The Service Experience
The central aspect of any service experience is either the use of the product featuring the embedded service(s) and/or the service experience of the service transaction or encounter (The Performed Service Product) when the customer directly interacts with some aspect of the service organisation. Service experiences may occur remotely through automated technology, such as a website. In this article we are focusing on the service encounter
Understanding and then developing service experiences begins with identifying those factors that contribute to customer responses to services. Some aspects of the service experience are more obvious than others (such as the courtesy as opposed to wall colours), and not all experiences involve the same aspects. Nevertheless, meaningful factors can be isolated that allow description and analysis of service experiences.
Components of the Service Experience
Any service experience can be categorised into four components:
- Service workers include those who interact with the customer (such as waiters or bank tellers) and those who contribute to the service delivery out of the customer’s sight (such as chefs or bank accountants).
- The service setting includes both the environment in which the service is provided to the customer and areas of the organisation to which the customer normally has little access. The service setting is often instrumental in enabling the service worker to do a good job and in promoting a positive mood in the service customers.
- Service customers are the persons receiving the service. Some services require the customer to play a larger role than others, in that the customer’s commitment and involvement is vital to the success of the service experience. Such services require more attention, participation and honesty from the customer
- The service process is the sequence of activities necessary to deliver the service – that is, the various actions by both customers and the organisation that comprise the experience. The service process may enhance or detract from the customer’s experience
Encounter Oriented Service Strategy
The core of the performed service product or service encounter is the series of moments of truth, where the customer, and the organisation (the brand, the employee, supported by systems and technology and physical resources) meet and interact. If customers are not well taken care of, the Perceived Service Quality(service quality as perceived by the customer), is damaged, and the service provider may lose business. The main focus in experienced service competition is the continuous management of the series of moments of truth in service processes.If the moments of truth are well taken care of the service encounters will turn out well, and the relationship will probably develop satisfactorily and lead to continuous business.
Value for customers is not, of course, entirely produced in the service encounters. Apart from the services embedded in all products, much of the value experienced as part of the exchange process may have been pre-produced by the supporting part of the organisation. The final value for the customers emerges in the consumption or usage of the service.
The Moments of Truth and Quality
Moments of Truth is a term that was introduced into the service management literature by Normann.
The “moments of truth” concept literally means that this is the time and place when and where the service provider has the opportunity to demonstrate to the customer the quality of its services. It is a true moment of opportunity. In the next moment the opportunity will be lost, the customer will have gone, and there are no easy ways of adding value to the Perceived Service Quality. The moment of opportunity is gone. If a quality problem has occurred, it is too late to take corrective action. In order to do so, a new moment of truth has to be created. The service provider can, for example, actively contact the customer to correct a mistake or to at least explain why things went wrong. This is, of course, much more troublesome and probably less effective than a well – managed moment of truth.
In reality, the customer will experience a whole series of moments of truth when patronising a service organisation. When using the services of an airline the passenger goes through a number of such moments, beginning with arrival at the airport and ending with baggage claim and transportation away from the airport.
The service process must always be planned and executed so that no badly handled moments of truth take place. If such situations go unmanaged there is a evident risk that unexpected quality problems may occur. In particular, the functional quality of the process will be damaged and cause quality deterioration.
Fulfilling the expectations or promises in the buyer–seller interactions of the service encounters is one major aspect of an interactive marketing process. The customer contact employees are most often the key to success. Although the role of the employees is most often paramount, it should not be over-emphasised. Other elements such as information systems, operational systems and physical resources, and other customers all influence interactive marketing performance.
There are many situations where customers interact only with systems and physical resources. Using an ATM, making a local telephone call, sending a text message from a mobile phone or making a purchase on the Internet are examples of such situations.
Employees need a service-oriented operational system and proper computer technology, customer databases and other physical resources to be able to create positive moments of truth.
The material support of support personnel and functions, as well as management support, are critical to the service orientation of the customer contact employees and systems of the visible part of the service process. Furthermore, customers‘ experiences in service encounters are influenced by the corporate and/or local image of the service provider.
Rules of Service Competition
In order to emphasise the common characteristics of the customer relationships in most organisations in service competition, the following guidelines have been prepared. These rules are general and tend to overemphasise the role of the employees for some situations.
The rules are:
- The general approach.
- Demand analysis.
- Quality control.
- Organisational support.
