A wooden table with a keyboard, a mouse, a phone, pens and other tools to work.

16 digital tools for people who want to understand and shape customer experience

May 27, 2021

Great software can be an enabler for helping organizations practice and integrate service design in their work. At Smaply we naturally value and use our own tools, however we also make use of a range of other tools that help us engage in the service design activities that need to be done within our organization. Great tools allow us to do work more efficiently, help us communicate better and bring order to our daily tasks. 

What you will find below:

  1. Why we use service design tools
  2. What makes a great tool?
  3. What are service design tools and how do they make life easier?
  4. Where do digital tools fit in the world of service design?
  5. How can you use tools to embed service design within an organization?
  6. What are some great digital tools that are available on a service design journey?

Why we use tools

Why use a digital tool when you have a perfectly good piece of paper?

Rather than being a method for supplanting existing pen and paper tools, we see emerging digital tools as a helpful ally on our journey of customer understanding. We know that the right tools make our work a lot easier and enable our team to do work that is more efficient, collaborative and customer focussed.

The number of digital tools out there is overwhelming and for people who are new to service design it can be hard to gain an overview on which of them are useful for their work. In this article we will explore the potential of digital tools in the context of service design, what are some of the benefits of using digital tools, and finally we will conclude by taking a look at some specific tools that can augment our service design efforts.

What makes a great tool?

A tool helps to reduce the amount of effort required for us to navigate towards an experience. Whether it is a fork for eating, a car for driving long distances or a digital platform for connecting with our friends. We interact with an incredibly diverse range of tools each day as we strive towards different experiences.

So what makes a tool great? A great tool on a functional level is one that reliably and efficiently assists us towards the experience we were aiming for. It might not necessarily be the prettiest thing to look at, but it certainly gets the job done.

On a form level a great tool is something that is enjoyable, pleasant or amazing to use and interact with. Many people value the form of tools, you only have to look at the fandom at Apple to see that people like the way things look and feel. However don't be lured simply into the traps of appearance, focussing too much on form without a product being functional can be frustrating and inefficient.

Great tools balance both functionality and form to create something that genuinely helps us, and at the same time is a pleasure to use.

Of course in an ideal world great tools strike a balance between being functional as well as having a great form that is nice to interact with. Most importantly, the tools that will be best suited to you will depend on what challenges you are faced with, and what you are trying to achieve.

What are service design tools?

With service design tools there is a focus on helping organizations to have a more refined understanding of their customers' experience, and specifically what their customers needs are in relation to services that are being provided. This understanding can be of great value for helping organizations  innovate their service delivery methods and make business decisions that will improve outcomes, for all stakeholders involved in their services.

A great service design tool is one that makes the journey easier towards having meaningful and actionable customer insights that will allow us to innovate and improve our service delivery.  

The value of service design tools will vary depending on who is using them. For managers, service design tools will assist in gaining clarity for strategic business decisions based strongly on customer experience. For marketers what will be important may be insights into purchasing behaviour and having powerful visuals for engaging various stakeholders. For people charged with service development, it might be the ability of service design tools to unleash our potential for innovation and allow us to uncover more effective ways of relating with, and helping our customers.

Where do digital tools fit in the world of service design?

There is a lot to be said for the humble sheet of paper, mandatory sticky notes and permanent marker. These three tools have become a hallmark of service design efforts and an instantly recognizable feature of people engaged in co-creation or customer experience related activities (for better, or for worse). There is no denying that these are incredibly practical and tactile tools. They can allow an entire group of people to engage with, manipulate and display information.

A brick wall with a large journey map hanged on the wall. Sticky notes are being put on it.

This article is not intended to discredit these existing physical tools, but rather look at how a digital toolkit can augment our existing tools and enable the adoption of service design methods of working to better integrate with your organizations.

So what are some benefits of using digital service design tools?

