Blueprints are quintessential to any build. They're a set of instructions for how to handle the buildout of a building, and vital communication tools that help ensure anyone who comes into the fold at any point will be able to determine what is needed next to produce the expected outcome. And blueprints can effectively be applied in the business realm too.

In fact, service blueprints have long been used in service design -- as the name implies. But more recently they've been used to support innovation and diagnose problems in operational efficiencies.

Service blueprints are extremely useful in not only examining the complex interactions between people and their experiences with your brand, but also in improving those experiences and creating a sustainable process to ensure repeatability. Going through the process of creating a blueprint also allows your team to look beyond the end product or service you deliver, to get in touch with the systems that shape your customer's experience with your brand.

Service blueprints: a look under the hood

A service blueprint is an operational planning technique that dictates how a service will be provided, or takes a very detailed look at how it's currently being provided to uncover any potential problems or unrealized opportunities. At a high level, it is a process chart that illustrates the service delivery process from the customer's perspective and it consists of inputs, process and outputs.

While the technique is not new (it was introduced in the early 80s), it has taken different iterations over the years and has found a few new applications in more recent times. As such, it has become one of the most widely used tools in managing service operations, design and positioning. The blueprint itself can take on different forms, but many organizations prefer to create a highly visual, graphical map to show how services are delivered, who and what is involved in the process, and the various support systems that need to be in place.

Though it does center on understanding the customer's journey, it goes well beyond that. A good service blueprint will also incorporate all of the interactions (or touchpoints) that make that journey possible.

These touchpoints can happen across various channels --think mobile app, website, print advertising, etc. -- online and off. And the blueprint enables you to go deep into understanding the system that delivers your customer's experience, and to see things from their vantage point.

Think of it as a set of instructions for interactions between customers, service employees (customer facing and those behind the scenes) and digital touchpoints. It's a map of all of the activities that impact the customer directly, and the back-of-office activities the customer never sees, but are essential to delivering the end result.

With this level of insight, a service blueprint can help you improve your service offerings, innovate, streamline internal operations and delivery of your services, and create sustainable and repeatable revenue streams. It's during the analysis of the blueprint you're better able to discover critical moments to surprise and delight or realize opportunities for innovation.

Building the blueprint

There are numerous helpful templates available outlining the anatomy of the service blueprint, however, at a high level, most blueprints will cover three core components: the line of interaction, the line of visibility and the line of internal interaction. Between these lines are five other important elements: physical evidence, customer actions, front-stage interactions, back-stage interactions, and support processes.

The line of interaction. Before your customer reaches the line of interaction, they first take some sort of action (customer action), which could include conducting a search for solutions online, reading more about your brand, seeing a print ad.

From there they'll cross the line of interaction and step into front-stage interactions downloading your app, subscribing to your newsletter, calling to schedule an appointment or learn more, meeting in person at your office, and the list goes on. In other words, this is where the customer is directly interfacing with your brand in some capacity. Physical evidences at this stage could include your website, a registration confirmation, marketing materials, or a contract or letter of agreement.

The line of visibility. Beyond this line the customer or client no longer has visibility into what may be occurring. This is where the back-stage interactions occur, and it can include activities such as order fulfillment, processing payment, inventory management, etc.

In essence, it's all of the activities required to produce the service or output that the client does not see. For instance, in the case of a software development company, this could be aligning the right internal team for the project, coding a website or developing the framework of an app, or conducting market research. Physical evidences at this stage could include your project management system, inventory management software, or machinery used to produce a product.

The line of internal interaction. This line simply separates the front-stage (or front-office) from back-stage (or back-office) activities. And noted just beyond this point are the support processes needed to fulfill the desired outcome. This is often where external partners come into the fold.

Depending on your business and the goal you are trying to achieve, there are other elements that may be added in such as time, quality measures and the emotional journey your customer takes. Ultimately, you want to get a clear, detailed picture of how your customer experiences your brand. This will enable you to avoid potential friction points, improve the experience, and even identify unforeseen opportunities.