Companies that outmaneuver their competitors by providing new or improved services to customers keep their service development process from being “ad hoc.” These customer-focused companies tend to move with specific intent through a set of planned stages of service innovation. Typically, these stages involve establishing clear objectives, idea generation, concept development, service design, prototyping, launch, and customer feedback.
This column continues our discussion of Service Blueprinting, a technique that supports several of these steps. As a visualization tool, Service Blueprinting will generate new service ideas and identify gaps in current service quality that are impacting customer loyalty.
There are five components of a service blueprint. Our example shows a simple blueprint for a one-night stay in a hotel. They are:
• Customer actions. This include all the steps a customer takes during the service delivery process. In a Service Blueprint, customer actions are usually depicted in sequence, from start to finish. Customer actions are central to the Service Blueprint, so they are described first.
• The onstage visible actions taken by employees. Onstage visible actions by employees are the face-to-face contacts with the customer during the service delivery. These are separated from the customer by the line of interaction. Service delivery actions by frontline customer contact employees are shown here. Each time the line of interaction is crossed through an interaction between a customer and contact employee (or self service technology), a moment of truth occurs. During these moments of truth, customers judge your quality and make decisions regarding future purchases.
• Backstage actions taken by employees that are not visible to the customer. The next part of the Service Blueprint is the “backstage” invisible actions of employees that impact customers. Actions here are separated from onstage service delivery by the line of visibility. Everything above the line of visibility is seen by the customer while everything below it is invisible. In our hotel example, these actions included taking the food order (accurately) and preparing a quality meal.
• Company support processes used throughout the service delivery. The fourth critical component of a Service Blueprint is the “support processes” that customer contact employees rely on to effectively interact with the customer. These processes are all the activities contributed by employees within the company who typically don’t contact customers. These need to happen, however, to deliver the service. Clearly, service quality is often impacted by these below-the-line of interaction activities.
• Physical evidence of the service. Finally, for each customer moment of truth the physical evidence of the service delivery at each point of customer contact is recorded at the top of the blueprint.
Vertical lines are drawn on the blueprint to show how various activities and processes interact to deliver the service to the customer.
Building The Blueprint
Now that you have a basic understanding of the parts of a Service Blueprint, and what one looks like, think about developing a blueprint for a precision agriculture service for your business. The first step will be to define all the steps in delivering the service you want to blueprint. If you are trying to differentiate your service offering to different customer segments, it will be helpful to blueprint each approach. Once you have chosen the service you want to blueprint, all the customer actions involved in the service are placed on the blueprint in the Customer Actions section.
Getting this done in sufficient detail may be challenging because most of us have never broken services into their individual parts. But I guarantee the effort is worth it. Part of the challenge will be deciding where the service starts and stops from the customer point of view. Once the customer actions are determined, the onstage and backstage actions of contact employees can be placed on the blueprint. Then identify the supporting processes that employee actions draw on and put these on the blueprint, too. Now link up each customer action to the onstage and backstage employee actions and support processes. I suggest you complete the physical evidence section last.
My example of a hotel stay blueprint shows only the basic steps in the customer experience. An overview blueprint like this is a good place to start, but you will likely need to add more detail at key steps where you suspect improvement could occur. Blueprinting is a very flexible tool, and you can add additional detail as you identify potential shortfalls and hopefully moments of delight in the delivery of the service. Remember — you want to capture the end-to-end customer service experience from the customer’s point of view in the blueprint.
Thinking about the precision agriculture service you selected, who are the onstage employees that deliver the service? No doubt there are several, from sales agronomists who consult with the customer to your office staff who schedule the service to applicators who drive equipment in the customer’s field. What are the behind-the-scenes processes they rely on to deliver a memorable experience to the customer? Where can gaps occur that prevent a smooth trouble-free experience? Are there places that appear to meet customer needs, but could still be improved anyway to begin exceeding needs?
Service blueprinting will identify areas where a service could be refined. If you introduced new elements into the service delivery, would that create more customer satisfaction and help you differentiate yourself from competitors?
We will return to Service Blueprinting in future columns because this customer-focused business tool can help you grow your business. Putting your service delivery under a microscope can help you increase customer satisfaction and increase loyalty. Service blueprinting will also help you differentiate yourself from competitors.