  • Digital tools can provide you with easily modifiable frameworks for organizing our thoughts
  • Digital tools can integrate and connect with other software
  • Digital tools can be easily exported for impressive presentations
  • Digital tools allow for greater levels of collaboration
  • Digital tools allow for systematic and organized methods of storage

One limitation of physical tools that is often encountered is how service design efforts are wrangled into a digital form in order for them to be effectively shared with a wider audience.  This often requires someone around the office with an often (supernatural) ability for decoding handwritten notes and a spare few hours (or days) on their hands. Then what happens with the original content, is our intention to store it in a cupboard for the next six months?  

Digital tools excel in several key areas, shareability, storability and collaborate-ability (ok, that last one is a stretch). Simply put, digital tools are helpful because they:

  • Let us easily share outputs with a wider audience
  • Are easy to store and update when required
  • Allow you to collaborate as a team, even when team members are in vastly different geographic locations
  • And can facilitate how a service design mindset is embedded within an organization

This isn't to say that you have to choose exclusively either digital or physical tools, it simply means that you have the opportunity to embrace the best technology and tools that are available in order to improve what we are capable of with our service design efforts.

How can you use tools to embed service design within an organization?

As discussed in our white paper on embedding service design, helpful tools can be a subtle way of introducing service design as a way of thinking and working. In the white paper we describe tools as a "trojan horse" for growing a more customer-centric mindset within a team, department or whole organization. (hopefully without the ten years of besieging)

When you introduce a great tool, you are able to initiate people's curiosity while also giving them a framework that will allow them to think in different ways. Having a tool can initiate many important questions, such as:

  • How can you see a challenge or problem in a different way?
  • What is the tool used for and how will this make your life easier?
  • What new possibilities will this tool open up in your role?

Simply by being given the right tools, as well as a suitable level of guidance and training we can set in motion new ways of thinking and working.

With journey mapping software, you now have a tool that will allow them to develop an understanding of customers being on a "journey" with your organization, rather than just a series of isolated interactions. Through engaging with journey mapping tools and creating customer journey maps, you can quickly start to observe where you might have assumptions about customer experience, and what important gaps exist gaps in your understanding.

Good service design tools help shape your attention, by doing so they assist how you understand our customers and as a consequence improve the foundations on which services are built and the ways in which you help others. By being given the space, time and encouragement to replace these assumptions with genuine understanding, organizations can be catalysed to research and get to know their customers better, and as a consequence can become more customer-centric in their work.

So let's stop trying to convince you of the value of tools and explore on a tangible level some of the digital options that are available on the market that can accelerate your goals when it comes to service design.

What are some great digital tools that are available on a service design journey?

We are living in a time where there exists a vast number of different programs and platforms that can assist in growing our service design capabilities. If anything the problem that many people face now is sorting (or even finding) the options available that will best help them with their challenges. Below we have gathered some of the programs we think can best support a service design journey and the tasks that will be faced.

Research and mobile ethnography

Communication and sharing feedback

Ideation

Coordinating service design activities

Research and mobile ethnography

Mobile ethnography tools

Mobile ethnography and research sits at the core of service design as it helps people to gain essential insights and form an understanding of their customers' lives. Ethnographic research is the study of people's behaviour and interactions within their own environment and context. Using methods such as face-to-face interviews, diary studies and observations you are able to build a picture of peoples lives and construct accurate narratives about their behaviour.

Mobile ethnography is how this study is translated into the digital world and how you are able to then study behaviour though digital channels. Given the way in which mobile technology has integrated with our existence, it should come as no big surprise (we're looking at you facebook) that this is an area that can be leveraged to gain great insights into people's behaviour and context. Of course, we also aspire to promote research that is consensual, respectful and an honest exchange of value.

Here are a few examples of great, emerging tools that can assist you with gathering research data about your customers' experience.

Over the shoulder & Dscout

Over the shoulder works to help users to engage in qualitative research with their customers through mobile devices. Over the shoulder offers a range of different services from mobile journaling to seeing when and where products are being used by customers. By assessing what possibilities exist within your specific project over the shoulder is able to assist in the development of strategy customer engagement.

