Service blueprints are diagrams that visualize organizational processes in order to optimize how a business delivers a user experience. They are the primary tool used in service design.
Similar to journey mapping, service blueprinting should be the result of a collaborative process informed by well-defined goals and built on research. Successful service blueprints drive alignment and organizational action.
Effective service blueprinting follows five key high-level steps:
- Find support: Build a core crossdisciplinary team and establish stakeholder support.
- Define the goal: Define the scope and align on the goal of the blueprinting initiative.
- Gather research: Gather research from customers, employees, and stakeholders using a variety of methods.
- Map the blueprint: Use this research to fill in a low-fidelity blueprint.
- Refine and distribute: Add additional content and refine towards a high-fidelity blueprint that can be distributed amongst clients and stakeholders.
5-Step Framework for Service Blueprinting
1. Find support
Level-set and educate on service blueprinting. First, pull together a crossdisciplinary team that has responsibility for a portion of the service and establish stakeholder support for the blueprinting initiative. Support can come from a manager, executives, or clients.
2. Define the goal
Choose a scope and focus. Identify one scenario (your scope) and its corresponding customer. Decide how granular the blueprint will be, as well as which direct business goal it will address. While an as-is blueprint gives insight into an existing service, a to-be blueprint gives you the opportunity to explore future services that do not currently exist.
3. Gather research
Unlike customer-journey mapping where a lot of external research is required, service blueprinting is comprised of primarily internal research.
A. Gather customer research.
Begin by gathering research that informs a baseline of customer actions (or, in other words, the steps and interactions that customers perform while interacting with a service to reach a particular goal). Customer actions can be derived from an existing customer-journey map.
B. Gather internal research.
Choose a minimum of two research methods that put you in direct line of observation with employees. Use a multipronged approach — select and combine multiple methods in order to reveal insights from different angles and job roles:
- Employee interviews
- Direct observation
- Contextual inquiry
- Diary studies
4. Map the blueprint
A. Set up
It’s useful to organize a short workshop session (2–4 hours) to do steps 4 and 5. This helps create a shared understanding amongst your team of allies and ensures that the blueprint remains collaborative and unbiased.
If all workshop participants are in the same physical location, set up by hanging three oversized sticky notes on the wall side by side. Each member should have a pad of post-its. The result of the workshop will be a low-fidelity version of an initial blueprint. If workshop participants are spread across a variety of locations, turn the workshop digital by using a white-boarding tool like Mural.co.
While any mapping method is collaborative at its core, blueprinting can still be done individually. If this is the case, be sure to share your blueprint with stakeholders and peers early and often.
B. Map customer actions.
In a service blueprint, customer actions are depicted in sequence, from start to finish. A customer-journey map is an ideal starting point for this step. Do note that a blueprint’s focus is the employee experience, not the customer’s experience, thus this portion does not need to be a fully baked customer-journey map — rather, you can include only the user touchpoints and parallel actions.
C. Map employees’ frontstage and backstage actions.
This step is the core of a service-blueprint mapping. It is easiest to start with frontstage actions and move downward in columns, following them with backstage actions. Inputs should be pulled from real employee accounts, and validated through internal research. (Remember the old lesson from field research: how things are supposed to be done is rarely how they’re done. You need to discover and document the latter.)
D. Map support processes and evidence.
Add the process that employees rely on to effectively interact with the customer. These processes are the activities involving all employees within the company, including those who don’t typically interact directly with customers. These support processes need to happen in order to deliver the service. Clearly, service quality is often impacted by these below-the-line interaction activities.
Layer in the evidence at each customer’s action step. Work your way through the first 5 steps and ask “what props and places are encountered along the way?” Remember to include evidence that occurs frontstage and backstage.
5. Refine and distribute
Refine by adding any other contextual details as needed. These details include time, arrows, metrics, and regulations (refer to Service Blueprints: Definition for a full list).
The blueprint itself is simply a tool that will help you communicate your understanding of the internal organization processes in an engaging way. At this point, you need to create a visual narrative that will convey the journey and its critical moments, pain points, and redundancies.
A good way to implement this step is to have another workshop with your core team. Having built context and common ground throughout your mapping process, bring them back together and evolve the blueprint into a high-fidelity format.
Best Practices for Creating Successful Service Blueprints
- Limited scope. Similar to customer-journey mapping, we suggest that one blueprint be created for each core service. Blueprints are complex enough already — don’t complicate matters further by trying to capture multiple services in one blueprint.
- Add time and quality measures.
- Services are delivered over time, and a step in the blueprint may take 5 seconds or 5 minutes. Adding time along the top provides a better understanding of the service.
- Quality metrics are experience factors that measure your success or value — the critical moments when the service succeeds or fails in the mind of the service user. For example, what’s the wait time?
- Rooted in research. A service blueprint should be created from primary data sources (i.e., employee’s accounts of their workflows, observations of employee’s performing their work, or work-log sheets).
- Iterate. Service blueprinting should be an iterative process. Take a first pass using findings from personas, empathy maps, journey maps, and experience maps, and then come back to the blueprint to refine it over time.
