Blueprint service

The service blueprint is a technique originally used for service design and innovation, but has also found applications in diagnosing problems with operational efficiency. The technique was first described by G. Lynn Shostack, a bank executive, in the Harvard Business Review in 1984. [1] The service blueprint is an applied process chart which shows the service delivery process from the customer’s perspective. The service is one of the most widely used tools for service operations, service design and service positioning.


A simple way to think about blueprints is a process that consists of inputs, processes and outputs.

Inputs (raw materials) → Process (transformation) → Outputs (finished goods)

A blueprint service is always constructed from the customer’s perspective. A typical service blueprint identified: [2]

  • Customer Actions: The steps that customers take as part of the service delivery process.
  • Front-stage (Visible Contact Employee) Actions: Steps taken by contact employees as part of the face-to-face service encounter.
  • Back-stage (Invisible Contact Employee) Actions: (The ‘line of visibility’ separates the front-stage and back-stage actions). Non-visible steps taken by contact employees behind the line of visibility. eg taking a hotel by phone.
  • Support Processes: Activities carried out by employees who are not contact employees, but whose actions are required for the service to be delivered.
  • Physical Evidence: Tangible elements associated with each step that has the potential to influence customer perception of the service eg uniforms, delivery vans
  • Inventory (if required): The amount of inventory required for each step
  • Line of Visibility: Line that separates front-stage and back-stage actions

Optional inclusions – depending on on application : [3]

  • Line of Interaction
  • Line of Internal Interaction which separates the front office and the back office
  • Line of Implementation which separates management zone from the support zone. That is management is responsible for planning and controlling while support activities include preparation. Yet other scholars and practitioners
  • Line of Order Penetration which separates customer-induced activities from customer-independent
  • Minimum expected wait times
  • Potential bottlenecks and / or fail points [4]


The service blueprint has become one of the most useful tools in the services marketer’s repertoire. Since its original development, a number of scholars has sought to increase its usefulness by adding various modifications. Zeithaml and Bitner recommend adding four lines to the map. (1) the Line of Visibility (as in the original); (2) the Line of Interaction which separates the customer service from the service provider (3) the Line of Internal Interaction which separates the front office and the back office and (4) the Line of Implementation which separates management zone from the support zone. [5]The addition of these lines helps to separate the functions of planning and controlling of support activities. Yet other scholars and practitioners have recommended adding different lines (5) The Line of Order Penetration which separates customer-induced activities from customer-independent activities. [6]

Lovelock, Patterson, and Walker (2001) suggest that the service blueprint may also be useful for specifying the level of variation that would be tolerated at each stage of the process without impacting on customer perceptions of quality and timeliness. [7] Zeithaml, Bitner and Gremler (2006) also recommending adding bottlenecks and failing points to the map. A bottleneck is a point in the system where it is possible to exceed average or minimum tolerable expectations. It is a good idea to have customer satisfaction or quality. [8] These additions increase the diagnostic value of the service blueprint.


Blueprinting service has three main applications: simple representation; diagnosing operational deficiencies and service design (planning for structural change or new service development).

(1) Simple Representation
A basic application for blueprints is a simple form of representing or codifying what is actually occurring in the current operation. In visual form, the blueprint can be used in training programs. Blueprints can be used in the research of a person who can help to understand the aspects of a service that may be the focus of an investigation. [9] Blueprints can also be used in employee training programs and manuals to assist staff in visualizing the service process and the relationships between steps in the process.
(2) Diagnosing Operational Deficiencies
Blueprints have also found widespread applications as diagnostic tools designed to uncover operational weaknesses. A number of scholars have championed the diagnostic value of blueprints. [10] [11] : 123-129
The blueprint can be analyzed in terms of the appropriateness of physical evidence provided in each contact point of contact. In the event that any deficiencies are identified by the blueprinting process, management can develop operational standards for critical steps in the process. [12]
(3) Design Service: Planning for Structural Change / New Service Development
Shostack’s original intention was that blueprinting be used as a planning tool. [13] Using a simple diagrammatic representation of the process, management could pose “What if?” type scenarios and reconfiguration of the service process in the blueprint, with disruptions in real time. For example, a planner might ask, What if we give employees wider latitude? What if we reduce latitude by scripting every step? What if we reduce complexity by combining two or more steps into a single procedure? What if we have complexity by having different contact?

Building a blueprint

The original service is a highly visual, graphical map that delineates the key contact points in the service process and the nature of the contact – whether with physical evidence, personnel or procedures. It represents the horizontal axis representing the horizontal axis and the vertical axis represents the basic steps in the process. A line of visibility is included to separate actions visible to the customer from actions out of sight. Employee latitude, which refers to the amount of discretion given to employees, is shown on the map. Process complexity is shown simply by the number of steps in the process.

