XX.X. Service Cycle

The 10th system architecture pattern: Designing a user experience
Dr. Albert Künstler

ervice cycles are basically the main process of value creation for a customer. In a Business Model architecture, it is a central whirpool that absorbs the customers and the products from both sides, supply and demand, and makes everyone happy. This is, of course, if it is designed correctly.

In fact, we have a more complex structure of processes here than just a simple cycle, but the general architecture is cyclic. So let us take a closer look.

Research landscape of a service cycle

When designing a product, we need to think about four chains and cycles: the First Experience chain, the Session Cycle, the ROADs, and the Asset life cycle. We will use the collective name application chains for these chains and cycles because they define how your product is applied by a customer.

First Experience

This is the sequence of steps that the customer has to go through when using the product or receiving service for the first time. This sequence is so important that we even distinguished it as a separate phase in the Customer Acquisition Funnel. This sequence must be easy, productive, and enjoyable. Only if these factors are met will the customer agree to stay with your product. For the first experience being so important, it should be given enough thought and designed separately from the second and third use.

Example: In free-to-play video games, 90% of players churn after the first game session. They install the game, play for several minutes, and decide if they like it or not. That’s why video game companies may spend literally half of their budget on creating stunning 5-minute gameplay experiences. If the gamers get hooked during the first 5–10 minutes, they are more likely to become a long-term user. The same goes with online education — the first minutes of the first lecture of a free online course are viewed by pretty much every student. But the course must be really brilliant to have more than 10% of students attending the second lecture. Paid courses have better retention because students expect to have at least something, including a completion certificate for their money. But sincerely, they make the first impression during the first minutes, and prioritize their time accordingly.

The first experience should be both educational and solve a real problem. This is not easy, but if you find the right application when the customers can get a success story with your product during the first use. If the product has multiple functions, it is recommended to build the first experience around just one function that is the easiest and most valuable for the customer. Although many functions may impress the customer, do not give too much choice to inexperienced users, as they can easily get lost and confused.

If the product requires installation, think about making it as easy as possible, almost plug-and-play. If the service requires onboarding and preparation (e.g. filling out forms or providing documents), streamline the process and give very clear step-by-step guidance. Don’t try to shock the customer on the first use. Be very careful with unusual experiences even if your product or service is an innovation. Unusual experiences may easily confuse the new customers. They will not be able to complete the trial and will be very unsatisfied because they did not get what was promised.

First Time Experience and Session Cycle.

Session Cycle

The session cycle defines the main set of steps of how a product or service is used by a client. This is the most frequent chain and it must be designed for simplicity and productivity.

The session cycle is usually initiated by an external necessity, when something happens in a user’s life cycle and a particular need arises. The user understands that it is time to solve the problem and use the product. This is an important moment. The user should cultivate a habit of solving that exact problem with this exact tool — your product. We briefly touched this topic in the Product Guide. A good product becomes a natural tool in a solution chain every time the problem

The cycle starts when an external necessity in a problem situation triggers a new Order. We will call this request for the problem to be solved an Order. Even if there is no formal request, even if it is not supposed to be paid, for generality let us use this name.

The second step is usually a Choice (we covered the decision chainarchitecture that is applicable here). If the product has multiple functions or there is a toolbox of several products, the right tool of function should be enabled to serve the Order.

Then there the tool is applied in a sequence of steps (simple chain) with a specific input, output, and ingredients. There can be some Preparationrequired and some work to be done before the tool can serve the need.

Next there are one or several Value creation steps: resolve the problem, achieve something, or satisfy a need. Here the tool serves its main job.

And after the value is delivered, the users finally have their problem solved completely or partially and can decide if they are satisfied or not. We’ll call it the Appreciation step.

Enough value may not always be created during the session. In case of failure, the customers will be frustrated. The success of the session depends on the tool, the skills of the user, the availability of ingredients and other external factors. Of course, a well-designed tool in a well-designed experience can make success easier and faster and reduce the impact of negative factors.

Explore the use cases, the core problems, the situations when the problem arises, design the solution and the user experience of how the product can be applied, identify the negative factors that can induce failures, waste, delays, defects, unsuccessful attempts, and dissatisfaction. Think about how the product can be reengineered in order to react to or better prevent these inconveniences.

Examples of session cycles: A visit to a restaurant is induced by a need in a customer life cycle (I am hungry or I want to meet someone), the session starts with picking a dish from a menu (choice), the waiting time (inconvenience), the eating (value creation if you are hungry), the conversation with another person (value creation if you are meeting someone), and the payment.
The guitar is a tool which is used when there is a need (I want to entertain myself or my friends at a party), the session starts with picking a popular song I want to play (choice), the performance (value creation), and possible wrong notes (inconveniences).
The use of a printer is induced by a need (I need a paper printed version of the document), the session starts with selection of a file I want to print (choice), printing (value creation), and reviewing that everything was printed correctly (if the printer streaks this is a failure, an inconvenience due to insufficient ingredient: the toner or ink).


