Live from Confab: Customer service design

Customer service design: Content strategy in the spaces between, by Mike Atherton

confab logoAs a child of the ’80s, Mike (in England) sent away to the US for comic books. It would take at least 6 weeks to get the comics, but the store sent a postcard to let him know the comics were on their way.

That’s experience design, customer service, and content strategy. Crossing the streams of UX, IA, and CS.

Today, we have way more channels of communications, and we can get things shipped way faster.

Similarly, the hotel here provides an experience that goes from Confab site -> the hotel’s web booking -> email reminder -> walking into the hotel door -> checking in at the kiosk -> going to your room -> seeing a personalized welcome message on the TV.

This is service design.

Service Ecology

Service design considers the overall service ecology, including things that aren’t actually seen.

Front stage: Order pizza -> Receive pizza
Back stage: Order received -> Pizza made -> Pizza baked -> Pizza boxed -> Pizza delivered

How can we use time as a design material in content strategy, to get content to the right people at the right time?

Design and Delivery

How can we plan for the design and delivery of customer experiences?

UX design says we learn, build, measure, and repeat, to understand and address user needs.

Design technique: scenarios (stories to place customers in context)

Scenario: Anil has had a night out in London and has missed his last train home.

  • He looks up hotels at his phone
  • He picks a hotel, goes to the hotel, a kiosk at the hotel asks him to choose a room
  • He chooses a room, and is asked to sign-in
  • He doesn’t have an account, so he’s asked to enter his information
  • He’s encouraged to create an account, submits his email address, receives an email
  • He successfully finishes booking the room, and gets a success message. The kiosk provides his key.

Three channels:, kiosk, email

Scenarios describe the actor’s contexts

  • Activity – what are they doing?
  • Personal – what’s their emotional space?
  • Space – where are they doing it?
  • Channel – what devices or platforms are they using?
  • Time – when is this happening?

Illustrated scenarios look like comic strips or

Design technique: empathy mapping (identifying a day in the life)

  • What do they hear?
  • What do they think and feel?
  • What do they say and do?
  • What do they see?

It’s like a persona in a specific context.

Design technique: service blueprints (mapping the territory of the service)

Map out the steps of the journey, to capture the actions across each touchpoint.

Could appear as a table, with devices on the X access, and touchpoints on the Y access.

Good for identifying continuity across a journey

A well-designed service turns a customer into a hero!

Creating customers

How do you create customer loyalty, if people are switching services constantly?

“There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.” -Peter Drucker

Customer experience: building a relationship surrounding every transaction

  • Create a messaging architecture for the entire customer lifecycle
  • Consider the full journey, and when the touchpoints will happen to connect
  • Provide content at the times people are doing something with your product – it doesn’t have to be related to your product, just needs to be useful, usable content
  • Moving from marketing to relationship building is the shift from content marketing to content strategy

Brand is an idea you stand for, made real by what you do.

You need a content strategy that supports your brand.

Every customer experience is a brand moment of truth.


  1. Mind the gap: look for places where the customer is crossing channels or waiting for service
  2. Second that emotion: support them
  3. Be a coach: show them that their goals are your goals too
    • Self-reflective benefit – how does it make me see myself?
    • Emotional benefit – how does it make me feel?
    • Rational benefit – what does it do for me?

We’re planning for user intent. Nothing is “somebody else’s problem.” We are strategists, and we need to take responsibility.

“Eventually, everything connects.” -Charles Eames

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