How to Create a Multi-day Service Experience for Under $100

Photo by Jeremy Keith

Photo by Jeremy Keith

"Hello, this is Nurse Doug calling with important medical information about your father..."

This is the way that I started many of my phone conversations over the past month. That's right—I am Nurse Doug in this scenario and I am far from qualified to give medical advice to a family about their father. What I am qualified to do is design and implement an in-market experiment to learn how users experience a new healthcare service, months before the real nurse will actually give them a call.

One-on-one interviews are great. They facilitate immediate feedback and a basic understanding of a user's needs. Interviews are the perfect tool to use when you are exploring options early on in a service innovation project. However, when you are past the initial exploration phase, it is often difficult to get your users to cough up their true feelings about an offering until they get to actually get to experience it and react to stimulus over the course of a few days or weeks. Building out a service with a user interface, social networking, call center support, backend data analytics and a slew of other elements could cost 6 or 7 figures and many months to implement. All of this to learn that users don't want/need/like your offering? Come on now, we can learn faster than that …

Here is a fast and affordable way to prototype a service experience and test your make or break assumptions about your service offering:

  1. Use Balsamiq or Google Drawing to simulate a user interface experience. Balsamiq, $79, is a great tool for novices to create UI mockups at a fidelity level perfect for feedback. I guarantee you can create your first UI within 30 minutes of having the software. Also, by using Google Drawing, a free tool, you can quickly create a mockup of a screen. With simple mockups and wireframes, you can invite users to move elements around or make comments to improve your digital service experience. 
  2. Use Google Forms to collect and organize information from research participants. With out a doubt, you can spend thousands of dollars using a software tool like Revelation to help organize a virtual service experience. Or you can get scrappy and use Google Forms, another free tool, to get responses to pre-designed questions about your offering.
  3. Use your personal cell phone and email: Again, you can use more formal tools such as Revelation or D-Scout to simulate a service platform prototype or you can use free resources that are readily available. Over the past few weeks, I called research participants posing as "Nurse Doug" from my cell phone. I also pushed text and email alerts directly to user's phones to get there reactions to getting digital interruptions in the day.

This is really all it took to get users to suspend disbelief for a moment and start to open up about the highs and lows of our prototyped offering. With a $79 Balsamiq license and a cell phone, you can re-create most of the human and digital elements of a service experience. Fast and affordable in-market experiments allow you to validate your assumptions around your service offering, months, if not years before users get to truly experience the scaled up, working version.

How do you prototype services in your organization? What other tools do you use? Please message me at @DavidLemus or comment below.