Some needs are really big and can not be satisfied during a single session, requiring multiple sessions. That means you need to design a multi-session customer journey, a grand tour along a well designed ROAD.

Examples of multi-session experiences: When you take a loan from the bank, you will have several sessions before you are approved, then you take the money and then you will need to repay the loan periodically by depositing money into the account. When you learn to play the guitar, you’ll have a lot of sessions, exercises, and attempts at playing before you become a master. When you build a house, you will use your tools multiple times.

The separate session in a grand tour does not solve the entire problem and does not satisfy the initial need. However, a well-designed journey must have sessions organized so that every session creates enough value and ends up with a clear Achievement, a step towards the next Objective. A poorly designed journey will frustrate the users. They will abandon the process along the way, which makes it similar to the funnel with the same approach of identifying the leaks and the MoBs as we discussed in the previous chapters.

ROAD: a multi-session user journey.

Here are four components of the ROAD:

eason: Why does the customer need to start the journey? The need, problem, necessity, requirement, opportunity, and dream. It must be big enough so that the user will spend many sessions to get to the end.

bjectives: In a multi-step journey you need large landmarks along the road. They will be seen from afar and gradually approached. For one ROAD you probably need 3 or 5, probably 7, but nor more of these landmarks. The completion of Objectives clearly indicates the overall progress.

chievements: The Objectives are notable landmarks, but even those landmarks may be hard to reach within a single user Session. That is why if you want to encourage your users, you should also break a long journey into even smaller Achievements, that give a sense of accomplishment and progress when the user moves from one Objective to another. Ideally, every Session should end up with an Achievement.

ifficulties: Life is good, but life is also hard. The same way we analyzed a single Session to identify the inconveniences and improve usability of the product, we should also think big about the long journey. The product and the ROAD is well designed when we know about the Difficultiesahead and we have a certain plan, a painkiller, or workaround to deal with those difficult sections of the ROAD.

It is also important to remember that some big goals are achievable and others may be very hard to fulfill. We stressed this difference when considering the ordinary, strong, and wicked problems. If we design a ROAD for an ordinary problem, the last Objective is a clear last step, a point of 100% completion. But if we are on a strong or wicked ROAD, we need to recognize that 100% completion is impossible. Thus it may be unwise to have an event of 100% completion among our Objectives. Instead, it is better to set up the achievable Objectives and expectations, and celebrate them, even if the strong problem was not solved in all its dimensions. This does not mean you don’t need to have a big dream, a Castle in the Clouds, a darling fantasy that motivates you. But keep it as a dream, don’t make it an obligatory goal, an occasion for unfulfilled hopes and ruined expectations.

Examples of strong problems: More than 500 million people in the world play chess, but over 30 years (the active chess player lifetime is 30 years — between 15 to 45 years old) only 3–5 new world chess champions win the chess crown. So statistically, there is only 0.000001% chance for a chess player to become a world chess champion. However, there are intermediate grades: a chess Master and Grandmaster titles, that are more achievable and thus they are good Objectives for the ambitious chess players. The same way strong business problems can be handled: the companies should set up yearly Objectives for managers that are challenging yet achievable.

The idea of ROAD is applicable to our research project, our quest as well. In one of our next chapters we will apply it to the planning process. Literally, the roadmapping process.

Asset life cycle

The fourth journey we need to explore and design is a life cycle of our product from the owner’s perspective, when the user has purchased your product and holds it among other assets.

Examples: A car purchased by a household, a machine tool purchased by a factory, a building purchased by a hotel chain, and a mobile phone purchased by a student.

Our products, especially physical products, exist not only during the application phase, when they are actually applied to solve the problem and create value. These products also exist between these moments and must be stored, maintained, and taken care of. Thus when designing a product, it should be not just designed for the usability during the use session cycles, but they should be easy to deliver, store, install, cleanse, upgrade, and dispose.

Examples: Plastic chairs are designed so that they can be stacked one over another and stored in a compact way, a ceramic cup is durable and can be easily washed which is great for a house, a paper coffee cup does not even need to be washed and can be easily disposed which makes it great for outdoor use and large events.

The asset life cycle contains these general phases:

  • Need identification and planning
  • Selection and acquisition (see Customer Acquisition funnel)
  • Installation and onboarding
  • Usage (this is what we discussed above — different application chains)
  • Maintenance and repairs
  • Upgrades and repurposing
  • Disposal and retirement

We have already discussed the acquisition and usage process design. We will also take a detailed look at the other processes of this life cycle from the viewpoint of the user in one of our next chapters.

From the viewpoint of the product designer, you should just think broader and remember that the product is more than just first experience, session cycle, and ROAD usability, but also the usability of the other steps of the life cycle.

