me. I am far wiser now and I know how much work it would be to get people on side. It would still take time but reflecting on this has allowed me to see where I went wrong in ‘selling’ this process to others. Service design is known for its lack of tangible outcomes at the outset. It literally is called “The Fuzzy Front End”. So this will always be an issue but with better storytelling skills and a better understanding of the process, there can be enough of an explanation to get people on side to at least start the process. Then, if you can chop your overall goal in to more manageable pieces, you can build confidence and buy-in with those. Service design requires a different relationship with colleagues because it has such a fuzzy beginning. It clashes with most organisational cultures and this is why organisational culture is a big issue when pursuing service design or wanting to use it. One of the indicators about the success of service design projects is organisational culture.
This reflection was really good for me. It also helped me to realise that I have a lifetime of programming from the way I was brought up. Underlying my work decisions, I can hear my mother saying “if you want it done right, do it yourself”. I heard that a lot growing up. The reflection has allowed me to dissect and learn from a difficult past situation and to understand where my desire “get things done” comes from. Hopefully this reflection will help someone who is looking into introducing service design to their organisation.
Almost every institution acknowledges either actively or passively the need to improve and focus on the student experience. That the student experience needs to be the starting point. This is because the students who come through their doors are no longer passive receivers of education, just happy to be accepted. These days most young people are used to being powerful consumers (research shows that Millennials increasingly use their money to reflect their values and also that “they will have the most spending power of any generation by 2018”). Today’s potential students are much savvier than they have been in the past because they have much more information at their fingertips 24/7. Information asymmetry has shifted to the point where students/customers/users are no longer at a disadvantage. This means that institutions need to be much more deliberate, open and collaborative regarding their services and, ultimately, they need to focus on the whole experience.
Access to information informs student expectations
This means that universities, who are increasingly recruiting fee-paying students (whether domestic or international) need to recognise that those students will be analysing how you market to them, where you market to them, and what your core values are. While I know that the relationship between a student and their institution is different (I even highlight this here), it is not as far away from a customer- business relationship as we would all imagine, especially in the initial institution search/application/accepting phase. Students these days have a lot of choice, are very mobile and they have access to a lot of information sources.
Design FOR the student experience – the goal and the tool
University is one of the most, if not THE most, important and long lasting experiences a person will have in their lifetime. It is certainly one of the only experiences that can and will inspire donations years after the experience has ‘ended’. It is also one of the most co-created experiences in a person’s life (it is no longer just me alone in the shadows shouting this fact- the 2017 Higher Education Policy Institute found in their annual survey that “Students see themselves as co-producers of their student experience”). So this, in a way, makes the university student experience different than the business one I mentioned earlier but only in the way that makes it MORE intense, and more in need of being based on experience design principles.
As much as we talk about experience design, one of the most important aspects to remember is that the institution cannot actually design the student experience. You can only design FOR the student experience. This may not seem like a big difference (just 3 letters) but a big difference in mindset. Understanding that you are designing for an experience reminds you that there are two (or more) participants in the process. The figure below shows that not only are there more immediate participants, but the experience is also interacting with everything that has happened before in the student’s life and the hopes and dreams that they are investing in by attending university. All this means that how someone experiences something is not in the service provider’s power. It is influenced by the provider but ultimately it is up to the student to determine how it is experienced.
The above graphic is designed as a customer experience but the same processes happen when students have an experience. There are two aspects to take into consideration- the encounter experience and the overall student experience. The encounter experience is explained as being “limited to the customer’s experience of the interaction with the service provider during a service encounter” while the student (or customer = experience “includes memories of critical incidents from past experiences, and the encounter experience, as well as dreams and goals of the future”.
As mentioned earlier, Higher Education is different. It is quite different in the scope with which interactions happen. During a degree programme, these experiences can happen hundreds of times (if not thousands) from the time recruitment process starts until the student leaves. This is what makes having a good student experience a good marketing tool. Therefore a good student experience is both the goal and the tool.
When does the student experience begin? Earlier than you may think
The beginning of the student experience begins even before they are actually your student. Prior to applying and attending your institution, these prospective students will search online to wade through the sea of information in which to judge if their outlay of tens of thousands of dollars/euros, etc will be worth the experience – which includes, but is not limited to, the actual education, services rendered, housing, etc. To get an idea about how this experience will play out, they will be judging from the information online posted by present and past students (and possibly staff) what their experience will be like. Therefore, designing your information is part of the student experience, dealing with public complaints is marketing, how you respond to their enquiring emails is marketing, how you advise students about study abroad is marketing, how you conduct office hours for the registrar’s office is marketing…and ALL of this is student experience as well as being service design (if you want to know more about service design see these video descriptions here and here).
The curriculum is not the only thing that counts in attracting students (and staff). The care with which you plan and execute your services will affect your reputation as an institution; services also impacts if it is worth the money. People are also tweeting, writing status updates, Instagramming about your services, how they are treated on a day-to-day basis via online and face-to-face services. It is time to design them to benefit those who use them rather than those who provide them. Even better if you can get your students to help co-create them!