Understanding the needs of others is fundamentally at the core of good service.
A working definition of a good service is the ability to address the needs and wants of an individual in the fastest and most effective way possible – whether it’s in a restaurant, at a hotel, or in the workplace.
The dynamic of identifying and addressing needs carries through all uses of the word service. And good IT services are as much about meeting the needs of an individual as good customer service in a restaurant is. The only difference is that in the latter the goal is to provide a dining experience, where in the former the goal is to enable productivity.
To solve a problem, you have to see it
As such, the first step in service design is identifying the needs of the end-user. This requires that we be able to see things from their perspective, and the most effective way to do this is to walk a mile in their shoes. We can align this principal to ITIL 4’s flexible operating model as the service value chain begins with demand from stakeholders (and design thinking would also suggest “desire”). This means that an organization can effectively and efficiently react to changing demands.
Storytelling allows us to make someone else the protagonist for a brief period of time, and while this is more commonly used to tell a thrilling story, it can also be used to better envision the unique challenges and problems the end-users face.
This process of determining an end-user’s need is referred to as the problem formulation stage of service design. It’s during this phase that the problem is explicitly identified to provide a clear target for all future efforts to solve it. Storytelling is useful here in that it allows to foster two things in the designers: clarity – a clear idea about the nature of the problem and the ways in which it impinges upon the end-user; and empathy – which allows the designer to recognize the problem as serious and worthy of attention.
Both are required in the problem formulation stage because without them, the process is likely to fail. Clarity without empathy may result in an unfinished or unrefined solution that stems from a failure to take the person’s complaints seriously. Conversely, empathy without clarity may result in well-meaning but poorly targeted measures that are more aimed at addressing the designer’s concerns than the end-users.
Visualizing the solution
Storytelling is also useful further into the service design process during the solution formulation stage, in which it can support modelling or testing various potential solutions. In the same way as a child might go back and try a different path in a choose-your-own-adventure novel, storytelling allows service designers the opportunity to play with their imaginary protagonist and try to change the outcome of the process.
In this way the story being told acts as a mental prototype of the service, allowing the designers to analyze the solution as presented and attempt to identify potential issues that may arise should it reach implementation.
Built on deep empathy
Running through these processes is a deep empathy and respect for the value of individuals affected by the service. Storytelling – like anything – can be done well or poorly, and good storytelling relies on a rich understanding of the decision-making processes, biases and objectives.
This only comes from close study of the user, who therefore need to be involved heavily in the process. To build a better future for their protagonist, designers need to have a thorough knowledge of who they are in the present.