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The 17 user steps to consider as a service designer

Pieter De Vocht

Innovation & Service Designer
Service design briefs rarely come without a bulky scoop of challenges. That’s what makes the job of a service designer so much fun! But without some type of framework, designing innovative services could easily start to feel overwhelming.
Are you a designer? Do you feel like that service design brief hit you in the face with a three-pound hammer? No worries. You’ll manage just fine. This article might help you with that. We’ll go through the universal user steps that we consider in almost any customer journey. Also, we’ll cover a few key research questions to ask during each user step.  
Note that not all service designs will have an impact on all user steps. And note that not all user steps must be performed by the same user. And now that I think about it there’s a whole other bunch of notes. But let’s not go there. That’s content for a future blog post.
Guess that’s enough for an intro. So let’s hop to the universal user steps and the corresponding research questions you should try to answer.
Before use

1: Discover

The first step in any customer journey is that someone -let’s call her Lisa- must get aware of a user problem. During this step, Lisa can also learn about your value propositions to solve the problem. Lisa isn’t necessarily your end user though. Maybe her kids are. Key questions to ask yourself as a service designer are:
  • Who should be the discoverer? (e.g. Lisa, her husband, her kid, her doctor,..)
  • What should be the discovery environment? (e.g. a hotel room, a social media platform,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to target marketing messages to specific user groups)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. lowering the user’s effort to understand the your value proposition)

2: Acquire

This step is about getting access to the product or service. You buy it. Then you get it -or at least you get a document as proof that you own the thing. This step can be physical (the sales guy hands you your new shoes) or digital (you get a mail, thanking you for purchasing that concert ticket). Key questions for service designers:
  • Who should be the acquirer? (e.g. Lisa, her boss,..)
  • What should be the acquisition environment? (e.g. a desk near the entrance of the event)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to provide proof of owning a valid concert ticket)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. lowering the user’s effort to acquire concert tickets)

3: Transport

Your solution may need to be relocated. Say Lisa bought a washing machine. That thing needs to get to her place, scratch free preferably. Ask yourself this:
  • Who should be the transporter? (e.g. Lisa, a UPS guy, an FTE from the company that sells washing machines,..)
  • What should be the transport environment? (e.g. Lisa’s car, a UPS van, a cargo bike,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to absorb shocks on a bumpy road)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. lowering the risk of damage during transport, lowering the effort Lisa needs to put in, minimizing the transportation time,..)

4: Store before use

Lisa ordered her groceries online. These products need to be stored at some point, regardless of whether the groceries are delivered or take-away.
  • Who should be the safekeeper? (e.g. a grocery store FTE, Lisa, her neighbor,..)
  • What should be the storage environment? (e.g. a separate storage space in the store, a cooled reusable box at the front door,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to stack multiple boxes, to keep groceries cool for a few hours,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the space needed for storage)

5: Install

Let’s get back to the washing machine. Lisa needs to have this product installed before she can use it. The installation is all about getting a solution in place so that the user can start using it. Again, the one doing the installation isn’t always the end user.
  • Who should be the installer? (Lisa, the delivery guy,..)
  • What should be the installation environment? (e.g. a tiny room on the 5th floor)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. a step-by-step guide, troubleshooting,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the amount of actions/technical knowledge/handyman tools/skills/.. needed to install the washing machine)

6: Set up

Okay, so the washing machine has power supply and is connected to the water pipes. Now someone needs to configure the machine. You know the questions by now, don’t you?
  • Who should be the configurator? (e.g. Lisa, a tech person, the machine itself,..)
  • What should be the configuration environment? (e.g. an app on your phone)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to set sound volume, clock settings,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the set-up time)

7: Learn to use

A user needs to learn how to configure, use and maintain the solution.
  • Who should be the learner? (e.g. Lisa, a tech support person,..)
  • What should be the learning environment? (e.g. an app, website, a display on the washing machine, a classroom,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. ability to give feedback during use)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the learning efforts)
During use

8: Prepare and confirm

This step is about making the solution ready to use. Someone must hit the power button of that washing machine, feed it with washing powder and some fabric softener maybe. Also clicking ‘start washing’ is part of this step.
  • Who should be the initiator?
  • What should be the preparation environment?
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the washing machine should be able to alert the user if (s)he forgot to add washing powder)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing room for human errors, like forgetting to add washing powder)

9: Execute and operate

This is when the end user actually uses your solution to get something done. That ‘something’ is the user’s reason for using your solution. Lisa wants clean clothes. That’s why she uses the washing machine. The end user is not always the consumer. Maybe Lisa has a laundry business and she uses washing machines to clean clothes for her customers. In this case Lisa is still the end user of the machine, but her clients are the consumers of Lisa’s services.
  • Who should be the end user? (Lisa, Lisa’s customers,..)
  • What should be the operating environment? (a laundry room in a house, an industrial laundry room,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the washing machine should be able to source water)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the amount of clothes one can wash in a single go, minimizing the time needed to get clean clothes,..)

