Regardless of the service-driven nature of contemporary economies, marketing is often viewed from the perspective of manufacturers and covers mainly the promotion of made products and consumer goods. Services marketing is a growing field of this sphere of knowledge that focuses specifically on the marketing of intangible entities – services demanded by consumers. In fact, over the last decades, the size of the service-oriented sector has been growing in almost every country in the world (Lovelock & Patterson, 2015). The expansion of the service sector started from the growth of the essential services such as healthcare, personal grooming, education, and hospitality to services that help customers find required goods, handle their finances, and take care of their pets. The processes and strategies involved in services marketing are multiple and diverse. The purpose of the present report is to study and discuss two of the selected services that were received by me personally over recent times. One of the chosen services will be low-contact (online retail) and the other – high-contact (restaurant). Both customer experiences and interactions with the service providers will be analyzed with the inclusion of a discussion of the unique aspects of both businesses. Further, a comparison will be drawn of how my role as a consumer and behavior differed in both experiences. Finally, a critical review of models of customer satisfaction and quality will be carried out alongside the applied ways of satisfaction and quality monitoring; consequently, recommendations will be offered in regard to both experiences.
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The Utilization of Service Marketing
There are several aspects in services marketing that are obvious to a customer and that, generally, serve as the drivers of the consumers’ decision-making process in regard to choosing certain providers over the others (Ravilochanan & Devi, 2012). Some of such aspects include pricing strategies, the provision of information that interests consumers, promotion tactics, level of communication, and time during which the service is delivered (Friese, Wänke, &, Plessner, 2006; Lee & Zhao, 2014; Wang, Wang, & Xu, 2016). While some of them stay relevant regardless of the type of services marketing (high- or low-contact), others may change.
High-Contact Service (Restaurant)
In order to receive a high-contact service, a consumer is usually expected to go to the space of the service provider, in this case – a restaurant; as a result, the physical aspects of the facility, such as its interior design, planning, style, and organization are some of the key aspects determining customer satisfaction (Ferrell, Niininen, Lukas, Schembri, & Pride, 2014; Kapoor, Paul, & Halder, 2011). The restaurant that I visited was a place familiar to me as I often have lunch during business hours.
When it comes to the restaurant industry, customer loyalty to service providers is determined by the correlation of the major aspects such as the perception of price fairness, food and service quality, as well as restaurant environment and location (Haghighi, Dorosti, Rahnama, & Hoseinpour, 2012). The additional factors impacting customer retention in restaurant and hospitality markets are staff and brand image (Khan, 2013). As a consumer, I considered all of these aspects when choosing this restaurant to stay loyal to over the others. In particular, the aforementioned facility has a convenient location and fair prices, its interior is pleasant-looking but not overly pretentious, it serves a wide selection of foods, and has a quick service that I value during a lunch break.
During my last visit, I consulted the waitress in regard to foods and drinks because that day, they had added several new items to the menu, and I was willing to try some. The waitress inquired about my food preferences and then listed several items she thought I might be interested in trying. She particularly emphasized the quality of fruit salads and smoothies, which could be due to the perishability of their ingredients – seasonal berries and fruits. However, having followed her advice, I remained very satisfied with the food.
In a service-focused market such as the food and restaurant industry, individual approach and customer-focus add to the excellence of services (Gebauer & Kowalkowski, 2012). To me, the unique services offered by this particular restaurant are the speedy preparation of ordered items and a personal approach that was used by the waitress as she helped me choose what to order based on my individual taste and diet.
Low-Contact Service (Online Retail)
As explained by Verma (2007), “the extent of contact refers to the percentage of time a customer ought to be in the system out of the total time it takes to serve him” (p. 102). In other words, in low-contact services, the customer has to spend very little time to interact with the service provider and may not need to be physically present in the facility of the service provider to be served.
Retail, in its regular form, such as the brick-and-mortar stores, is classified as the low-contact type of service (Verma, 2007). The addition of the Internet increases the distance between customers and service providers and reduces that extent of contact even more. The major aspects that determine customer satisfaction in e-commerce are website design and user interface, the ease of navigation, reliability of the service provider, information quality, privacy, and security (Eid, 2011; Mutia, Mahadzirah, Nor Azman, & Wan Zulqurnain, 2015).
The website that I used for the purpose of purchasing some clothing items was the one I have been using for some time. The factors that drove my loyalty as a customer matched the aspects contributing to customer satisfaction named previously. In particular, the website I used has a clear and sharp design and it easy to navigate and search, and has full information about the goods with pictures and descriptions that are particularly important in this form of marketing due to its intangibility and the consumers’ inability to evaluate the goods personally. Additionally, the ordered goods arrive within only one or two days with free shipping, and the overall prices are reasonable and seem lower than on some other retail websites.
