The most important tenet of service design is working with user stories in mind.

This obsession with user centricity is creeping across business – is there any company exec that hasn’t expounded to the press that “the customer is at the heart of everything we do”?

Thankfully, there’s a renewed focus on the customer among marketers, too.

Marketers should always be cognisant of what customers want to achieve by buying their product or using their service. How was this focus eroded in the first place?

  • Has the idea of optimisation in digital media deflected from the human aspect of marketing?
  • Has email (the spam cannon) made the marketer too trigger happy and not measured or considerate enough?
  • Has targeted media and increasing segmentation increased workload for marketers, and dulled the message?
  • Has online interaction made the customer faceless?

Whatever hack reasoning or pop psychology I justify it with, there’s an argument that the first decade or so of digital marketing wasn’t particularly customer-focused. Many in the industry openly pine for the pencil-by-default days of the ‘Mad Men’, when marketing and advertising was all about getting inside the minds of the consumer.

But as mobile in particular has matured, the complexity of communications channels (and the unwieldy and costly nature of legacy IT systems) has necessitated a return to customer focus. Marketing crosses paths with digital service design, where user stories are gospel.

So, marketers are again obliged to have their user stories at front of mind and, like service designers, should probably have them stuck to the wall, too.

Government Digital Service provides some neat advice on creating user stories in its service manual.

What is a user story? 

‘User stories describe a user and the reason why they need to use the service you’re building.’

Why do you need user stories?

These user stories must be front of mind to ensure services meet user needs when they are built, or, from a marketer’s point of view, that any marketing encourages engagement.

Image via Jakuza on Flickr

user stories

How to construct user stories

User stories include:

  • the person using the service (the actor)
  • what the user needs the service for (the narrative)
  • why the user needs the service (the end goal) 

A user story may follow the format: As a… [who is the user?] I need/want/expect to… [what does the user want to do?] so that… [why does the user want to do this?].

As GDS points out, the goal is the most important part of the story. Designers and marketers must ensure they are, respectively, solving and addressing the right problem and they know when the goal is achieved.

If I were to construct a user story for an Econsultancy service / product (let’s say the SEO Best Practice Guide) it might look like this:

  • “As a CMO, I want to be able to do a quick sanity check on my mobile of the work and the KPIs my SEO agency are talking about, to make sure we are getting value for money.”

Or perhaps:

  • “As a digital content manager, I need a better understanding of technical SEO, so that I can ask the right questions of my development team.” 

These user stories might inform how the guide is formatted and compiled, but they will also inform how it is marketed.

Each user story can be written up on a card and given a title. The cards can be pinned to a wall, or circulated in a digital format.

How to make use of user stories

Marketers should create user stories and use them to inform their work, their discussions with colleagues, and their progress (which needs have been met?). 

User stories should help in the prioritisation of work. Though this applies more to service design than marketing, it’s still a relevant point. Your company may have fantastic products and services available, but if the user isn’t aware of, informed of, or enticed by them, they will not be used.

Am I bastardising service design?

User stories are an integral part of service design. Why am I trying to say they are relevant to marketers, too?

Okay, I’m not trying to pretend that marketers, however digital, should be just like a service design team. Yes, there are many crossovers and areas where the teams must work together but all I’m saying is that it doesn’t hurt marketers to remind themselves of the user again through the deceptively basic activity of creating user stories.

This activity is a lot like the development of personas, though exists at a more detailed level. If you’ve ever run a persona workshop, you’ll know that some people in the organisation can be dismissive (“We know all this!”) and the exercise can be quickly forgotten.

But these people (senior management?) miss the fact that it’s the application of personas and user stories in day-to-day work that is important. So, get them in view and on show.

Just as those CEOs parrot, you should be (literally) putting the customer at the heart of everything you do.

To learn more on this topic, check out our Customer Experience training courses.