What is a Service Safari?

Summary: Among the arsenal of methodologies utilized in service design, one particularly effective approach is the Service Safari. In this blog post, we will explore what a Service Safari is, its role in service design research, and how it complements ethnography to create a comprehensive understanding of customer interactions and preferences.

Service Safaris are a useful Service Design research tool to kick off a Service Blueprint research project.

They are a cheap and quick way to do a ‘reconnaissance’ of the service, only requiring that you go into the service space and do a first-person observation. You interact with the service and maybe video record the interactions. The point is to get a ‘mystery shopping’ experience.

Understanding the Safari

The concept of the Service Safari is derived from the traditional notion of a safari—an expedition to observe and study wildlife in its natural habitat. Similarly, a Service Safari is an observational research technique involving researchers immersing themselves in the service environment to observe and analyze customer interactions and touchpoints.

Unlike other research methods that may rely on customer feedback or surveys, a Service Safari is designed to capture customers’ real-time experiences, behaviors, and emotions as they engage with a service. Researchers become silent observers, documenting every detail, from the customer’s initial contact with the service to the final resolution of their needs.

Advantages of a Safari in Service Design Research

  1. Unfiltered Insights: Service Safaris offer unfiltered insights into customer experiences. By witnessing interactions first-hand, researchers can identify pain points, inefficiencies, and opportunities for improvement that may go unnoticed through traditional surveys or interviews. These genuine insights allow businesses to address specific issues and make better initial decisions about the scope of opportunities and issues.
  2. Contextual Understanding: Context plays a vital role in shaping customer experiences. The Service Safari enables researchers to understand the broader context within which customers interact with a service. Whether it’s a brick-and-mortar establishment or a digital platform, being on-site gives researchers a deeper understanding of how the service environment impacts customer behaviors and emotions.
  3. Emotional Connection: Emotions significantly influence customer experiences and decision-making. A Service Safari helps researchers gauge customer emotions, reactions, and employee expressions during service interactions. Identifying emotions can provide valuable insights into how customers perceive a service and whether they feel satisfied or frustrated.
  4. Identifying Potential Customer Needs: Researchers can identify unmet or unexpressed needs by observing customers in real-time.  Note: Unless you are shadowing or interviewing customers, a Safari is a limited tool for detecting customer needs. Rather a Service Safari enables businesses to proactively get an idea of customer needs before conducting a Service Blueprint.
  5. Informing Service Design: Service Safaris provides qualitative data that complements quantitative data from other research methods. This data paints a comprehensive picture of customer behavior and preferences, allowing designers and stakeholders to frame decisions to optimize service design.

Can a Safari replace other research?

First, it is important to understand what a Safari is…it is a quick look at a service environment to help you frame more in-depth User Research. While a Service Safari is an excellent method for understanding customer experiences, it is further enriched when used alongside ethnography. Ethnography is a research approach that involves immersing researchers within the target community or group for an extended period to understand their culture, practices, and behaviors. When combined with a Service Safari, ethnography enhances the research process in the following ways:

  1. Contextualization: Ethnography provides a deep contextual understanding of the target audience’s values, beliefs, and social norms. This context allows researchers to interpret Service Safari observations more accurately and grasp the underlying reasons behind specific customer behaviors.
  2. Long-term Observations: Service Safaris typically involve short-term observations, providing a snapshot of customer interactions. On the other hand, ethnography involves longer-term engagements, enabling researchers to study patterns, trends, and changes in customer behavior over time. This longitudinal perspective adds invaluable insights into customer journeys.
  3. Cultural Sensitivity: Ethnographic training equips researchers with cultural sensitivity and understanding. This skill set is crucial when interpreting customer behavior in different cultural contexts, avoiding misinterpretations, and ensuring accurate representation.


The Safari is a valuable tool in service design research, offering firsthand insights into customer interactions and experiences. However, at Experience Dynamics, we consider it a “warm-up” tool. It can quickly (and cheaply) immerse team members in the service environment to better understand customer needs, emotions, and pain points. When used alongside ethnography, the Service Safari becomes even more potent, providing a contextual and culturally sensitive lens to comprehend customer behavior comprehensively.

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