OTS is designed specifically for smartphones to make it convenient for customers to submit images, videos or other forms of media. These are all managed in a portal which can be accessed and minded for insights.  

Dscout also offers a suite of different tools that can facilitate research on mobile devices and at a distance. It offers features that allow teams to scan and recruit research participants and interview people within the app. Having the ability to conduct diary studies is great because it allows you to have a longitudinal view into people's lives, their experiences and needs.

Conducting this kind of work digitally is helpful because customers are able to report and give their perspective on important issues in real time, wherever they are. Other features of interest include being able to conduct virtual interviews with customers, which is especially pertinent when there are physical constraints or teams need to conduct interviews in different locations without being able to be present in person.

Over the shoulder features: Mobile Journaling, surveys, photo and video uploading, geo-location triggers and tagging, mobile screen capture


Dscout Platform Features: Live virtual interviews, Diary tracking, Participant recruitment and express participant survey templates.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics offers a great window into how people use and interact with our organization through the web. The platform helps us to better understand the customer journey because it shows you how people find our website, what content they use, and how they engage with our page. It also gives us insights into some demographic data of our users which can be used to back up our user personas with more data.

Still keep in mind this is only quantitative data which does not give you answers to the question “Why”, why do people not find the page? Why do they spend a certain time on the page? Do they leave because they found what they wanted, or because they did not find what they were looking for?

Google analytics features: Statistics and website tracking, demographic data if the sample is large enough

Google docs, sheets and forms

The Google Suite has proven to be a valuable set of digital tools in our service design efforts. Particularly in enhancing our ability to collaborate and work on documents and spreadsheets together.  Being able to work in real time together allows us to quickly make changes and edits, upload important information and provide the accessibility to data required for an international team.

If we are researching and gathering customer data, Google Forms can be a great method for reaching out to customers and getting feedback on our service (so long as we are able to convince people to take the time to complete our forms)  

As service design tools develop we are finding increased ways to integrate and share data from other applications. Using Smaply we are already able to integrate data from our Google Sheets such as KPIs, ratings, statistics and other useful data that is relevant to our customer journeys.

Google sheets & forms features: Real time multiple user collaboration, web based document and spreadsheet editing. Forms for researching and gathering customer feedback.

Communication and sharing feedback

Many businesses around the world will be familiar with video conferencing tools. Here are a couple of our favorites that we use on a regular basis to stay in touch with our team across the world.

Slack

At Smaply we value clear and effective communication channels. Because we have a range of different people in our team we often need a tool that will allow large group communication as well as more specific spaces for smaller teams to collaborate. Slack enables us to blend these different levels of communication in manageable chat threads so that individuals, as well as teams can communicate easily in between times when we meet up to have video calls.

We find slack especially help for asynchronously dissing a subject, for example we have a #talkingtoourcustomers channel, which allows members from across our different teams to share and learn from the customer feedback we are receiving as an organization. Information that could have been kept siloed and hidden away, is there for everyone to learn from.

Slack Features: Team chat channels, individual and group messaging, video and audio calling

Zoom

As is the case with many others Zoom has become an increasingly useful tool for collaborating with our team over distance. As we have an international team, as well as many people working from home it is essential that we have a stable video conferencing tool that we can run workshops, record video content for our blog and have team meetings (and of course pretend we are all in exotic beachside locations with different backgrounds). We also use zoom whenever we talk to our usability test group, when we conduct interviews for research or for new case studies, or in any other situation when we need to collaborate with our stakeholders.

Zoom Features: Video calling, chat functions Rooms and Workspaces, app integrations, fun backgrounds

Usersnap

Usersnap is a great tool to understand your users’ experience on your platform. Whenever they want to share feedback or questions, they can use a simple button “Support and Feedback” on the bottom of the page, take a screenshot and add details on their thoughts.

A screenshot of how Usernap is integrated in Smaply as a tool to collect feedback.
This is how Smaply integrated Usersnap in order to collect feedback.

