How to design business operations with a service blueprint

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

Identifying a business’s fail points and bottlenecks is always a headache. Executives and business owners pay high professional fees to gurus and consultants in an attempt to unravel the knot. They come up with the most harebrained ideas and the good thing is that sometimes, they get it right.


Let’s bottom line this.


You don’t need an expensive guru to guess your business’s problems. You need a strategy to diagnose them.


Follow this step-by-step guide and learn how to design and review your company’s processes like a boss!



Table of contents

  1. How to craft service blueprints to design efficient business processes;

  2. How to improve business operational efficiency.






HOW TO CRAFT SERVICE BLUEPRINTS TO DESIGN EFFICIENT BUSINESS PROCESSES




First things first.


Do you have a service blueprint?


I can bet the majority of businesses out there don’t have it. That’s why they are not able to sort their stuff out.


Let me explain. Whether you are starting a brand new business or auditing its performance, you need to know exactly the flow of its processes.


You must know what happens in your organization from the first moment a prospect enters in contact with you to the end of their journey (post-purchase phase).


The duty of a business is to skillfully help customers move from one step to the next.


If I ask you to describe the processes of your company and show me how it works, I’m sure you can be the best Cicero ever.


But have you ever put them in writing? Have you ever drawn your process flows?


A strategy can’t be made upon words and thoughts. You need concrete schemes, maps and plans.



What a service blueprint is

A service blueprint, sometimes also called marketing blueprint, maps out a business’s processes, highlighting contact points with customers and enabling managers to interpret the flows from a customer perspective.


According to Valarie Zeithaml, Mary Jo Bitner and Dwayne D. Gremler in Services marketing: integrating customer focus across the firm published in 2006, service blueprints help businesses develop new services, support a zero-flaws culture and create new backup strategies.


Example of service blueprint
Reworked version of Rehash's blueprint, designed by the Indian UX designer Srishti Rao.

The example above is my reworked version of Rehash’s blueprint designed by the Indian UX designer Srishti Rao. Rehash was a project aimed at collecting and reusing household waste as fertilizer to reduce costs in agriculture. Rehash collected waste from families in exchange for organic food discount coupons. It transformed the waste in manure and sold it to farmers for a fair price. Then, families were able to use their coupons to purchase organic food from farmers at a convenient price.


Another example, extracted from Services marketing: integrating customer focus across the firm, is represented by the image below which depicts a simplified blueprint for overnight hotel stay.


Marketing blueprint example
Service blueprint example of overnight hotel stay (by Valarie Zeithaml, Mary Jo Bitner and Dwayne D. Gremler, Services marketing: integrating customer focus across the firm, 4th ed., New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006).

A business flowcharting describes:

  • How processes flow;

  • Time for each process and service provision;

  • Costs for each step;

  • Company’s efficiency during a service provision;

  • Potential bottlenecks.


Service blueprint was first mentioned by a bank executive, G. Lynn Shostack, in Designing services that deliver published by Harvard Business Review in 1984. This tool allows companies to diagnose issues with operational efficiency and nowadays, it has become widely used to manage service operations, design and positioning.



How to develop a service blueprint

A business process chart is always built from a customer’s point of view and consists of inputs, processes and outputs.


There isn’t a good or bad way to construct it, because it depends on the intended application.


Let’s start considering the dimensions used in the Rehash’s blueprint:

  • Timeline: a business flow chart represents all steps in the buyer journey, that’s why it’s useful to add a variable of time. A horizontal orientation suits better for this purpose and, according to the specific need, you can eventually add the time necessary to fulfill each process;

  • Physical evidence: all the tangible elements related to each step of the buyer journey that can influence customers perception. They can be flyers, mail, delivery vans, uniforms, notifications, websites and so on;

  • Customer actions: steps that a customer takes during a service delivery;

  • Line of interaction: you should divide customers actions from service provider ones. In this way, you can attribute responsibilities and understand who has to make the first move to start the next step;

  • Front-stage interactions: visible interactions between customers and employees (visible contact employees). In other words, actions undertaken by a service provider which are visible to customers. They can be face-to-face encounters or online interactions, like social media comments, email/text conversations and so on. They are very important, because they represent the direct contact points between a business and its customers;

  • Line of visibility: you should separate front-stage and back-stage activities. What you put below this line is not visible to a customer;

