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Service design: a necessity for human-centered marketing

Yueh Fang Feng

Angela Campbell

September 19, 2023

Wait. What’s that sound? It’s the collective clutching of pearls of thousands of advertising and marketing professionals as they contemplate whether AI will negatively disrupt their livelihoods. The debates will continue for some time, no doubt, along with strategies for adapting and harnessing this impressively powerful technology. 

While we lament or welcome the rise of AI, there is another topic that rarely grabs the spotlight but should also have a prominent placement in our futurist discussions and marketing strategies. This dialogue focuses on a human-centered discipline that lies at the opposite end of our technology-driven anxieties: service design.

Businesses hoping to deliver great products, services, and experiences should look no further than service design. What is service design exactly? Service design is a discipline that considers all touchpoints along the user journey and then designs every aspect around it.

From the front end to the back end, each touchpoint connects to the next, thereby improving service delivery. And because the user journey is rarely linear, it involves multiple channels, processes, and policies. Anything that supports what consumers might interact with will find its design origins in service design, including infrastructure, technology, and the product itself.

While service design came about in the 1980s, it’s enjoyed renewed popularity recently. A large part of this is due to industries recognizing the advantages of connecting both sides of the business: the people who use the offering and the people who provide it as well as the back-end infrastructure and the front-end user experience. For instance, companies like Amazon and Walmart have acknowledged the need and benefits for some time now.

Its impact on innovation is another reason for the surge in interest. Service design fosters innovation, leading to new business opportunities. Financial institutions like Capital One have utilized service design to develop new offerings and enable a more frictionless user experience, allowing the financial stalwart to compete with online-only banks.

A seismic pre- and post-pandemic shift in employee and customer expectations is another factor motivating corporations toward a more human-centered service design approach, internally and externally. That’s because people are at the center of service design — not algorithms and machine learning, but messy, flesh-and-blood humans. This laser focus is central to creating exceptional journeys that account for functional and emotional needs. 

Service Design Best Practices

As advertising and marketing communications professionals, we’re often tasked with just one aspect of the user journey. One agency may be charged with the website, a second firm with social media marketing, and yet another with experiential marketing. Even the agency of record has a partial view. This divide is especially true in pharmaceutical advertising. While one agency works on the healthcare professional side of the business, the other is working on the consumer. It’s often disjointed and difficult to craft a complete patient treatment journey to create meaningful and effective tactics.

With service design, we’re able to take a holistic view of the end-to-end journey and connect different aspects to ensure the best outcome for the customer. Don’t be mistaken, however. The practice of connecting all touchpoints does more than deliver a frictionless user experience. Some technology-centered solutions, for example, may cut delivery time by half but aren’t desirable for users. Perhaps it violates their sense of privacy or drives costs up. Therefore, one of the best practices of service design is to understand and consider not only customers’ functional and emotional needs but also their social, cultural, and economic motivations and differences. It’s about balancing an individual’s needs with that of the business.

For the launch of a new drug, it’s common for the pharmaceutical industry to determine market need, identify business opportunities, and develop a marketing plan. The rest is left to agencies (e.g., ad development, website creation, etc.). While the process considers product interactions and user experience in advertising, it doesn’t go far enough. All parties must actively employ human-centered design principles to identify those moments and interactions across the journey that wield the most impact.

This might mean building new infrastructure, restructuring teams, or adjusting processes to improve customer experiences. By its nature, service design demands integration and collaboration between all parties involved in service delivery. The marketing industry, in general, must reexamine the barriers that get in the way of connecting all partners — and hence all touchpoints — and find ways to dismantle them.

Moving Forward With Design Thinking

In the past five years, the increased focus on human-centered design principles has yielded fruitful conversations and practices of empathy, diversity, and inclusion in our everyday lives. Adding service design to our arsenals and looking at marketing through a holistic lens will ultimately lead to more human-centered marketing, which has the potential to provide better outcomes for customers and companies alike.

At RAPP, our focus is pharmaceutical marketing. We can’t imagine a better customer to reap the benefits of implementing service design than patients who are navigating challenging health conditions and are often at their most vulnerable. They represent a compelling reason to advocate for the practice.

To that end, we’d like to suggest two things to agencies that serve the pharmaceutical industry:

  1. Consider the end goal and measuring success differently. While one agency may still be responsible for just one part of the user journey, consider measuring success by patient outcomes.
  2. Rethink agency offerings. Move away from product-centered offerings, like websites, TV ads, mobile apps, and so on. More abstract services like user experience, infrastructure building, and reimagining the end-to-end journey are now critical to the evolution of the industry. Adding such services will build a client’s business while helping produce better patient experiences and outcomes.

The pandemic has altered the way people think about many things, particularly businesses and ways of working. All industries can use this new phase to examine their business practices. It’s an opportunity to reset and revamp. It’s also an opportunity to explore human-centered service design (which can be augmented by our friend AI) for realizing exceptional experiences for an organization’s employees and customers.

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