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service design

Don’t spend $2 million on a new app without knowing what your customer truly wants

Businesses are acutely aware that to remain competitive, they need to be providing a seamless experience for their customers. Ten years ago a LinkedIn search for ‘customer experience manager’ would have come up dry. Today, CX, UX and Design thinking have become integral components of business design.

The problem however is that too many organisations are confusing a ‘seamless user experience’ with the need for a new ‘shiny’ app or platform to wow customers with. The reality check for some comes after investing anywhere from $1 to $2 million on a new app only to find that while a customer might even think it’s a great idea, they don’t actually use it. Meanwhile, phones aren’t being answered, customers are repeating their problems to multiple people and the customer is frustrated that the organisation can’t meet their basic needs.

Far from a new app, what customers want is for organisations to fulfil the promises they made when they signed up, which may be something as simple as answering the phone in less than 5 minutes.

I believe too many organisations are falling victim to ‘Shiny iPad Syndrome’ – we’ve seen it time and again, with large organisations more interested in investing in shiny new technology solutions than addressing the core incompetencies in their business model and service delivery.

Because a new app or AI solution is visible and ‘sexy,’ companies are spending millions building solutions to the wrong problem. They are assuming to know what their customers want, before deep-diving into what that actually is, and more often than not we find that the customer wants something completely different.

In truth, most organisations don’t do the simple things well. Because we’re so granular in our approach, there are things we can improve immediately around people, policies, procedures, props, and process.

The 5 P’s of Service Design to focus on before investing in the next shiny tech:

Help your people empathise

People are the literal face of your business, so if they aren’t communicating effectively or aren’t empathising with customers, the experience can often be disappointing. One of the simplest changes we’ve implemented with customers is building a customer persona or avatar and posting around the office so that when sales staff are engaging with customers they can better empathise with their customers.  

Review out of date policies

Another great place to start is by examining and refreshing policies. If your policies are out of date, how can you re-work these to empower people to deliver a better customer experience without having to jump through hoops?

Connect your procedures across departments

Quite often we see organisations where many promises have been made, but there is no structure in place to deliver on these promises across the different functions in the business. By reviewing and streamlining your processes, you can eliminate anything that doesn’t add value to the customer and focus on the things that do.

Refresh your props

Looking at your props and collateral, you can delve deeper into customer communications and identify any shortcomings. This includes looking at things like website copy, emails and SMS to ensure communications with customers are relevant and useful rather than abrupt and convoluted.  

Refine your processes

Do you have checklists for people to actually go through in a quick, seamless and consistent manner on a repeatable basis? Have you thought through those processes that help customers rather than just serve your internal needs?


Damian Kernahan is founder and CEO of Australia’s first service design business, Proto Partners. Their mission is to enrich the lives of every Australian, one customer experience at a time. As Australia’s longest practitioners of Service Design, Proto Partners have led the thinking and delivery of extraordinary service improvements for Australian and New Zealand organisations and their customers, including Optus, Westpac, AMP, Gumtree, News Limited.





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