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Service Marketing Encounters

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I have evaluated six encounters with a variety of industries; they are all from the service sector. A service sector business is one in which the perceived value of the offering to the buyer is determined more by the service rendered than the product offered.

The services I encountered have various levels of intangibility. For example, my service encounter at Odeon cinemas included physical aspects such as the theatre, popcorn, and tickets. However, with the telephone banking service encounter there is almost no tangible aspect.

The services I encountered also varied in the separability of the buyer and provider. For services such as going to the hairdressers, it is essential for the buyer and seller to be at the same place at the same time. However, when using self-service technologies such as 'Amazon' there is no interpersonal aspect. For self-service technologies, customers play a role in creating quality service for themselves through their own behaviour during the interaction (Mary Jo Bitner, 2003).

Services are characterised by the lack of inventory. For example, hairdressers' cannot store appointment slots from one day to the next.

Services are very sensitive to time because they cannot be back ordered. For example, fast-food restaurants such as KFC cannot tell customers to come back tomorrow when the food is ready.

The intangibility of services leads to difficulty in measuring and controlling quality. For example, with a telephone-banking encounter, a new call staff member will offer a different level of service than a long-term staff member who feels comfortable in their job. However, self-service technologies such as ATM's operate uniformly and are therefore easier to control quality.

The difficulty in measuring quality means that services are risky. It is difficult to trial a service. For example, it is impossible to trial a film at the cinema.

Services can often be customised to the individual needs of consumers. For example, a hairdresser must customise the service offering to suit each customer's desires. However, the introduction of self-service technologies has reduced the personalisation of service encounters. ATM's allow customers to print a balance without any interpersonal interactions.

Understanding the needs of customers are essential to service providers. A good service provide should adapt and customise their offerings. However, ATM's offer a standard service that is the same for every customer.

The service marketing mix involves three new elements - people, process, and physical evidence. The services I encountered had different approaches to these features.

People refers to the human actors who play a part in service delivery and influence customers perspectives. For example, people at the Odeon cinema include staff as well as the other customers present. Noisy customers in the cinema theatre will affect the service and will likely produce dissatisfaction. When ordering a book off Amazon, there are no human actors involved as it is a self-service technology.

Process refers to the procedures and flow of activities by which the service is delivered, from production to consumption. When visiting KFC, customers interact with frontstage processes such as the provision of food, but there are also backstage processes such as the cooking of food.

Physical evidence is the environment in which the service is delivered and where the firm and customers interact. With 'Amazon' the customer can receive the service from anywhere (with internet access) at anytime with no interpersonal interaction, but with KFC there are physical aspects to the service though it is still very standardised. Alternatively, there are many tangible aspects when visiting the hairdressers (e.g. waiting area), and the service is personalised to customers' individual needs.

From the service encounters I experienced, my most satisfactory encounter was at 'Staffords' hairdressers. 'Staffords' provides a high-quality service; their success relies on various factors. Satisfaction is defined as the consumer's fulfilment response; it is a judgement whether the service provides a pleasurable level of consumption-related fulfilment.

'Staffords' satisfactory service provision relies on their attitude to customer quality, they aim for 100% satisfaction in every encounter. They have built their strategies around their understanding of customer expectations. Impeccable service can be achieved by behaviours such as adaptability, spontaneity, coping, and recovery.

'Staffords' employees are very responsive to customers' needs and requests. The adaptability of the service delivery system is central to the satisfying experience. Customers who go to hairdressers are very different and require different variations of the same service, these individual needs put demands on the service. Individuals require a customised service; 'Staffords' hairdressers must cut and dye hair to the desires of each individual customer. This customised service may become routine to hairdressers, but as consumers, we perceive the service to be special and therefore extremely satisfying. When 'Staffords' meet customers' requirements, it can arouse intense satisfaction because new hairstyles often make people feel very good about themselves. 'Staffords' employees understand that their ability to be flexible is a major source of customer fulfilment. As well as offering an adaptable approach to hairstyling, 'Staffords' also offers an adaptable service by trying to accommodate those customers' that have not made appointments.

A spontaneous action by employees is a central theme in satisfying customers' in their service encounters. 'Staffords' employees are spontaneous which makes the service encounter outstanding and memorable. The employees make the effort to pay special attention to the customers'; they are very outgoing, which makes the experience very pleasurable. They often offer you drinks and snacks that you have not requested.

'Staffords' successful service provision also comes down to their ability to respond to problem customers. In all services, there are customers who are uncooperative with the service provider. The way in which employees handle these incidents is very important in providing a first class service. For example, a customer may be unhappy with the look of their new hairstyle, to please the customer 'Staffords'



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