January 31st 2017

How to improve customer service – a practical guide

This article provides a method by which you can identify where to improve customer service and by extension the experience a customer will have. 

There’s also a handy download Customer Journey Template.

It is important that you gather together a mixed team from along the length of the service delivery. If you have the time and budget you may want to run the session a couple of times and with different teams. One team consisting of people who are delivering the service, and another team consisting of the executives, those who need to allocate resources to support any findings and suggestions.

The set up

Find yourself a suitable space for 5/6 people. A big part of this working is to be visual. You’ll want a white board, paper on the desk and some template sheets (see bottom of article) to help people take notes. You probably don’t want to run a session for anything more than 4 hours. Even then this is the upper end. People get frazzled out and lose interest.

Make sure you plan your time, if you only have one session available, you’ll need to be structured.  If this is the case you’ll probably want to talk to management first, this can help you steer the session to get the most out of the time you have.

Ideally a couple of sessions are best. It allows the team to rest up and let the information sink in so they can come to the next session with thoughts in place.

Customer journey maps

Essentially a timeline of interactions that a customer has with your organisation, or brand touch points if you’re talking to enthusiastic blue-sky thinkers! Simple enough right, draw a line and start plotting out all those interactions, even the smallest of details, starting with first contact to waving the customer goodbye after an enjoyable transaction, and beyond, service bundles, extended warranties, follow up calls to ensure everything is satisfactory etc.

Next map out customer satisfaction against each stage along the journey, this information can be garnered from complaint reports and from the experiences of those people around the table. This can help to form a priority list of where to focus on first.

Down load example of a customer Journey

Map out the tasks

So once you’ve identified some key areas you want to focus on you’ll want to list out the tasks that happen and the order and time they take do deliver that part of the service.

You now have a fully mapped out visual customer service overview for you to start dissecting and start coming up with some solutions and improvements.

The mixed team will mean potential hook ups between departments might become apparent, small changes that could have big effects later on down the line, extra detail that could be captured to ensure the flow of service delivery.

By writing out tasks it becomes easier to spot were we could develop more efficient workflows or introduce new technology to support staff.
Here’s a quick example of a real life journey map.

Website delivery times need speeding up

This section describes service design innovation in practice at a web development company supplying the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom industry.  The project falls under the definitions as provided in the Cox Report and resulted in the successful application of new ideas.

The web development team were under compounding pressure. Successful sales and marketing campaigns saw projects under way, at any one time, grow to around 30 sites. With growing complaints, and revenue slowing ( a direct result of sites not going live) a concerted effort was need to improve the situation. Weekly project meetings were already in place and the first step was to ensure a portion of that time was devoted to improving the process. The weekly meetings consisted of the following people which adapted over time to become a loose ‘design circle’:       

Design Teams 

The circle consisted of a core five people, the designers being the key project handlers. Over the weeks service delivery continuously improved based on true (and current) customer experience. Ideas could be tested on a small scale and the responses gauged before implementing new processes fully into the service delivery.

Three issues were identified both from a customer and management perspective. Improvements in these areas would serve as indicators to success:

  1. Poor customer satisfaction, unrealistic expectations and low customer involvement
  2. Long production times, missed deadlines due to large work load
  3. Reducing debt on account, delivering a consistent product

To help recognise where things were going wrong a ‘service blue print’ was put together.

“Service blue prints are a way to specify and detail each individual aspect of a service. This usually involves creating a visual schematic incorporating the perspective of both the user, the service provider and other relevant parties that may be involved, detailing everything from the points of customer contact to behind-the-scenes processes” (Stickdorn and Schneider 2010)

The diagrams below give a flavour of the changes made. The resulting findings which drove these changes are more complex than shown here but in shows how a service can be made tangible and became possible to explain to directors where real changes were being made.


12 week process old

The process had the team map the service delivery week by week, comparing what was happening in terms of real time projects against a project delivery utopia. The adaptable ‘design circle’ meant expertise could be drawn upon quickly to inform process decisions.


12 week process new

The results of the project saw marked improvements in the service delivery which addressed all of the issues raised, customer complaints have been reduced to a bare minimal and a steady flow of ‘signed-off’ completed websites has been achieved. The review meetings still remain in place but a shift has occurred from discussing the delivery of the service to the technology used, the consequence being that the product itself is improving.

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