Problem Analysis

The application chains of the Service cycle have pretty much the same customer experience challenges:

ost — What is the cost per transaction, cost per session, cost of the required ingredients, cost of maintenance, cost of wasted materials, and cost of replacement if the product is broken?

sability — How hard is it, especially for inexperienced users, to follow all the required steps and use the tool correctly?

uccess — Is enough value delivered based on the customer expectations, are the main needs satisfied, are the must-haves met, and is value enough as compared to costs?

ime — How long does the process take, are there are delays and wait time, and what is the performance?

rganization — How simple or hard is the product to use not only on its own, but in combination with the other products and tools that the user owns? Is the product an organic fit to the other elements? Are they compatible, are the same standards applied, is it easy to synchronize and coordinate the operations?

istakes — What is success/failure rate, percentage of errors, failures, defects, and how productive is the user when using this product as a tool? For the learning curve, how quickly does the number of mistakes reduce over time as the user becomes more experienced? What is the unavoidable rate of errors?

legance — How does the product or service fit with the user’s perception of aesthetics, comfort, quality, and status?

obustness — How is the product or service fragile or sensitive to the internal and external conditions, such as inconsistent ingredients, mistakes, inaccuracies, errors, disturbances, and noise? A good product or service simplifies the life of a user because it is robust enough. It helps achieve goals even in stressful conditions and protects the user from failures.

Sustainable form and function

Nowadays, a lot of people in product and service design primarily focus on usability and elegance and too frequently end up adding more features and options. These factors are important, but the true art is to get rid of options and functions instead of adding them. Less is more. The art is to find a sustainable form for every product. Something that is so good at its simplicity.

Example: The fork, the spoon, and the knife are simple. They are three different products and they have sustainable forms. There were and will be many attempts to combine the fork and the spoon or the knife and create a universal combination, but these forms are not sustainable so they do not survive the test of time. Yes, there is another sustainable form of the eating tool: the chopsticks. But they are not a combination of a spoon and a fork, but a separate sustainable form of eating utensils.

One-button solutions

Basically the simplest forms win in the long run. There is a tendency to overcomplicate experiences and introduce new features, but in fact the simplest tools have a broader customer base. If you want to win the hearts of billions of people you need to design something that is a One-button magic wand. You have a problem, you click the button, and… Solved!

This is exactly what billions of people want. If there is some logic that must be taken into account to apply the right solution — it is not the user’s problem. It is your problem. Find a way to solve the problem without asking a hundred questions. Put all complexity behind the scenes. Leave only one button and magic happens.

If you still want to give some choice to the user — give them 3 options: the best solution, the greatest solution, and the most wonderful solution. This is enough freedom of choice. If you can not do that, you’ll make your users struggle and browse trying to choose between bad, poor, awkward, and ugly. Nobody likes this kind of freedom.

One-button solutions.

Examples of legendary one-button products: A house light switch, an elevator, a gun, a photocamera, a TV set, a google homepage, a refrigerator (unbelievable — zero buttons!), a taxi service, and even mobile phones have very few buttons now. Of course you may argue, not all of these products have only one button, but this is not because they are cool. They are just imperfect and if they were intelligent enough they would not ask you to press more buttons. For example, an intelligent elevator and intelligent taxi service should know where you are going, and an intelligent TV set should know what you want to watch right now. Again, if you insist on the freedom of choice, give 3 best options, but not more. The intelligent part is tricky, it happens behind the scenes, but that is exactly what billions of people want from a product.

Leveling guide — Service Cycle

If you are creating a new product from scratch:

Pick one most valuable use case, the simplest, fastest, and most valuable experience from the product genotype. Create Quick & Dirty steps implementing this experience as a Session Cycle.

Analyze the bottlenecks in the experience and design an even more simplified, streamlined First-time Experience for the existing use case. If this most valuable use case is too complicated, probably you should pick another use case for your product which is very simple, with very few steps and possible occasions to fail, but still with clear value for the customer. That can be a good welcome use case showing the potential and ease of your product.

If you are improving an existing product, skip the previous steps.

Analyze the retention of different use cases. Do the users complete the main Session cycles with success and satisfaction, or are they stuck somewhere in the process? If so, there may be two options: the use case is not clear, the problem and the solutions are vague, or the case is clear but the usability of the product is just underdeveloped. Try to upgrade the experiences for the most valuable Take-my-money use cases that give most retention in both Session Cycle and the First Experience to a Good Enoughlevel.

After the main use cases are solid, you may add more use cases, some of them are Must-haves, so their underdeveloped status may frustrate users. Do not overinvest in Must-haves and copycat the experiences from your competitors, exactly in every detail. The Must-have experiences are not where you want to differentiate, keep them simple and familiar to the users.

Analyze if the users have big needs, that require a grand tour, a multi-session experience to be designed. Think in terms of ROADs: the Reason (the need from the customer genotype), the Objectives (several large-scale goals that will guide the tour), the Achievement (smaller tangible results that the user may enjoy by the end of each Session while approaching the larger Objective), and Difficulties (the most painful or vulnerable sections of the road that your product should endure and protect the user from failures).

Continue identifying the bottlenecks in the experiences, upgrade Take-my-money experiences to the State-of-the-Art level, make them unique as they will truly differentiate your product or service from the competition. If you have enough inspiration, for the use cases that have proven identified demand, try to radically reengineer your product into a One-button magic wand. That may make your product or service legendary.