Service Design Academy

Scottish Retailer Takes a Service Design Approach to Create Exceptional Customer Experiences

Peter Drucker Quote

Gillies need no introduction to many people in Tayside and the North-east of Scotland, as a well-respected family run furniture retail business. With a flagship branch in Broughty Ferry, they employ many loyal and long-serving staff who hold the company’s ethos of having strong customer relationships. The part Gillies plays in local communities is core to their values.

Gillies recovered after the first lockdown in 2020 with customers returning quickly to their stores. The management team had learned lessons during lockdown and had made some investment in their online presence to future proof their business,

Although Gillies have built a strong reputation on meeting high customer expectations within stores, this has been challenging to replicate online. And like many thriving organisations, improvement was needed with internal communication processes.

Gillies senior team recognised that they needed to re-design elements of their business. After speaking with Dundee and Angus College’s Skills Advisers and the Service Design Academy team, Managing Director David Philp was keen to learn how service design could be embedded as an integral part of the company’s strategy. David’s vision was to improve business performance by unlocking the creativity within Gillies teams to encourage a more collaborative culture.

Through a series of exercises in a 90-minute Discovery meeting with the Service Design Academy team in July 2021, Gillies senior management team shared what they wanted to achieve:

·        To build an improved and streamlined customer journey across stores and online that is truly exceptional

·        To create a cohesive, collaborative team to find solutions that are always customer focused

 The Approach

From these insights, the Service Design Academy’s accredited consultants designed a customised online and interactive programme with clear learning objectives and business focused goals.

A team of 14 staff took part in six fast-paced and collaborative online workshops over six weeks. The workshops were designed to encourage creativity, guaranteeing everyone’s voice being listened to equally. The group had basic training on the online whiteboard Miro, and all accessibility needs were met to ensure a welcoming and productive environment. 

The Workshops

The participants collaborated on a design challenge set by senior management –

design challenge - how might we improve the customer journey and experience at Gillies?

To start, they captured and recorded knowledge and assumptions. From that teams were formed to work on different themes using a variety of tools and methods. The teams were trained in user research techniques to challenge their assumptions and fill gaps in their knowledge. Out of the workshops and back on the shop floor, they carried out in-depth user interviews (or cheerful chats) with customers. Participants learned to use empathy techniques  – walking in their customers’ shoes and observing shoppers’ behaviour.

From this research activity, the teams gathered insights and then learned how to flip their problems into new opportunities. The teams used tools specially designed to encourage creativity and generate a large volume of ideas relating to these opportunities.

SDA consultants then guided the teams through the process of refining and prioritising ideas until they were left with only 3. They explored their ideas further by prototyping to testing and tweak ideas again and again through feedback and evaluation from critical friends.

The final day was devoted to planning how these new solutions could be brought to life. The teams learned to use tools to understand what every step would look like from the user’s perspective and how to create storyboards of a user interacting with the new service. To consolidate all their learning, activities and future plans, each team shared their journey through the design process and their final ideas.

Utility belt for implementation

The Utility Belt Tool for Implementation let the teams come to a shared understanding of how their new, or re-designed service might scale up. The tools also help  them consider how to truly embed service design into the organisation. 

The Outcome

Four final ideas are being taken back to the business. These cover a new customer tracking system; a blended approach to internal communications; introducing rewarding activities for staff and shaking up the induction process for new staff to ensure they truly understand the whole business, not just their role within it.

Post it notes explaining what Gillies liked about their training course
Post it notes explaining what Gillies learned during their training course


To help build on the progress achieved in the six sessions it’s been recommended to the Gillies team to use all their golden nuggets of user research to inform the improvement of customer experience.

The management team will decide on which of the prototypes they would like to pilot, and this will be supported by the planning already done in the workshops. How the pilots land with customers will be tested using newly learned user research techniques. SDA encourages setting up a team of champions to ensure that progress is kept on track with clear guidelines on responsibility, with this new mindset of designing “with, not for” people. SDA looks forward to meeting up with the Gillies management team soon to reflect on progress and to offer support in building momentum on the change already being implemented.

Immediate Impact:

Chris Muir, SDA Consultant reflected on a successful training programme:

“The comments around the value of this training from Gillies has been extremely positive. The work produced by each of the groups was fantastic, not only in the workshop but in gap tasks. The insights and discoveries made ensured that we were indeed solving the right problems, particularly when we entered the develop and deliver phases.

There were lots of comments about building on this momentum for making changes which will ultimately result in a more focussed and better customer experience across all Gillies stores. The online workshops offered the opportunity to collaborate across different stores and demonstrated a way to capture everyone’s voice and do so in a very open and transparent way.”

 On how these new skills will be used, Claire Hartley, SDA consultant added,  “As service design educators, we introduced all participants to the service design mindset and showed them how all these different tools and methods can be used to facilitate conversations and capture insights.

The teams have reflected on the value from experiencing the design process and thought of many ways it will be used for being a better business, from customer satisfaction to staff engagement. However, this would not have been possible without the commitment and passion all participants gave to the challenge presented by the management team at Gillies.”


Valued Voices from Gilles

You can learn how taking a service design approach has made an impact by listening to Director David Philp and Group Store Manager Jonathan Creece here

Ideas are cheap and abundant; what is of value is the effective placement of those ideas into situations that develop into action. Peter Drucker

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