  • Back-stage interactions: actions undertaken by a service provider which are not visible to customers. Employees still have contact with customers, but it’s not direct (invisible contact employees). Despite the classic literature or Wikipedia, I prefer using the words “direct” and “indirect” contact to help online businesses define their front- and back-stage activities. In a digital business, back of stage interactions can be a website page, a blog or social media post. An employee is still communicating to customers, but the latter can’t directly interact with the employee. For example, I consider a Facebook post a back-stage interaction, instead a comment to that post is a front-stage interaction. An employee identifies themselves with a name and profile image, and starts a direct conversation with customers who can reply with another comment. To better explain myself, we need to take a step back and understand why this dimension is so important. Every front- and back-stage activity is associated with one or more employees, so the organization must know what skill-set takes to cover the position. Employees who fulfill operations in these two dimensions must have both skill-set and training for being in contact with clients. According to James L. Heskett, Earl Sasser Jr. and Joe Wheeler in Ownership quotient: putting the service profit chain to work for unbeatable competitive advantage published in 2008 by Harvard Business School Press, successful businesses encourage positive employee attitudes to generate stronger customer loyalty;

  • Line of internal interaction: you should divide the activities that require contact with customers from the ones that are carried out within the company.

  • Support processes: activities required to service delivery that don’t need any contact with customers.


These are usually the main dimensions used to craft a service blueprint, but you can add as many as necessary. For example, other models require an inventory which represents the resources needed for each step, or a line of implementation which divides management from support activities. The difference is that management is responsible for planning and controlling while support involves preparation.


What are the steps to take in building a service flow chart?


Let’s see step by step what a company should do:

  1. Identifies key activities to service delivery;

  2. Decides what the customers experience will be. Meaning that it has to set a line of visibility and aggregate front- and back-stage activities;

  3. Inserts timeframes by adding the average or maximum tolerable time taken to fulfill each step;

  4. Identifies the responsible personnel;

  5. Notes fail points, excessive waits and bottlenecks.


Since business complexity varies, mapping all operations with pen and paper can be challenging.


So, what digital tools can you use to design a business process chart?


I give you two solutions.


Custellence is a collaborative tool focused on mapping the customer journey with a fool-proof interface and compelling visual design.


Customer journey flowcharting tool
Custellence is collaborative customer journey mapping tool.

Custellence has a free version, but it gives access to just one user and allows to generate only 60 cards. When you create a customer journey map (alternatively called service blueprint, user map or experience map), you should add as many cards as many steps are included in the customer journey.


The second tool I want to present is Miro which is a collaborative whiteboarding platform.


Online collaborative whiteboarding platform
Miro enables teams to work in remote on online whiteboards.

Despite Custellence, Miro is not focused on customer journey maps and its scope is much broader. It provides solutions for:

  • Product development;

  • Lean and agile;

  • UX research and design;

  • Innovation and ideation;

  • Strategy and projects;

  • Mind mapping.


You can create a service blueprint by adapting its mapping features to your purpose. Miro offers a free plan where you can add unlimited team members, but you can only edit 3 boards. A board is an online whiteboard which you can use to visualize ideas, work on projects either individually or with a team.



Symbols commonly used in flowcharts

While you craft your service blueprint, keep in mind that other stakeholders have to understand it.


If you are a designer, well, let loose: this is your field of expertise. But if you want to make sure people understand your flowchart, use the following symbols.


Action or process symbol


Action/process symbol. A rectangle represents one step of the process and you write the related info inside the box.




Black arrow on a transparent background


An arrow indicates the flow direction from one step/decision to another.




Decision symbol

Decision symbol. A rhombus is a decision based on a question which is written within the diamond. It may have more than one arrow departing from it, each one pointing to the next step of the process.



Delay symbol


This shape expresses a delay or wait (delay symbol). Usually, it points out a bottleneck.




Connector symbol

Connector symbol. A circle links to another circle in a different page or flowchart. It means that the flow continues there. The circle can be divided into multiple slices to indicate that the process flow continues in more than two branches.


Summoning junction symbol


Summoning junction symbol. A circle with an internal X represents a junction point where multiple branches converge.



Input or output symbol


Input/output symbol. A parallelogram determines material or information entering or leaving the system like customers’ orders (input) or newsletters (output).



Document symbol


This shape represents a document (document symbol). If more than one shape overlaps, it indicates multiple documents.



Start or end symbol


Start/end symbol. An oval (or, alternatively, a rectangle with rounded corners) sets an ending or starting point.




Manual input symbol


Manual input symbol. A trapezoid represents a step where users are prompted to submit information manually.




Off-page connector

Off-page connector. This shape is used in complex flowcharts and indicates that the process continues off page. The number of the connected page is usually written within the image.



Database symbol


Database symbol. A cylinder indicates data stored in a system which allows for searching and filtering (sorting).




Data storage or stored data symbol


Data storage or stored data symbol. This cylinder indicates a stage where data are stored.




Display symbol


Display symbol. This image determines where information will be displayed within a process’s flow.




Loop limit symbol