Driving Organizational Consensus through Service Blueprinting

Service Blueprinting: A Practical Technique for Service Innovation is an article written by Mary Jo Bitner, Amy Ostrom and Felicia Morgan to describe a customer-focused approach for innovating and improving services. A service blueprint is a tool used to describe the characteristics of a service and its interaction points so that they can be implemented, tested and maintained. Broken down into components, service blueprinting is useful as a method for addressing challenges in service design and innovation and managing the design of a customer experience. It provides employees and organizations with high-level strategic guidance and micro-level direction for implementing a service.

Service design can be defined as a process that is co-produced or designed “in real time by customers, employees, and technology.” Customer experience design is the creation of interactions “involving the customer, other people and/or technology in the production and consumption of a service.”  As a whole, the authors credit service blueprinting as a useful technique for visualizing both of these components using a customer-focused lens.  The intention of a service blueprint is to be able to help an organization see the connections and framework that must be supported in order to execute and deliver on a customer-focused service.

To further illustrate the intention of a service blueprint and why it is useful, let’s use a bank as an example. A customer that enters a bank could have a number of different goals such as opening a new account, depositing a check or speaking to a bank teller about an usual transaction on their account. The customer arrives at a physical bank location and walks inside. Where the customer stands first after walking inside the bank to decide where they should go next is considered to be a touchpoint. Touchpoints are defined as a point in the customer’s interaction with a service in which evaluation of value and quality at a specific time and place occurs. At this very moment, a number of things could happen at the customer’s first touchpoint with the bank. An employee working at the bank could greet this customer and ask them what they can help them with that day. Alternatively, a customer could be left to wander the bank, trying to figure out the direction they should walk in to find someone who can help them address their needs. This is an example of a moment in a customer’s journey that a service has the opportunity to shape.

Taking this a step further, a service such as ones offered by a bank can be focused even further using a customer journey map. A customer journey map is similar to a service blueprint in that it follows a sequence over a period of time, but is oriented more specifically around the journey of a specific user. Going back to the bank example, a customer that arrives at a bank could be a first-time customer. That user may have a very different experience than a user that has been to the bank several times. In both instances, a customer journey map could be used to better understand the users’ interaction with bank services. If we were to focus on the first-time customer, we could begin to map or illustrate the customer journey in by major stages or points in time, touchpoints and what a customer might be thinking at that specific touchpoint. This is a customer-focused approach that can provide everyone in an entity or organization like a bank, an understanding of what to do for a customer at specific moments in their journey. Brought to life, the bank could identify the lobby entrance during a customer’s arrival to be a critical touchpoint that all employees should understand. This means that as an employee, I know what to do to start a first-time customer down the right path. It could be the difference between a customer successfully accomplishing their goal of opening an account or leaving and going to another bank.

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When developing a customer-focused service, how can a service blueprint also be used as a tool to drive organizational consensus? 

Consistently orchestrating a memorable customer experience around key touchpoints is how an organization begins to formulate a customer’s positive or negative experience with a service. Because a service is something that unfolds and is delivered to a customer over a period of time, doing this successfully means that employees must have a shared understanding of the common goal they are working towards for the customer. Without alignment as to which touchpoints are most critical to providing customer value and how these experiences should be brought to life, the function of the service blueprint as a strategic tool for both service design and customer experience design will not be effective. This means that both the high-level strategic guidance and micro-level direction of a service serve a dual-purpose in visualizing the customer focus to also gain organization consensus in the service that is ultimately provided. Returning to the example of the first-time customer journey at a bank, employees have a consistent action they can take in order to address what the customer might be thinking as they enter the lobby by greeting them and directing them to the right place within the physical location. There is less room for individualized interpretations around how to go about properly addressing a specific touchpoint that creates a better experience for the customer.

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As a service scales, having this shared understanding of the common goal for the customer become even more important. This means that if employees are unsure of how they can act to support a critical touchpoint one location, the same confusion will likely manifest in other locations as well. For example, if the number of physical bank locations grows from one to five, neglecting a critical touchpoint at one location has the same implications at all of the others. Essentially, the negative impact on the customer’s journey becomes more dangerous as a service scales. Acting consistently for each touchpoint provides employees of an organization like a bank, with a shared vision around their role in a customer’s journey.

The authors state that referring back to the defined service process as being key to successfully overcoming differing opinions. These opinions could be different interpretations about how an idea should be translated from something that can be tested to launching the actual service. What I think they are missing in outlining this success factor for service blueprinting is that governance from a set process does not mean that the service will be launched as intended without internal organization alignment. When there is a gap between the idea of the service to an organization’s ability to execute around the key touchpoints for a customer, the lack of alignment between employees of an organization will translate into the customer’s perceptions of service quality, value and overall brand. In short, it’s not just reference back to characteristics of a process, but it is internalization of the role employees have in delivering memorable customer experiences.