The General Approach
It is principally People who develop and maintain good and enduring customer contacts. The importance of service elements in customer relationships grows over time and customers – business customers as well as individuals – increasingly demand individual and flexible responses from the service provider. Success in the market requires that the firm can offer advice and guidance. If employees are authorised to make their own judgements and have the knowledge needed to do that, and in addition have a service-oriented approach to their job and to their customers, and if the firm is competitive in other respects, this will give good results in the marketplace. In spite of automated service systems, the increased use of information technology and the Internet, the creativity, motivation and skills of people are still the drivers behind successful development of new services, the implementation of service concepts and recovery of service failures that are occur from time to time.
Services are either rendered directly to people or organisations, or they are services on equipment owned by people (or organisations). In all cases representatives of the customer are present, extensively or occasionally, when the service is produced and delivered. Direct interactions between customer contact employees and customers occur, and in such situations immediate actions may have to be decided upon and taken by the contact person, or the contact person may have to give some information or change his way of doing the job according to the needs of the customer. Nobody other than the person who produces the service can recognise the shift in the needs or wishes of the customer, if corrective actions are to be taken immediately.
The customer contact personnel producing the service in contact with customers will have to analyse the needs, values, expectations and wishes of the customers at the point and time of service production and consumption.
Everyone, in manufacturing as well as in service production, has a responsibility for quality, and producing good quality is based on the idea that things will have to be done correctly the first time. Because of the characteristics of services and the nature of service production and consumption, postproduction control cannot prevent failure; it can only be observed that bad service quality has been produced andconsumed by the customer. If things are not done correctly the first time, the cost of correcting quality problems, which have occurred either in the back office or in the buyer – seller interface, is frequently high. As the quality goal is often less than 100 per cent and mistakes are therefore tolerated, these costs easily become “hidden costs” which are taken for granted and considered a necessary evil. It is not possible to have a separate quality control unit following every production step; instead, everyone has to control the result of his job.
Services are to a large extent the result of cooperation or interactive relationships between the customer and the service provider, which makes quality management even more complicated than in manufacturing. In service production, the specifications may change during the service process. The customer may change his mind. Technology may break down, or almost anything may happen to change the situation and demand new or unforeseen actions.
In service focused competition the nature of marketing changes. The traditional means of competition are used not only to establish new customer relationships, but to also maintain and strengthen them. In order to develop existing customer relationships, the exchange of goods, services, and information, as well as the interpersonal exchange, are of critical importance. In service competition every contact between a contact person and a customer includes an element of marketing. These contacts are the moments of truth or the moments of opportunity where the success of the service provider is determined, and re-sales and cross-sales opportunities can be utilised. Badly handled service encounters – that is, negatively experienced moments of truth – damage customer relationships and lead to lost business.
Any service organisation has a large number of “part-time marketers”. Their main responsibility is the usual organisational task they are set to perform. They see marketing as only their second responsibility. However, if the marketing aspect of their job is missing, customers will perceive the quality of the service more negatively. In almost every service organisation the part-time marketers outnumber the full-time marketers and salespeople.
The marketing impact of what they do and how they perform their tasks has to be recognised by management, because their role in the total marketing process is critical. This is the essence of a services focused marketing competition.
The impact on customers’ ability and willingness to use technology, systems and physical resources (of any kind), as well as the impact of such resources on the employees in interactive and supporting parts of the organisation, and on their ability and willingness to serve customers have to be taken into account when investments in such resources are made, so that the service quality perceived by customers is not affected in a negative way.
Information technology is becoming more important for service processes. If a Web site is designed so that users find it complicated or uninteresting, or if people using a Web site do not get a quick response to their inquiries, they quickly lose interest in the firm and its offerings; it is so easy to jump to the next Web site. Information technology should also enable contact employees to get easily retrievable and reliable information about the customers they are serving. If that is not the case, interactions between contact employees and customers are affected and bad perceived quality created.
Other kinds of technology and physical resources used in services processes must also be customer-friendly and reliable.
A good organisation structure supportis needed. Contact employees or departments which have to interact with each other in order to produce a service may be geographically or physically far apart in the organisation. Often decisions concerning even minor details are made too far away from the service encounter, which, of course, can have a negative impact on the perceived service. Internal regulations may restrict the flexibility of the contact staff.
In many manufacturing firms, service elements are considered to be low priority.
Managers and supervisors have to be true leaders, not simply technical managers. Managers have to be able to motivate their people to be service-oriented and customer-conscious. Unclear visions and/or badly defined or undefined service concepts(one or several) make it difficult for managers and their subordinates to decide in which direction they should go, what leads to fulfilling goals, and what is contradictory to the objectives of the organisation. If service concepts are not well stated, no clear goals can be set. In such situations there will be chaos both in planning and in the everyday implementation of plans.