Offering digital services at scale

Learn how to scale digital services effectively by understanding customer journeys and leveraging a common blueprint across all services.

Published on
March 17, 2021
Reading time 5min
Digital native surrounded by social media icons like Facebook and Instagram

In her book, Good Services, Lou Downe explains, "A service is something that helps someone to do something. The 'something' can be short and straightforward, like buying a chocolate bar, or it can be long and in multiple parts, like moving a house. What unites all services is that they help us to achieve a goal, however big or small that is." 

OK, but then what are digital services?

The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS), the tax agency, defines digital services for tax purposes as "services that are supplied over the internet or an electronic network that require minimal or no human intervention, and are impossible without using information technology."

Let's unpack two parts of this definition:

  • "Impossible without the use of information technology". It refers to the "digital" in digital services.
  • "Require minimal or no human intervention". It refers to the fact that many digital services are self-service or DIY.

We use digital services every day. When we stream music from Spotify or use Grab to hail a taxi, we are using the digital services offered by these companies.

Digital services offer many benefits. They are easy and more convenient to use than their offline counterparts. Remember buying records and tapes in a music store, or hailing and chasing after taxis?

It is no wonder that many organisations want to offer their customers and their employees the benefits of digital services. The tables have also turned. Customers and employees are now demanding more and better digital services.

However, it is not about offering just a few digital services from an organisation point of view. To be a digital leader in the future, an organisation needs to deliver all the value it can online. Otherwise, one day, a competitor—possibly a digital-native startup—will do so better and cheaper.

Take DBS Bank as an example. Its self-service page informs users, "We have made your day to day banking easy and fast by going digital. We are confident our suite of digital services will cover all your banking needs." 

The bank lists around 177 digital services including, "Activate account", "Activate new card", and "Add other bank's credit card".

DBS Bank would not be the world’s best bank if they had offered a fragmented mix of digital and non-digital service experiences.

Understanding service journeys

A service journey defines the steps and interactions a person (customer, employee) goes through to use a service.

In their excellent book, Service Design for Business, Ben Reason, Lavrans Løvlie and Melvin Brand describe a typical service journey.

A typical service journey as depicted in Service Design for Business.

The person goes through universal stages of a journey: Before, Begin, During and After.

For example, consider the service of applying for a new bank account.

Before signing up for a new bank account, the customer will first find out about the account and its benefits. When satisfied, the customer will Begin the process of applying for the account.  During the process, the customer may call up the hotline to clarify some details when completing the forms. After successfully applying for the account, the customer will use it on a daily basis. If the customer encounters a problem or issue, they will call the hotline to sort it out. 

The customer may interact with different channels such as snail mail, web, SMS or kiosks during the journey. 

The channels are supported by back-stage capabilities—the people, technology and operations necessary to deliver the channel interactions.

Notice the challenge here?

From a customer's point of view, they like to feel that they are interacting with the same company across the channels. This requirement means that the different internal departments in charge of the various channels must align their efforts to offer this consistent experience—a tall order for traditional companies used to working in silos.

If delivering one service journey is a tall order, how can an organisation deliver services at scale?

Uncovering capabilities required

Let's consider a digital service from DBS Bank. The "Activate account" service helps a new customer to activate their banking account.

Let’s unpack some characteristics about the "Activate account" service, along with what it takes to deliver them.

Characteristic of the service Capabilities required Future considerations
It addresses a need
Need to activate the card before using it.
Understanding the customer journey and their specific needs. Why does this need exist? Why do I need to activate the card that I’ve already applied for? What are the alternatives?
It uses a step-by-step process
First, get the PIN and then proceed via SMS or ATM.
Understanding the steps in the journey. Are the steps necessary? Why do I need a PIN?
It may use many channels
Snail mail, ATM, SMS.
Using different digital channels. Do we really need to use so many channels? Especially a mix of offline and online ones?
It is self-service
Just like assembling IKEA furniture.
Building a self-service support environment. Lovely, but we still need an escape hatch to get help just in case things don't work out (calling the IKEA hotline).
Uses different types of tech
SMS, APIs etc to integrate different systems.
Building automation and system integrations. A robust tech and operations stack that scales to the other 176 services. It makes the entire system more efficient.

Putting our findings to the service journey map (see below), we see that there are three broad sets of capabilities and that even simple services require a diverse set of capabilities.

  1. Service design: It includes understanding customers or employees, redesigning processes and testing out prototypes.
  2. Service delivery: It includes designing digital interfaces, marketing and promoting the service and offering help and support when needed.
  3. Technology and operations: It includes the backend systems and integrations necessary to build and operate the services.

Designing and delivering at scale

While the diagram above illustrates a single service journey, the picture is a little different when 100s of journeys are involved. We need to start thinking about reusing and repurposing across all services. 

Although we may have different service journeys, we should aim to orchestrate them using a common blueprint. For example, each journey:

  1. Is run by a cross-functional, agile team to design and deliver the services.
  2. Follows a disciplined approach to understanding customer journeys.
  3. Uses a common stack to build front-stage experiences.
  4. Uses a common back-stage technology stack to support and scale the services.

We also need a team to lead and guide all digital services towards a shared vision. Putting it all together we get the following digital services model:

The leadership team goes by many names: Mission Control, Centre of Excellence or Digital Services Transformation Office.

The service journeys are usually selected through an audit and are prioritised based on risk and value over a few (usually three) time horizons. In the diagram above, we can see that more projects are identified to deliver value over the 3-6 months time horizon.

Starting your digital services transformation

If the model above represents the future that we desire, we can work backwards to identify the capabilities we need to start planning for today.

Here’s the sequence of activities we’ve used in our work to kick start the digital services transformation in several organisations.

Get leadership commitment

Nothing will work without the leadership onboard. There has to be a commitment in terms of time, money and resources dedicated to this effort. 

Define the vision

The organisation may already have a vision but it is still a good time to revisit it. Remember, a vision should focus on customers and the value created and not on technology.

For example, Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry, defined her company's vision as follows:

"[Our] vision was to be the first company to be fully digital end-to-end. The [resulting] experience would be that a customer will have access to Burberry across all devices, anywhere in the world."

Form a Centre of Excellence

Starting a new organisational unit called a Centre of Excellence or Transformation Office gives the effort some weight, even if you have one or two people in the unit for now. It allows for coordination and decision making the transformation journey requires.

Conduct an experience audit

We need to map the critical service journeys (internal and external) to identify the gaps and challenges. This process may take time as it may be the first time we are looking at end-to-end service journeys.

Identify the first transformation project

A transformation project is different from an innovation or improvement project. The focus of a transformational project is to identify the tensions that arise when doing new work. These tensions point to legacy policies, processes, and capabilities in the organisation's way of making progress.

The first project we select must give us high return-on-transformation.

Assemble the right team to deliver the project

We may require external capabilities in this step. The mission is to assemble the best team to deliver the project on two fronts:

  1.  Meet the project goals: The project must improve the current experience and show business results.
  2. Meet the transformation goals: The project must identify tensions in the organisation that need fixing and start identifying the building blocks of "service design and delivery" and "technology and operations".

Keep raising the bar

Every transformation project will give us opportunities to become stronger as we scale. The next project that we undertake must build on the previous projects and raise the bar. The Centre of Excellence is usually responsible for raising the quality and standards with each iteration.

If you need any help scaling digital services in your organisation, just reach out to us at

Maish Nichani
Maish Nichani
Engagement Director

I enjoy helping organisations achieve their potential in an ever-changing and complex world. I lead product and transformation conversations.

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