Designing Services That Ensure Repeatable Customer Delight

A service project can go wrong in many ways. A well thought out process can help keep service projects in check and can help a business generate repeatable success. Read on to know how a process can make or break your service project success.

A Service Project
A Service Without A Process
What Should A Process Do?
Is It Even Possible to Design Such a Process?
Benefits of Following a Process
Problems with Following a Process
Conclusion – Service Design Driven by Process

A Service Project

In the corporate world, projects are prospected, sold, executed, and delivered by teams. Each stage mentioned above is handled by one or more people who may or may not be responsible for only that stage. A typical service project involved the following stages:

  1. Identifying a Customer
  2. Prospecting to the Customer
  3. Understanding the customer’s needs
  4. Preparing a proposal and providing a compelling offer to the customer
  5. Gathering detailed requirements
  6. Creating delivery specifications based on the requirements
  7. Iterating with the customer on the form of the final delivery
  8. Splitting the deliverables into milestones and phases
  9. Starting the project work and delivering
  10. Iterating with the customer for clarifications and questions that can come up once detailed execution starts
  11. Completing the work in stages and achieving the milestones
  12. Delivering in phases or in one shot
  13. Providing Training and Knowledge Transfer
  14. Getting Paid

Depending on the size of the project these steps may get expanded or may get skipped. In any case, each step in the process needs certain actions to be completed by you or the customer.

Each of the steps will be handled by various people and there will be a need for constant communication and information exchange with the customer.

A Service Without A Process

There is no such thing as a service without a process. A process always exists. It may be a very crude one and it may exist only in the project managers’s head. The problem comes when it exists only in the managers head and at every stage the team is told what to do next.

This creates a lot of problems. One of them being that all the people working on the project are blind to everything except the next step. They are not ware of the end goal and are not aware of how their contribution is impacting the project. They cannot plan ahead and may not be able to contribute to improving the process.

The second problem that comes while working on a service project without a set process is that the team’s ability to respond well to unexpected eventualities goes down. If there does not exist a mutually agreed up on process by which all the stakeholders agreed to operate, there can be a gross mismatch in expectations that can lead to disappointments and dissatisfaction.

So in summary, the two problems are:

  1. People are blind to the overall vision of the delivery
  2. People are ill-equipped to handle unexpected expectations

What Should a Process Do?

A process should help do the following:

  1. Get all the stakeholders on the same page about what to expect when
  2. Provide guidelines and rules for communication that covers – frequency, language, content, tone and attitude to be adopted
  3. Provision for everyone to safely raise flags
  4. Establish rules of engagement to deal with conflict of interest
  5. Identify Go-To people that are responsible for various aspects of delivery and communication

Is It Even Possible to Design Such a Process?

Service projects by their very nature are anything but cookie-cutter set of operations that lead to project success. The service projects exist because the needs and requirements of certain projects are different for every case and so it would seem that trying to fit that into a common process might feel futile.

So then what if the process that is defined is so generic that it is not helpful at all. This means that the designed process has to provide a scope for customization which still achieving its objectives.

Benefits of Following a Process

Miscommunication, communication gaps, misunderstanding, conflicts of interest are some of the consequences of a deeper problem that plagues projects. One such fundamental problem is indecision.

The cause of indecision is usually lack of predefined criteria for making decisions. Project managers and senior members of a team can usually cope well in situations where making decisions is tougher. But junior members usually just give up and sit on the decision until it becomes critical or they receive an external nudge.

A process that includes pre-defined criteria for making decisions can help everyone make faster decisions. For example, a threshold can be specified for the number of hours a project engineer can spend before declaring that the task is in trouble and raises appropriate flags.

Another benefit of following a process is that it provides all the stakeholders a common checklist or view point of the progress. Sure there will be deviations from the plan and process. But the process will act as a anchor or reference for identifying if there is a deviation in the first place.

The process that includes a vocabulary that all stakeholders must use will go a great distance in sorting out pesky communication issues and misunderstandings.

Problems with Following a Process

Following a process is not without its faults. The predefined process might frustrate stakeholders (until they fully buy into it). A process that looks different from what the customer has in mind might make him feel that the project is not going well.

Some of the people working on the process may feel too constrained and may feel that creativity is being sacrificed. Flexibility is another aspect of a person’s working style that will be challenged when following a set process.

Conclusion – Service Design Driven by Process

Designing a service that is scalable and repeatable because it can solve customer’s problems consistently is the way to generate repeat revenues and higher profits.

One aspect of the service design, at least when it comes to execution and delivery for the project is a well designed process. A process that serves the needs of all stakeholders, addresses the common problems faced by all of the participants and one which provides a framework for communication, conflict resolution, stakeholder management must be the goal of every Service Designer.

Written on July 9, 2015