- Value output and process. The process of bringing people together and visualizing an infrastructure that is otherwise abstract can engage employees and stakeholders from across groups and can spur collaborative conversation and change.
This practical method for building a blueprint could easily apply to other mapping methods. Following these five high-level steps will ensure that you have a team of allies that are engaged, a process based in user research, and a blueprint that aligns internal efforts.
Learn more about creating successful service blueprinting in our full-day course Service Blueprinting.
Service blueprints were first described by Lynn Shostack, a banking executive, back in 1982 in the Harvard Business Review. They’ve become popularized over the last few years as service design has grown as a profession. In addition to being useful in service design they are often used by operational management to gauge the efficiency of work within an organization.
A service blueprint is, in essence, an extension of a customer journey map. A customer journey map specifies all the interactions that a customer will have with an organization throughout their customer lifecycle – the service blueprint goes a bit deeper and looks at all the interactions both physical and digital that support those customer interactions and adds a little more detail to the mix.
The blueprint is usually represented in a diagram based on swim lanes (each lane being assigned to a specific category) with interactions linked between lanes (using arrows to represent the flow of work).
Service blueprints enable great service and as Kate Zabrieskie, the world leading customer service trainer says; “Although your customers won’t love you if you give bad service, your competitors will.”
Author/Copyright holder: erik roscam abbing. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Service blueprints assist with service design which in turn fits into the bigger picture of brand management.
When Do You Need a Service Blueprint?
Service blueprints fulfill a number of uses but most often they’re used for:
- Improving a service. By understanding the original service in detail – it’s possible to identify and eliminate or ameliorate pain points.
- Designing a new service. A blueprint for a new service allows for the creation of service prototypes and testing before a service is launched to customers.
- Understanding a service. There are many services which have become so engrained in corporate culture that they are no longer understood by anyone. Blueprints can reveal silos and areas of opacity in existing processes.
- Understanding the actors in a service. When there are many actors (customers, suppliers, consultants, employees, teams, etc.) it can be very useful to have a blueprint to help manage the complexity of a situation.
- Transitioning a high-touch service to a low-touch service or vice-versa. Broadening or narrowing the audience for a service requires careful consideration as to how that might be achieved a blueprint can help guide the way for this.
Author/Copyright holder: Standards and Configuration Management Team (SCMT). Copyright terms and licence: Public Domain.
Service blueprints can be drawn from business roadmap blueprints as a starting point.
What Goes Into a Service Blueprint?
The five main swim lanes that are captured in a service blueprint are as follows:
- The physical evidence. Anything that a customer can see, hear, smell or touch belongs in this lane. This isn’t limited to store fronts and websites but should include signs, forms, products, etc.
- The customer’s actions. What does your client base have to do to use the service at the touchpoint? If the customer doesn’t take action, you can’t respond to their needs.
- The front office. The activities, people and physical evidence that a customer will be able to observe after they have taken an action.
- The back office. The activities, people and physical evidence that is necessary to deliver the service but that the customer cannot see or interact with directly.
- Supporting actions. Anything that supports the service without being unique to the service.
You should feel free to split up any of these lanes if you find they’re getting too complicated. For example, you might want to split digital and physical interactions into different lanes for clarity.
There are also some optional inclusions:
- Time indicators. It can be useful to show the time taken at any step of the process. Knowing the time can help you understand whether the service is efficient and meeting customer expectations.
- Quality KPIs. What are you going to measure and what are the targets for achieving customer satisfaction?
- Customer’s emotional state. Not all services deal with distressed customers but those that do should give some thought to the emotions that a customer is dealing with at the point of interaction.
- Sketches. Anywhere that words are not enough – feel free to include sketches, diagrams, etc. to make the blueprint more user friendly.
Author/Copyright holder: brandon schauer. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 2.0
An example of a well-articulated service blueprint – with the swim lanes clearly defined and all interactions clearly demonstrated too.
Structuring Your Blueprint
Structuring your blueprint is a question of following a simple process:
- Identify the process to be blueprinted.
- Identify the customers to be served by the process.
- Examine the customer’s perspective of the service (the customer journey)
- Identify the actions on the service by employees, technology and other actors (suppliers, etc.)
- Link activities together for natural flow in order that they occur
- Ensure that you have identified the evidence and KPIs for a successful outcome
Notations on Blueprints
There are two common notations on a service blueprint. Arrows and annotations.
Single headed arrows are used to denote the source of control moving to the next dependency. Double headed arrows show that agreements must be reached between actors prior to the process moving forward.
You can make notes any way you like on your diagrams (they are after all, your diagrams) but it can help to build a legend and key for clarity and ease of communication.
Author/Copyright holder: Rosenfeld Media. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0
Service blueprints can be as detailed as you want to make them. Here you see notes and images against the swim lanes of a service blueprint.
The Take Away
Service blueprints are a great way of fully understanding the process related to a service. They enable you to map all the interactions related with delivering a service and to determine quality and time KPIs for those interactions. In a world where the line between product and service is becoming increasingly blurred it only makes sense for a UX designer to learn how to deliver and use service blueprints in their work.