Moreover, some other aspects of the success of online retail in terms of customer satisfaction are said to be responsiveness, personalization, and customization (Norizan & Nor Asiah, 2008). I found these aspects valuable as the website had software that recommended the items based on my previous search making it easier to come across relevant things; also, this service provider usually adds a small gift to the order that belongs to the category of goods that were chosen. For example, when I shopped there for body wash and hair products, they sent me a tester for a new brand of perfume. As a consumer, I find this approach impressive. Also, a gift-with-purchase strategy is known as a strong marketing tactic for attracting customers, securing customer loyalty and satisfaction, increasing readiness to purchase, and reducing the intention to return goods (Lee & Yi, 2017). Personalization is a significant advantage in online purchasing (Jiradilok, Malisuwan, Madan, & Sivaraks, 2014).
Role of the Consumer in High- and Low-Contact Service Experiences
Based on the type of service that is received, the role of the consumer may differ significantly. While in the high-contact experience, the consumer is expected to become an active participant throughout the entire process of service delivery, in the low-contact interaction, the consumer’s role is minimized, and all the possible tasks are outsourced to the service provider (Verma, 2007).
High-Contact Service (Restaurant)
In a high-contact service experience such as having lunch in a full-service restaurant, I had to interact directly with the service delivering person – the waitress, whose role was to assist me throughout the stay, take my order, deliver it, and make adjustments and additions in case I requested any. In that way, our interaction could be recognized as continuous, direct, and active. At the same time, a part of my role as a consumer was to evaluate whether or not the services provided to me matched my expectations and assess them based on the major predictor of consumer choices and preferences of a service such as polite and professional staff, high-quality food, hygiene, and restaurant ambiance (Joshi, 2012; Medeiros & Salay, 2013).
In addition, in terms of consumer behavior, Johns and Pine (2002) noted that there is no specific guidance as to what is good, and, as a result, customer expectations and behaviors may differ significantly and be driven by subjective perceptions majorly.
Low-Contact Service (Online Retail)
In a low-contact service experience such as shopping on an online retail website, I, as a consumer, had to establish my preferences in order for the software to help me find relevant items and assist me in posting the order. There was no direct interaction between the consumer and the service provider. This option used to be present some time ago when one of the retail company employees would call the consumers for the purpose of confirming the order and answering questions, if any. However, recently, this service got canceled, and now instead of a mandatory phone call, the website would ask the consumers whether or not they want to be called for the order confirmation.
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In that way, the interaction between the consumer and the service provider was passive and accomplished solely via the website. The quality of service and its value are perceived as higher due to the fact that unnecessary tasks are eliminated, the customer participation is minimized (Amorim, Rosa, & Santos, 2014; Radziszewska, 2013).
The differences in the consumer roles in high- and low-contact service experiences did not make any of these experiences better or more pleasant than the other. This is the case because the extent of contact is aligned with customer expectations and thus does not seem excessive or insufficient (Pride & Ferrell, 2008). Moreover, the consumer’s task of evaluation of the provided services is completed based on different sets of data in low- and high-contact service experiences. In particular, the physical environment of the facility and its design matter mainly in high-contact services; and service deliverer’s communication is easier and less complicated for the low-contact providers (Hoffman & Bateson, 2010). At the same time, such factors as responsiveness and quick service delivery are equally important for both types of contact extent.
Models of Satisfaction and Quality
In both service experiences, the perceived service quality and customer satisfaction were driven by the performance model in which the perceived fairness of price and value of the provided service is in correlation with customer’s expectations (Gunning, 2000). In other words, since both experiences included service providers to whom I am loyal as a customer and whose services I have been using for some time, their consistent performance determined my level of satisfaction.
Also, since expectations play an important role in this relation, the rational expectations model could be applied as well. It takes into account the general level of expectations in the market and the consequent performance of the service providers aiming at beating or matching those expectations (Gunning, 2000). In particular, in both online retail and restaurant industries, the expectations of consumers are very high due to the presence of strong competitors and a wide selection of providers. As a result, the slightest errors and flaws in performance could lead to the low of customers.
Since both of the reviewed service providers operate in highly competitive markets, constant improvement is a necessity, and it could be strengthened significantly by a clear point of difference (Rao, 2011). For a high-contact service provider, it could be the design and physical interior improvement or adjustments of space nearby, such as the expansion of a parking lot or the addition of more outside tables. At the same time, a low-contact service has to rely mainly on the improvement of services and new customer satisfaction and marketing strategies (Wirtz, Chew, & Lovelock, 2012). Since the overviewed low-contact service provider was an online retailer, it could be recommended that they improve their customer interface; for instance, the search button could show items not only by brands and names but also by ID numbers, and there could be the “inform me” butting that is currently missing that would send an email to the customers waiting for certain goods to appear in the retailer’s storage.
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