4 challenges in education with the ideal customer journey [+ template]

I have been working in the social domain for several years now. In that time I have seen everything that goes wrong there, but above all I see how things can be improved. I am convinced that we can change the social domain. Whether it concerns government, healthcare or education, innovation is needed everywhere in services. Online and offline. But that’s too much for one article. That’s why I start with education. We start with an assignment for the VU and end with the tool we found for this: Service Blueprints.

I’ll take you back to 2013. We worked for the Free University in Amsterdam, or the VU. The services for students had to be improved, especially digitally. And that was not easy, as it turned out when we got started. I sketch a true situation and share four challenges and four solutions with you.

Charlotte is 22 years old and is about to start the last year of her studies at the VU. Problem: She failed two courses. The only opportunity to try again came in the middle of her internship. That didn’t go together. She tried a lot but got nowhere. Very frustrating, because study delay is imminent. While she always got everything neatly on time.
The question: how do we help Charlotte?

Challenge 1: There were too many processes

We started with the processes of the VU, which were our starting point. In total, the VU had 9 faculties, all of which were set up differently. All those faculties had dozens of their own processes. Our conclusion: we have to go through all those processes 9 times. You don’t have to be a math genius to understand that that’s way too much. If you start doing that, you will be busy for years to come.

Solution 1: we chose one perspective: the user

After we concluded that the amount of processes was too large, we stopped the program and started again. Instead of taking each process separately as a starting point, we chose one starting point. One and the same perspective for all faculties and processes. And which perspective do you choose? The answer was easy: the student’s perspective. After all, those were the people we were doing it for. Ultimately, it’s about the user.

Challenge 2: Who is the user then?

We were always talking about ‘the student’, but how do you know exactly who that student is and what that student needs?

Solution 2: Personas

To make the user concrete, we developed a persona. This is where Charlotte was born. From then on we no longer talked about ‘the student’, but started talking about Charlotte. The student had gotten a face. Charlotte was the person we optimized the digital services for.

Challenge 3: The user’s situation changed

So at that moment we had the persona Charlotte. But Charlotte’s situation turned out to be an essential element in her persona. Charlotte was doing an internship when she should have taken a test. Well, we had not taken that into account in the development of digital services…

Solution 3: a persona + her situation

For the first time, we no longer looked only at the person we wanted to help, but also at that person’s sentiment. What situation was Charlotte in, and what are the reasons why she did or didn’t do something? We included these questions in the development of the persona, and in developing the ideal customer journey for that persona. Which steps does Charlotte go through, and what does she need in her situation to take those steps?

Challenge 4: we didn’t include the ‘back’

We talked to academic counselors and support staff and came up with a really good customer journey for Charlotte. Then we went to talk to the IT department and the information manager. Then suddenly there appeared to be reasons why that customer journey was not feasible. The systems couldn’t do it, there were legal ramifications or we couldn’t work it out with privacy. How is that possible? We had developed such a good customer journey! The reason: we came up with it without involving all departments.

Solution 4: integral working

We soon came to the conclusion that we had to include all departments. From the beginning. In other words: integrated work. So instead of just talking to the front office, we immediately took all the other departments along. Everyone thinks about the (digital) service provision. From the IT department to the legal department: since 2013, we no longer only build at the front without including the back.

The final solution: the service blueprint method

In the commercial world, service blueprints often used. When we combined all the solutions above, this turned out to be the perfect tool here too. With this method we were able to help Charlotte further in her studies and the processes of the VU were redesigned. Many other organizations followed after the VU and today we use the method in many places in the Netherlands. We now use the knowledge we gained here to change the social domain. Because that is necessary, that is for sure.

If you want to know more: this video describes how the VNG (Association of Dutch Municipalities) uses the service blueprint methodology for innovation in the social domain. And here you will find an example of a completed blueprint. This was developed by i4social: a collaboration between the municipalities of Deventer, Enschede, Groningen, Zwolle, Zaanstad and Leeuwarden. I wrote an article about that two years ago.


The service blueprint method can be used by anyone. It is a tool with which you first map out the ideal customer journey, and then map out step by step what is needed to realize that customer journey. With the service blueprint methodology we go through a number of steps:

  1. Theme and delineation: we determine the scope of the issue we want to tackle. What exactly do we want to achieve?
  2. Persona’s: we define personas that serve as a model for part of the target group. We ask ourselves: who are we going to put ourselves in?
  3. User stories: we determine for which part of the process we will map out the ideal customer journey.
  4. Customer journey: we think about the ‘ideal’ flow that people go through in the process. From the perspective of the customer, we look at all the steps that someone takes and what that would look like in an ideal situation. We do this together with experts and professionals. In this step we can fully dream about the ideal situation. No idea is put on hold in advance, everything is possible here!
  5. ‘I do…’: here we gain insight requirements. We think about what the persona needs to be able to take every step in the customer journey. For example: does the persona want to be able to choose themselves, or does the persona want help? We map the ‘I want’s’ for each individual step.
  6. Service blueprint: with the steps from the ideal customer journey and the ‘I want’s’ we will look at what is needed to realize this. In short: what does it take to get from the current situation to the desired situation? We call this total overview a service blueprint.
  7. Consequences: in the end we think about what needs to be arranged or done to improve the steps in the customer journey. This can be about everything from information and systems to content and functionalities. This brings the ideal situation closer and closer.

Ultimately, this approach leads to a nice and complete insight into the situation of the target group, and into everything that is needed to realize the customer journey for that target group. Sometimes those are quick wins that you can quickly get started with. Sometimes an adjustment in a process is necessary. Throughout the entire process, we continuously ask the question: can we do things differently, or can we even do things completely different?

Screenshot van service blueprints.

Click on the image to enlarge.

The service blueprints are a great way to get started with your (digital) services. That way you can really help people like Charlotte further.

Source: Frankwatching by www.frankwatching.com.

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