Experience Mesh: A Multi-actor Storytelling Technique in One Single View

March 4, 2021

Picture this, you have thoroughly planned the vacation of your dreams and a pandemic hit that required you to cancel your plans. From a customer perspective, is an awful and emotional roller coaster experience, for service providers is also an awful and emotional experience.

Complex situations like this require us to think beyond the customer and look at the impact on a large ecosystem. It is easy to say but not easy to do, that is why at Harmonic Design we are always looking for ways to increasingly design systems of moments that orchestrate value exchanges among multiple actors in shifting contexts. As we have further formalized our principles and methods for these challenges, we’ve noticed that there is a gap in current service design tools. When we use customer-centric tools (such as journey maps, service blueprints, empathy maps), we end up designing experiences in favor of one main actor, the customer, and there is no visual room to add employees or service provider’s stories in the experience. We asked ourselves: how might we go beyond a single customer experience to account for the needs of all people participating in the same service/journey? One technique we created from our exploration is Experience Mesh.

Experience Mesh is a simple sense-making technique driven by a storytelling activity that combines multiple actors’ stories in one single view of a service experience. It is called “mesh” because it provides a visual way to identify interdependent sequences of actions across different actors that are part of the same service experience.

Workshop participants reviewing narratives

Once you mesh different actors and their stories into this holistic view, you can:

  • Surface individual and collective needs to align on opportunities across the organization
  • Visualize experience gaps across actors (e.g. waiting or communication gaps) at a larger ecosystem scale
  • Evaluate moments’ health by an actor in a sequence of time

This method relies on bringing together the right subject matter experts (SMEs) in a (virtual) room to share stories from the perspective of each actor that is part of a chosen experience. By sharing stories from multiple perspectives, we can visualize and assess how inside-out and outside-in perspectives influence that service experience as a whole. For the time being, this tool has been used mostly during the discovery phase as a way to get alignment in organizations on what to prioritize, identify experience gaps, high impact areas and look for possible unknown areas to conduct research.

Tapestry Slide Deck MASTER Thurs 9pm.022
  1. Pre-session: Core Team Members decide which actor(s) would best fit the project scope.
  2. During the session: The main facilitator divides attendees into small groups of four-six people and assigns one actor and one group facilitator to each group. Note: ensure the subject matter expert matches with the actor of each group.
  3. Led by the group facilitator, each team describes the actor’s journey moment by moment in separate post-its (virtual post-its as well) and afterward, the group identifies the most critical moments.
  4. As a (virtual) room, the main facilitator asks each group to share stories from each actor. Note: role-playing is a great way to bring the story to life!
  5. The main facilitator guides a conversation about key findings across groups by calling out interdependencies and shared moments across actors and the impact they might have on the overall experience. Note: ensure you assign a notetaker to write down the main findings (if in-person, write the findings in post-it notes visible to the group; Virtually, write it down under the Mesh board)
  6. Individually, each participant votes on top opportunity areas that are high level of impact and high value to the project scope.
  7. Post-session: Facilitators review findings and select the best course of action to solve the challenges and the selected opportunity areas represented in the mesh.

Examples of how we have used Experience Mesh

We used the mesh to identify interdependent moments that were compromising three different actors in the same onboarding experience. At the end of the exercise, we gained alignment on where in the experience we should conduct an in-depth investigation on a small scale and produce a high level of impact across the three different actors.

We have also used this technique to rethink how an in-person handoff interaction could be delivered digitally. Stakeholders were able to visualize what part of the experience they needed to focus on first to optimize the digital experience without compromising customer and employee’s relationships. 

In a pick-up delivery service, the mesh helped us identify the sequencing and the timing of this service across four different actors. In the end, we uncovered actions that were repetitive and inefficient.

Technique Variations 

(note: this is an ongoing list)

We have practiced the exercise mentioned above with two-four actors in small groups of four people up to larger groups of 30 people in business-to-business (B2B), business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C), and-business-to-consumer (B2C) markets. We’ve looked at various scenarios including onboarding experiences, pick-up delivery services, and reimagined digital experiences.

Most recently, during the Virtual Service Design Global Conference 2020, we put together a hands-on workshop to teach others how to conduct a mesh exercise in their own organization. The workshop participants were invited to play multiple roles during the workshop activity to master what is required to facilitate the Experience Mesh exercise. Participants were impressed with the potential of this tool and how it can be used as a starting point for including multi-actors in the same journey. They also mentioned that they were able to see how it can connect to other service design methods such as service blueprints and design research.

As we have pressure tested this technique across different organizational settings, we’ve noticed a few things:

  1. Most of the key insights come from the act of participating in the mesh and the conversations that take place during the activity.
  2. Mesh provides an equitable lens to honor the needs of different actors; it ensures an emphasis on the emotional, experiential side of multi-actor stories going beyond a single protagonist.
  3. Mesh has a lower engagement curve for non-designers compared to journey mapping, ecosystem mapping, and blueprinting techniques.
  4. Unlike service blueprints, it does not require defining experience details and technical requirements (e.g. front stage/backstage/support systems).
  5. Mesh is not a deliverable; it works as an alignment tool to guide where the organization should be focusing on.
  6. It is great to set up a mindset about nonlinear journeys untangling complex service ecosystems.

Further considerations

At Harmonic Design, we believe that each actor plays an important role in the overall ecosystem and for that reason, Experience Mesh is one of many methods that can help create narratives to construct an overall Experience Tapestry, which is an approach that looks to compose many individual actor stories into a larger story of the service.

As we explore and expand how we mesh stories and align organizations, here are a few thought-starters on what we want to experiment with next:

  • How might we conduct the Mesh exercise asynchronously?
  • Is there a limit to how many actors we can Mesh together? 
  • How might we bring the Mesh back later in the design process?
  • How to manage the complexity of conversations in a consumable way?

Stay tuned for the next iteration of the Experience Mesh.

Co-creator for Experience Mesh: Stephen Taylor
Collaborators: Matias Rey, Jeff Harris, and Patrick Quattlebaum

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