The process of structuring a blueprint between five and seven steps, depending on the intended application. [14] From the outset, the blueprint has been designed to provide customers with the best of opportunities. Accordingly, the starting point should point to the customer’s step-by-step contact points, indicating, where, known, customer’s expectations in terms of minimum tolerable waiting times for each step.

Symbols typically used in blueprints service

Basic Service Blueprint

  1. Identify activities, sequence of activities and linkages between activities. Activities include
    (a) customer actions
    (b) front stage personal contact actions
    (c) back stage personal contact actions
    (d) support activities
  2. Identify line of visibility and add to blueprint.
  3. Identify standards and tolerances, scripts, operating procedures, supporting services and inventory for each step and add to blueprint.
  4. If required, draw additional lines such as this line of interaction and optional interaction.
  5. Specify timeframes. Show average timing or minimum acceptable customer expectations for each step.
    Diagnosis Information (optional)
  6. Identify and note fail points and excessive waits.
  7. Manipulate divergence and complexity.

Traditionally, service blueprints have been depicted with lines and text boxes to depict anything from user actions to support processes. Fail points, bottlenecks and average time taken for each step can be added to the analyst’s discretion. The amount of information included in the service blueprint largely depends on how it is used. Over the years, a system of commonly accepted symbols has been developed. Although blueprints are not difficult to prepare, there is no universal agreement.


When interpreting service blueprints, there are two basic considerations, complexity and divergence.

Complexity refers to the number and intricacy of the steps required to perform the service. A complex service process is one that has many steps.

Divergence refers to the degree of latitude, freedom, judgment, discretion, variability or situational adaptation permitted within any step of the process. The number of call-out signs is an indicator of a service process that permits wide latitude to vary steps in the service delivery process.

Self-service cafeteria accommodates volume operations by reducing divergence. Patrons must select from a range of pre-prepared dishes and opportunities for customization are minimal or non-existent

Manipulations of the blueprint diagram may be increased by increasing the number of steps, or increasing divergence by allowing greater latitude. In general, service processes that include high levels of employee discretion to vary steps to meet the needs of individual customers. On the other hand, reducing divergence, by standardizing each step, often adds to complexity, but can result in a production-line approach to service process design. By manipulating complexity and divergence, it is possible to consider four different positioning strategies: [15]

Reduced Complexity: Specialization strategy
Reduced Divergence: Volume-operations
Increase Complexity: Product development
Increased Divergence: Niche market strategy

Managerial actions for service design or structural change

Fine dining operations typically allow for increased divergence. Can order special dishes, cooked to order, special ingredients or accompaniments

Can be achieved by reconfiguring delivery systems, adding or deleting specific elements, or repositioning the service to appeal to other segments. [16] By manipulating complexity and divergence, it is possible to consider service process improvements, service product improvements or new service innovations.

Reducing Divergence : Reducing Divergence and Discrimination. The outcome is uniformity which reduces costs and improves productivity. This approach usually involves high-volume / low-margin positioning and requires access to mass markets to be successful. The vulnerability of this approach is that it reduces customization and flexibility.

Increase divergence : Increasing divergence results is effectively a niche market strategy. Higher levels of customization and flexibility require significant investments in human resources, recruitment and training. The approach usually involves a shift to the market and to the customers who are willing to pay a premium for custom services. The vulnerability of increased divergence is more important to manage, control and distribute.

Reduce complexity : Reduced complexity usually involves a specialization strategy. As steps are removed from the process, the service firm concentrates a narrower range of offerings. Examples include an obstetrician, radiologist. The advantage of this approach is that the service provider can develop facilitated levels of expertise. The vulnerability of this approach is particularly important to the firm, especially if competitors continue to offer the convenience of full-service alternatives.

Increasing complexity is the service-product development option (ie, selling different products to existing markets). Under this option, the service firm has an increased opportunity to maximize the revenue generated from each customer. The vulnerability inherent in this approach is that the firm’s market positioning may become confused. Managing a broader array of products can also be used to reduce the risk of stress.

Managerial actions for improvements to operational efficiency

While blueprints draw attention to operational deficiencies, the blueprint, per se, can not suggest solutions. In order to identify potential solutions to operating problems, the analyst must consider the service process and consider the factors that are likely to cause the problem. In addition, the range of possible solutions may be constrained by organization’s mission, current market position, and access to resources.

A very substantial body of marketing literature has addressed the issue of possible solutions to problems identified through blueprinting. It is difficult to do justice to the wealth of studies using blueprints to gain managerial insights. A summary of key managerial actions follows:

Most fast food outlets usefully articulated systems to process customers seamlessly. The blueprint is designed to support volume operations

Standardize Procedures

Variable performance in service delivery is largely attributable to inseparability and human factors. Even in the back office, lack of standardization can influence the customer process. In many organizations uses their own systems for storing files. Swank (2003: 125) quotes an example of an insurance company where some employees filed by policyholder (alphabetical), others by policy number (chronological). When employees were absent, substitutes sometimes found it hard to figure out where files were stored, so the process was retrieved. [17]

To reduce this variation, the service has several options.