10: Monitor

During this step Lisa gets feedback from her washing machine to check if the machine is running smoothly or if something is wrong.
  • Who should be the examiner? (Lisa, a tech support person,..)
  • What should be the monitoring environment? (an app that comes with the washing machine, an on-machine display, a remote display in another room,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the washing machine should measure temperatures, humidity levels, vibration patterns,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the amount of relevant data for the examiner, minimizing the risk of long/costly repairments,..)

11: Conclude

Now we’re ending the usage of our solution. This is Lisa taking out the freshly washed clothes.
  • Who should be the one ending this step? (Lisa, the machine itself,..)
  • What should be the operating environment? (a laundry room in a house, an industrial laundry room,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the washing machine should be able to call someone to take out the clothes, to turn itself off,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. reducing the risk that humid clothes stay in the machine long after the washing process has ended)
After use

12: Clean

Let’s drop the washing machine example for a better one. Lisa also owns a motorcycle. She enjoys taking it for long rides on the curvy roads in her country. But she also loves the cleaning process. Wiping the dirt off that retro bike provides her with and a meditative sense of awareness and fulfilment.
  • Who should be the cleaner? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
  • What should be the cleaning environment? (Lisa’s garage, an outdoor spot near the garage,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to easily access vital parts of the engine that need regular cleaning, the ability easily access cleaning tools that speed up or ease the cleaning process, the ability to withstand detergents,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. reducing the risk of high maintenance bills, maximizing the enjoyment the user gets from cleaning the bike,..)

13: Store after use

After Lisa has cleaned her bike, she looks at it with satisfaction for a few seconds. Time to store the machine until the next ride.
  • Who should be the safekeeper? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
  • What should be the storage environment? (Lisa’s garage, an outdoor spot near the house,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to withstand rainy and cold weather, the ability to withstand theft,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. minimizing the amount of space needed for storing the bike, maximizing the feeling of certainty that nothing will happen to the bike,..)

14: Upgrade

Users may want to replace parts of a product or add new stuff to it. This can be software or hardware upgrades. Lisa picked the latter. She likes the original looks of her motorcycle, but she did purchase a windshield to upgrade the riding comfort.
  • Who should be the upgrader? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
  • What should be the upgrade environment? (Lisa’s garage, an outdoor spot near the garage,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to install third-party components)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the amount of possibilities for adding third-party components)

15: Maintain

You could say that cleaning the bike is also maintaining the bike. You’re right. Maintenance goes a little further though. It’s checking the oil, maintaining the tire pressure or even changing the tires -okay, that’s upgrading if you will. See how these user steps can blend into each other sometimes?
  • Who should be the maintainer? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
  • What should be the maintenance environment? (Lisa’s garage, an outdoor spot near the garage,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to easily access vital parts of the engine, the ability easily access maintenance tools for common maintenance rituals,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. reducing the amount of maintenance needed, maximizing the ease of maintenance rituals,..)

16: Repair

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning. Lisa filled her Kambukka thermos flask to the brim with hot coffee, puts on her helmet and pushes her motorcycle off the driveway. She only plans to return once the sun goes down. But the damn engine won’t start. She checks the battery and the start relay. Nothing wrong there. Fuck that. This is where her technical knowledge on bikes ends.
  • Who should be the one to repair the bike? (Lisa, a professional bike servicer,..)
  • What should be the repairment environment? (Lisa’s garage, a professional garage,..)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to access every single part of the bike, the ability suggest what’s wrong with the bike,..)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the lifetime of each part, minimizing the amount of repairments,..)

17: Dispose

Fast forward to 2040. Combustion engines aren’t allowed in nearby city centers anymore. Lisa cannot drive or sell her bike anymore. She took good care of her bike but the thing has finally come to an end. In 2040 we cannot dump a bike on some graveyard. We should disassemble and recycle as much as possible.
  • Who should be the disposer? (Lisa, the seller of the bike, the manufacturer of the bike,..)
  • What should be the disposal environment? (e.g. a local drop-off point)
  • What features or functions should the system have to enable this step? (e.g. the ability to disassemble into single materials)
  • Which user needs are we aiming for here? (e.g. maximizing the amount of materials that can be recycled)
Phew! Thanks for making it till here. Hope that means you got some value from this article. Maybe save this tab for future reviews or jot some stuff on a piece of paper to remember the framework. Those 17 steps are almost always worth considering as a service designer.
Good luck nailing your next service design!

Pieter De Vocht

Innovation & Service Designer

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