Embrace auto-ethnography in order to experience specific parts of the user journey... in first person.
When analysing a service experience, design research techniques such as in-depth interviews with staff operators and end-users are key to collect insights and design inspirations. But sometimes it could be difficult to fully understand both the functional and aesthetics dimensions of the service experience just by listening to others. At the same time, it could be also difficult to ask questions about something that you haven't really seen or tried in first place.
When ever it's possible to try things out, pretending to be a real customer of a service gives the possibility to collect interesting insights and better understand both the user's and employee's perspectives. Self-observation is quite easy when it comes to experiencing most of consumer products, but the same approach could be applied to the analysis of services as well - at least by going through the initial steps of any onboarding process, till the moment of actually signing-in, paying or taking actions that can't be reverted. In one of our projects, we tried for example to subscribe to a co-working space (in order to understand the whole process of learning more about the co-working offers in town, ask for information, get the tour of the space, try a desk for one day, etc.). We did that also pretending to be specific user types, personifying the mindset and needs of a start-up founder, freelancer and student (each person in the team took one role to cover all the main use cases).
A very important premise is not to tell the client you're planning to do this type of safari, so the experience comes out in a fully honest manner. With that precaution, the mystery onboarding will unveal surprising aspects (and sometimes mistakes) that neither employees or selected users will share, and above all, will give the opportunity to understand the experience throughout all its functional and emotional layers.
Beyond the phase of initial onboarding, this approach could be extended to other parts of the user journey (if possibile). As the design researcher keeps interacting with the service touchpoints and reflecting on the experience, they will also develop a deeper relationship with the brand, its operators or other customers who are part of the community, and the self-ethnography will continue to feed the design process with new insights.