What are service blueprints and why do they matter

Ross gives a detailed perspective on the benefits of well designed service blueprints.

A rubber ring in a pool.

We typically define service blueprints as maps representing all we know about an organisation and its components (people, systems, processes) that support a customer journey.

The blueprint traditionally features swim lanes (each lane being assigned to a specific category) with interactions linked between lanes. These maps are usually a snapshot of a single point in time, however we design them to be organic, living maps, which can evolve along with an organisation. 

Think of service blueprints as an extension of customer journey maps. They are instrumental in mapping out complex scenarios spanning many service-related offerings.

Four reasons to invest in creating a service blueprint

When we think about service blueprints we typically think about the following four key scenarios where creating them works best

Creating new products and services

Designing and developing new digital products and services is a team game, and no one team makes anything a reality alone. From operations to marketing through to design, development, finance and beyond, working together is necessary. 

However, these teams are often separate entities. That’s why mapping your to-be service as it flows across an organisation is so important. Taking this approach will offer a single source of information and truth to people across organisational voids. 

Envisioning the to-be requires a deep understanding of the as-is. To get this you will need to facilitate conversations across the organisation in order to map the systems, people and processes you have in place today. To begin with, you can simply record this data in a spreadsheet, it’s accessible and quick to edit as new information surfaces.

As a clear communication of exactly what is needed to deliver the service, your map is perfect for identifying and assessing the cost, revenue, and capital invested in each element of the service. Your map will identify the sequence of processes, calling out the priority areas of the service as well as the contributions needed by each team. 

This view is critical to spotting service bottlenecks as well as where your service might break when serving customers, employees or even when leveraging partners as part of your supply chain or wider ecosystem.

Improving existing products and services

When working with existing products and services our starting point is often to understand how efficient and effective they are. If that service is in any way ambiguous, service blueprints, when paired with the right insight from observational studies or other forms of insight, will help you create a more logical flow, highlighting roadblocks in smooth and delightful customer journeys.

How do they do that? Fundamentally, they break down the customer’s journey into stages across your service. They are human-centric and not determined by your organisational structure, although they may include elements of it. This helps to map the exchange of value between customers and different parts of the organisation. To this end a service blueprint creates visibility into what processes your organisation is using to meet or miss the expectation of the product or service at each stage of the customer journey.

By mapping the front-stage (the service elements visible to the customer such as your website) and the backstage (elements not visible to the customer such as your content stack or CRM) you will quickly uncover a series of gaps, pain points, opportunities and signals. These will often be validated by interviewing colleagues, contextual inquiry or from your own zoomed out view of the end-to-end service process.

Improving internal communication and understanding

Since creating digital products is about many different teams pulling together we need to motivate people across the organisation if we want to improve customer experience holistically. 

Service blueprints detail each team's actions, making it clear to them how their activity leads to good or bad customer experiences. This enables better communication within teams and can drive shared outcomes across teams. Beyond teams, we individuals can also see how their roles directly contribute to customer experience as a hole by understanding the intersections and overlaps based on the work they do, for example, in the call centre, branch or even powering the move to cloud. 

Streamlining organisational processes

By mapping people, processes and systems we can easily identify, and remove, service elements that are negatively impacting customer experience. They mirror our organisational structures back to us making the as-is approaches and issues visible to us. Moreover, service blueprints can be used to map everything from organisational culture to content production processes.

In this way, service blueprints create a shared understanding of the bigger picture, serving as a lens to drive quality improvements. Elements that might be negatively impacting the organisation are often a natural cause of organisational shifts or growth resulting in overlapping effort, service gaps and redundant tools. 

To improve our processes we need to gain commitment and involvement in the mapping process from a range of teams. Critically, this includes direct involvement from leadership. Once the mapping is done, and the prioritisation of focus of effort is agreed we need an Executive Owner of the changes. The owner is responsible for monitoring the cumulative impact our improved organisational processes are having on the end customer experience and business metrics like revenue and profitability and continuously evolving the map based on the changes we make to avoid overlap of effort. 

Why you should invest in service blueprints

Service blueprints in their raw form are not a client deliverable, they are detail-heavy and hard to interrogate. But once the flow of the experience, the organisational levers and desired metrics are understood, picking apart the service blueprints by identifying the right ways to generate impact can begin, i.e. by shaping budgets and briefs to respond to the issues at hand and communicating about them clearly to all teams involved. 

This makes service blueprints more tangible, and builds traction around them. Taking this approach means that rather than remaining as a fixed asset people feel like momentum can be built up against them. At which point, the blueprint can be augmented to represent that positive change based on the work done to improve the overarching service.

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