Service Encounters

From the customer’s point of view, the most vivid impression of service occurs in the service encounters or “Moment Of Truth,” when the customer interacts with the service firm. This is the foundation to “Satisfaction of Service Quality” – it is where the promises are kept or broken. The concept of service encounter was put forth by Richard Norman, taking the metaphor from Bull Fighting. Most services are results of social acts, which take place in direct contact between the customer and the service provider. At this stage the customer realizes the perceived service quality.

Every “Moment of Truth” is Important – according to Scandinavian Airlines, each one of their 10 million customers come in contact with 5 employees. Thus the airlines say there 50 million moments of truth – each one is managed well and “They prove they are the BEST”.

Encounter Cascade

The encounter cascade refers to a series of encounters right from the time a customer comes to take the service. The encounter cascade can be important as any encounter can be critical, as it determines customer satisfaction and loyalty. If it’s the first interaction of the customer then the initial interaction will be the first impression. So, these interactions have to be given importance, as they are critical and influences customer’s perception of the organization. For example, a customer calling for the repair service may switch to some other company if he is put on hold for a long time or even treated rudely. Even if the technical quality of that firm is superior, the firm may not get a chance to prove themselves in front of the customer. When the customer has had many interactions with firm, each encounter will be important as it will create a combined image of that firm. Many positive experiences will give an image of “high quality” and many negative experiences will represent a bad image. Combination of positive and negative interactions will leave the customer confused about the quality.

It is suggested that not all encounters are equally important in building long-term relations. For every organization, certain encounters can act as a key to customer satisfaction. For example, in a hospital context, a study of patients revealed that encounters with the nursing staff were more important in predicting the customer satisfaction. As it is rightly said “one bad apple can ruin the whole basket of apples.” The same applies in this too; one negative encounter can drive the customer away, no matter how many encounters had taken place in the past. So a firm has to give a lot of importance to such encounters.

However some encounters are more critical. For example, a customer who has been using a bank for nearly 15 years is quite happy with the service. He has a huge deposit and many accounts. One fine morning, when he comes out of the bank the watch man asks 5$ for parking charges of his car. He goes inside the bank and informs the clerk at the counter, who directs him to the officer. The officer directs him to the Manager, who says he is helpless as this is a new policy of the bank. The customer who was so happy with the bank services decides to close all his accounts.

Types of Service Encounters

A service encounter occurs every time a customer interacts with the service organization. There are three general types of service encounters – remote encounters, phone encounters, and face-to-face encounters. A customer may experience any of these types of service encounters, or a combination of all three in his/her relations with a service firm.

  1. Remote Encounter: Encounter can occur without any direct human contact is called as Remote Encounters. Such as, when a customer interacts with a bank through the ATM system,  or with a mail-order service through automated dial-in ordering. Remote encounters also occur when the firm sends its billing statements or communicates others types of information to customers by mail.  Although there is no direct human contact in these remote encounters, each represents an opportunity for a firm to reinforce or establish perceptions in the customer. In remote encounter the tangible evidence of the service and the quality of the technical process and system become the primary bases for judging quality. Services are being delivered through technology, particularly with the advent of Internet applications. Retail purchases, airline ticketing, repair and maintenance troubleshooting, and package and shipment tracking are just a few examples of services available via the Internet. All of these types of service encounters can be considered remote encounters.
  2. Phone Encounters:- In many organizations, the most frequent type of encounter between a customer and the firm occurs over the telephone is called as phone encounter. Almost all firms (whether goods manufacturers or service businesses) rely on phone encounters in the form of customer-service, general inquiry, or order-taking functions. The judgment of quality in phone encounters is different from remote encounters because there is greater potential variability in the interaction. Tone of voice, employee knowledge, and effectiveness/efficiency in handling customer issues become important criteria for judging quality in these encounters.
  3. Face-to-Face Encounters: A third type of encounter is the one that occurs between an employee and a customer in direct contact is called as Face-to-Face Encounter. In a hotel, face–to–face encounters occurs between customers and maintenance personnel, receptionist, bellboy, food and beverage servers and others. Determining and understanding service equality issues in face–to–face context is the most complex of all. Both verbal and non-verbal behaviors are important determinants of quality, as are tangible cues such as employee dress and other symbols of service (equipment’s, informational brochures, physical settings). In face–to–face encounters the customer also play an important role in creating quality service for herself through his/her own behavior during the interaction. For example, at Disney theme parks, face-to-face encounters occur between customer and ticket-takers, maintenance personnel, actors in Disney character costumes, ride personnel, food and beverage servers, and others. For a company such as, IBM, in a business-to-business setting direct encounters occur between the business customers and salespeople, delivery personnel, maintenance representatives, and professional consultants.

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