Production-lining – The production-line approach used in combination of hard and soft technologies to facilitate production, standardization procedures, and minimization of deviations arising from human error. This approach is typically characterized by the simplification of tasks, the clear division of labor and low levels of employee latitude. [18]
Introduce Standard Operating Procedures – In services where it is not possible to replace the problem with other technologies. Standards may include specifying the scripts for a technically correct performance, prescribing a uniform or code for employees, codifying operating procedures. Wherever possible, standards should include measurable components.
Isolate the technical core – Deviations can also be reduced by decoupling the technical core from other aspects of the service system. For example, the theater may be used for ticketing agents for all reservations and the box office. This approach can be implemented by customer education programs to ensure seamless implementation.

Standardization is clearly designed to improve the quality of the process and to improve the quality of the process. Other benefits include reductions in costs and productivity. However, it should be noted that gains in operational efficiency achieved through standardization usually involve sacrificing flexibility and customization. For the analyst, there is a constant trade off between improved operational efficiency and customized delivery.

Identify and Manage Critical Incidents

Some deviation is a normal aspect of service interactions; however, it is likely to affect the customer’s perceptions of value directly impacts on satisfaction. Those incidents which have the potential to become particularly satisfactory or noticeable. [19] Customer waiting time is often considered to be a critical incident and has also been developed.

Self-service technologies replace labor with equipment and deliver

Reduce the Number of Contact Points

It is often suggested that a reduction in the number of points in the service process can lead to greater efficiency since it reduces the number of points where failure can creep into the system. [20] To simplify the delivery process, the most common way is to delegate activities to the customer through self-service technologies or self-guided processes. However, substituting for services to differentiate services and differentiating services in the marketplace. Planners may need to balance competing interests of controlling the process with the overall positioning strategy.

Increase customer participation

Customer participation should not be confused with customer contact. Customer participation is the degree of effort and involvement, both mental and physical, required to produce and deliver service. [21] Examples of high-value customer service include do-it-yourself services like washes, salad bars and buffets, and distance (off-campus) education services.

The level of customer participation varies from providing simple information to the service provider, to joint-production with the assistance of service staff, to instances where the customer is the sole producer (ie self-service). Customer participation focuses on reducing the costs associated with delivering the service product. [22] For example, it costs approximately $ 3 for a customer-to-consumer counterpart via the Internet. Although the additional ‘work’ may be associated with these benefits, they may not be immediately obvious-they must be promoted.

Segregate Complexity

Anyone who has stood in line with a customer. One solution is a cluster of tasks with similar levels of difficulty in the context of their own procedures and performance. [11] : 124 For example, a bank with large numbers of retailers and with a large number of customers.

Linked Processes in Close Physical Proximity

Complex services involve many steps and may require paperwork or customer service, back office and support departments. The time taken to move paperwork or customers is very costly in terms of time and efficiency. Tertiary student enrolment provides a great example of complex processes that are often not very customer-friendly. Students must first have an academic advisor to ensure that their progress is progressing in the field of financial management. can complete their enrollment. In many institutions, this enrolment process can be used as a full course of action. Locating each stage in close proximity has many advantages. Not only does it improve operational efficiency, it has the potential to increase the cost of ownership, but it also increases the efficiency of the process. In short, they are directly responsible.

Eliminate Loop-Backs

In manufacturing, a loopback is a step forward for further processing. Loop-backs typically create delays because they cause consequential problems along the production line. The process of processing human beings, rather than machines, processing may be complicated by employments. If loop-backs present a problem, management can assist employees to clarify roles and tasks by focusing on their position within the overall service process. [11] : 129

When systems have been poorly designed, lengthy tails or overcrowding may result.

Control Fail Points

Failures in service process can be attributed to the service provider or the customer. It is possible that the service provider did not use the resources. Alternatively, service provider failures can be caused by mismanagement. For example, an employee, who chooses to deviate from the script, can fail to serve the customer correctly. Finally, failures can be caused by customers who do not understand the process and do not know what they should be doing. For example, a customer may fail to provide appropriate documents with a bank manager or lawyer. [23]

It is important to spend time diagnosing the reasons for failing points before implementing solutions. Failures attributable to misinformation. In such cases, the service firm can, for instance, provide customers with information checklists at the time when they make an appointment. Failures due to lack of resources may require short-term solutions to alleviate the immediate problem while long-term solutions include resource acquisition can be pursued.

See also

  • Design service
  • Marketing Services
  • Servicescapes


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