Service design across multiple channels - breaking down silos or joining up?

by Paul McCarthy on 1 September 2009

Service design, or multi-channel proposition development, may sound like a grand and complex idea but it's actually quite a simple (and hopefully familiar) one. In this article we introduce the concept of service design and explain why it's important for us to think about how a product is conceived and designed across multiple touchpoints.

What is service design?

If you think about a recent, personal experience of finding a holiday destination, booking flights and a hotel, you may have used lots of different information sources from 1 or many companies.

You may have:

  • Seen a TV advert promoting the country you decided to visit
  • Spoken to a friend or acquaintance that's visited the country before
  • Used a search engine to find out more about the country
  • Popped into a travel agent on the high street and spoken to an advisor
  • Browsed through glossy resort pictures in a paper-based brochure
  • Visited the agent's website to get a details on a particular hotel or read reviews from previous customers
  • Booked online to get the best deal
  • Received printed matter through the post or by email to confirm receipt (and perhaps some up-sell communications for an excursion)
  • Printed your own boarding pass at home
  • Signed up for mobile text alerts giving excursion ideas when actually on holiday

Obviously all these activities could easily span a number of weeks or months and involve a number of people, collaborating to achieve the task goal at hand.

It doesn't matter whether your company's in the business of selling holiday packages or mobile phones the concept is still the same. All those touchpoints when a customer interacts with your brand is part of your overall service. This includes:

  • Any brand building or promotional messages received through multiple channels
  • The high street experience and the experts in your stores
  • Your call centre experience and it's relationship to the customer's journey
  • Any printed materials used to help customers understand your proposition
  • Your website and any related electronic communications
  • Any printed materials or the packaging supplied with the product itself

Service design or multi-channel proposition development is about organising the different bits and pieces that make up a customer's experience of your company's brand and product into a coherent andinterconnected journey across channels.

Why is service design important?

In a highly competitive world it's very easy for a customer to switch from one service or product provider to another, especially when the customer experience is of a low quality. An entire business has emerged around switching energy or financial services suppliers. Often customers are motivated by cost, but theimportance of customer experience shouldn't be under-estimated.

When a customer has a positive experience when using the touchpoints of your service it adds a great deal of value to your brand's perception. We believe that effective conversion, word-of-mouth recommendations and ongoing brand loyalty are symptoms of a coherent and well-conceived multi-channel design.

Nowadays, customers are becoming increasingly savvy and recognize a good overall service when they see one and are quick to feel frustrated when they have to deal with a poorly conceived journey.

Breaking down silo walls

The biggest challenge when trying to work out your proposition development across multiple channels is your organisational structure. Most companies tend to organise silos around their communication channels or service elements. For example, the team that deals with broadcast advertising is separate to the digital team that design and manage the website, who in turn is separate from any direct marketing and so on. Given the diverse skills involved it's not surprising that many companies tend to organize themselves in this way.

Unfortunately, silos don't encourage an overall service view. But the customer's experience is something that goes beyond the boundaries of different silos. So, what's the solution?

Breaking down silo walls isn't realistic, so put away your sledgehammer and get out your user experience cookbook instead. The key to meeting this challenge lies in:

  • Gaining detailed knowledge of your customers, their behaviour and their journey using user research methods
  • Recruiting key champions from across the company, from different silos and engaging them in a multi-channel design and proposition development process
  • Building a multi-channel ethic into your company culture to encourage all staff to think beyond the confines of their own projects and silos
  • Regularly usability testing the touchpoints that make up your service with real customers to make sure it's all joined up


Like all good design, coming up with a logical and coherent multi-channel proposition and providing an excellent customer experience doesn't happen by accident or by magic. It needs a determined effort to bring the right people together with shared values and goals.

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