Usersnap features: Website feedback integrations, capture and annotate screenshots for customer feedback, qualitative and quantitative feedback methods, forms and templates, dashboard for real time feedback management.

Ideation

Miro, Mural & Lucidchart

Digital whiteboarding tools provide a highly flexible digital version of an ideas board. In these digital environments your team can collaborate, share and cluster ideas with digital sticky notes in one place. This kind of sandbox environment is very handy during workshops or when there is simply a lack of space to play with service design data. For example, we put Miro to good use during our design sprints where small teams collaborate in real time.

When using whiteboard tools, keep in mind that they are more suitable for certain use cases: for example, they’re great for creative work, especially in a workshop setting.

However if you’re looking for a tool to help you condense your work, make it easy to understand and present it to others, whiteboarding tools might not be the right tool. In that case we suggest a more structured tool that helps you standardize your insights, make them accessible to others and make sure it helps you coordinate all the work that will need to follow. Our work never ends on a whiteboard tool – after the workshop we take the insights from there and transfer them to a tool that helps us structure and coordinate the upcoming tasks.

A template in Lucidchart to make it easy to import a journey map into Smaply.
This is how the empty template looks like.
A template in Lucidchart to make it easy to import a journey map into Smaply.
This is how a filled template in Lucidchart looks like. It is ready to import into Smaply.

Miro features: Digital whiteboard environment, website embedding of boards, multiple user collaboration, embedded video, chat & commenting, third party plugins.  

Mural features: Collaborative diagramming environment, creation of flows, maps, processes, hierarchies & journeys

Lucidchart features: Diagramming and flowcharting, process mapping, org chart design, agile planning features.

Coordinating service design activities

Smaply

Do we use our own tool? Of course we do! Our own tools are created to suit our own needs, as well as the needs of others wanting to create journey maps that capture the context and experiences of their customers.

Journey maps exist as a catalyser for other service design activities and serve many functions. Journey mapping software helps us to centralize and store data, drive research activities, create personas as well as export and share our customer journeys with stakeholders.

By providing help with all these functions Smaply is a powerful digital tool for both introducing customer-centred activities within an organization as well as providing a framework for mapping, understanding and sharing customer experiences for those who make important decisions related to our service delivery.

With Smaply we digitize the results from our pen-and-paper workshops or the journey maps we’ve come up with on whiteboard tools, saving us both time and effort. We use journey map ops to continue working on these journeys by assigning different journeys to specific coordinators and linking them into each other.

Smaply features: Digital journey mapping, journey map visual exports, KPI integration, digital capture of physical sticky notes and white boarding tools

Jira and Trello

There are several tools available for coordinating our tasks and activities. Our own go-to tool for managing the work we have to do, so that we have a clear roadmap of what needs to get done, as well as ensuring tasks don't fall through the cracks is Jira – if you’re looking for a low-fi solution instead we recommend the kanban tool Trello.

Project management tools like Jira and Trello allow users to create boards and sub-tasks which can be assigned to different team members. You can observe the status of these single tasks, have discussion on them directly on the thread and pull them through the development/implementation process.

Jira Features: Scrum boards, Kanban boards, Roadmapping, Agile reporting, Automated tasks and processing, developer tool integration

Trello features: Boards, lists and cards to organize and manage tasks. Multiple board members, checklists and attachment features to consolidate data and organize priorities.

In summary

A good toolkit should contain a variety of tools that will allow you to adapt to the situations and challenges you are faced with as you develop your services. A diverse toolkit takes the best of the physical and digital tools available and combines them in ways that allow you to unlock new perspectives, gather useful information about your customers and build your ability to collaborate and create great services.

As digital tools continue to evolve we are given new opportunities for how we can undertake service design tasks in a digital way. The most important thing is that you are aware of the options available and are able to select tools that are not only a joy to use, but also provide you with great value as you continue to refine and improve your service delivery.

Coordinate your journey maps with Smaply!