Over the last 30 years, there is an emergence of academic concern and movement with the management of services. “Service captured the interest and imagination of operations management (OM) academics in the 1980s.” (Johnston, 1998, p. 104). Not only in the academia but also many organisational managers try to improve the quality and structure of their businesses by implementing service operations processes. (Blokdijk, 2008) Johnston and Clark (2008, p. 3) defined Service Operations Management as follows: “It is concern with delivering service to the customers or users of the service. It involves understanding the needs of our customers, managing the process that delivers the services, ensuring our objectives are met, while also paying attention to the continual improvement of our service.”
This report will assess the service operations decision-making and strategies adopted by British Airways Plc (BA) to provide the valuable outputs in a way that gives maximum satisfaction to the customers. The report will discuss on British Airways “Service Concept” framework by critically analysing the service outcome and experience; the service value and the strategic focus of service alignment. It will also apply the “Service quality model”, “Service Process Model” and “Service Process Matrix” to analyse and evaluate the service delivery system currently adopted by BA.
With reference to the models of service Operations Management, I would briefly evaluate the operations of BA. BA (air transportation industry) history can be traced back since the birth of civil aviation, the days after World War I. (British Airways, n.d.). In 1972 British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and British European Airways Corporation (BEA) Managements merged under the newly formed British Airways. (Seat Maestro, n.d.). BA and its affiliates fly to over 170 destinations across 80 countries of the world (OneWorld, 2012) with over 220 active aircrafts in service. (Planet Spotters, 2012).
2.0THE SERVICE CONCEPT OF BRITISH AIRWAYS
Before describing BA service concept, it is significant to understand what service concept entails. Gimmel et al (2003) discussed that due to the extent to which service delivery system is directed in contact to customers, service concept is very important in the service management. It is something that is more emotional than a business model, deeper than a brand, more complex than a good idea and more solid than a vision. (Chiu, n.d.). Clark et al (2000, pg. 73) defines service concept as “a ‘picture’ or statement that encapsulates the nature of the service business and capture the value, form and function, experience and outcome of the service… the service concept acts as a simple communication construct that makes the essential elements of the service available for sales, marketing, development, and delivery.”
However, a service concept is a hard balancing act because of the customers and employee’s needs heterogeneity and the inconsistency introduced via the interaction between employees and customers. To achieve the aims and objectives, it is significant to segment the market, target the numerous customers in the market, and finally project the delivery system. “A clear service concept identifies the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of the focus.” (Gimmel et al 2003, p. 31, 38).
2.1THE SERVICE OUTCOME AND EXPERIENCE
Service experience is the activity a customer experienced when consuming the services provided by an organisation while service outcome denotes the level of satisfaction a consumer feels after finishing consuming the services provided by the organisation. Johnston and Clark (2008) said that the key elements of service outcome include emotions, judgement, value, intentions and benefits. The outcome and experience of one consumer may be different to other consumer. The service experience of BA includes the following; 1. Difficult to locate their offices in areas where airports are not sited. E.g. Sunderland city. 2. Easy to use their online website for ticket booking and check-in. 3. Different fare for different class of customer (e.g. economy, business and first class packages). 4. Easy to locate accommodation in other locations through their agencies. 5. Employees are well trained, dressed neatly and approachable. 6. Quick and fast check-in of luggage with little queue.
7. Security checking is high for their flights especially when flying to England. 8. Economy seats in the flight are less comfortable.
9. Food provided are delicious and at the right time.
The service outcomes are:
1. Even though the foods are delicious but there was no variety for passengers e.g. halal and vegetarian foods. 2. Arrival time was earlier than what was stated on the ticket which was good. 3. Smooth journey with little turbulence.
4. Tiring and sleepy after the journey because of the uncomfortable seats.
2.2THE SERVICE VALUE
“Value is the customer’s assessments of the benefits of the service weighted against all the cost involved.” (Johnston and Clark, 2008, pg. 44). In a service organisation, operations determine the balance between minimising organisational cost and maximising customer’s value. The service value of BA includes the following: 1. All inclusive prices for the journey.
2. Free foods, drinks and entertainment (television, and headphones) while on board. 3. Tickets are expensive compared to other airlines that provide the same services at cheaper rates. 4. Overall satisfactory values for money.
Therefore, the service concept of BA gives a worldwide linkage of interconnecting flights and a range of services for different group of travellers. BA follow this objective by establishing a complex linkage of routes and by developing collaboration with other organisations (airlines) that enhance international coverage and provide links among routes. Operationally, the main focus and concern of BA is to ensure greater level of customer service, to generate international network, and to manage route effectiveness
. 2.3THE STRATEGIC FOCUS OF SERVICE ALIGNMENT
Cater-Steel (2009, pg. 225) defines service alignment as “the fit between an organisation and its strategy, structure, process, technology, and environment.” Organisations undergo changes to meet their objective and customer’s demand. Johnston and Clark (2005) claimed that service concept is the first step to undertake this alignment. However, firms need to take measures that will make the landscape of their service clear through providing an appropriate and understandable marketing message to parties involved. This measure is necessary to guarantee fitting and consistent service delivery. BA stated that listening to their customers is way to provide better services. BA reckoned that flexibility is very necessary to profit and cost alignment with operational goals.
As a result, BA embarks on careful planning and research, significant investment to train and provide tools that will provide their clients with a satisfactory result. One great example of measures taken by BA to align their services was in 2011 when the organisation and American Airlines join forces for Heathrow-New York service. “We are finally able to align all our flights and offer customers more frequent services. Previously, our services would depart at the same time as AA’s.” said a BA spokesperson. BA also engages in training their staff to ensure they serve their clients in the appropriate manner. In a nutshell, BA focuses their strategy to align their services that will provide satisfactory result to their customers and beyond their expectation.
3.0THE SERVICE QUALITY
“The organisation must learn how to think of itself not as producing goods and services but as buying customers, as doing those things that will make people want to do business with them.”(Levitt, cited in Climmer, 1992). Nakhai and Neves (2009) claimed that service quality is an essential priority for organisations to have the aim to provide unique services from a highly competitive atmosphere. O’neill (2001) argued that service quality is difficult to define because of its high transitory and intangible nature of most services. Also, Williams and Buswell (2003) said that defining services quality is difficult to the service quality theorist as well as the quality gurus. In general terms, service quality is defined as “the result of the comparison that customers make between their expectations about a service and their perception of the way the service has been performed” (Caruana, 2002, pg. 813).
3.1SERVICE QUALITY MANAGEMENT (SQM)
Lockwood (1994, pg. 75) said “Both product and service quality must be founded on building quality into the operation – the quality of design.” Neves and Nakhai, (2011) stated three points with regards to SQM; many researches show that evaluating service quality by consumers is more difficult than a product quality. Secondly, comparison between consumer expectations and actual service performance will result to service quality perception. Lastly, service evaluations include delivery process and not only the outcome of the service. Many authors have suggested methods to manage and improve service quality. Herein, Lockwood (1994) and Johnston (1995) service quality model will be discussed and evaluated in relation to BA and its service concept.
3.1.1ANDREW LOCKWOOD SERVICE QUALITY MODEL (1994)
Lockwood did his work on how to identify quality improvement points. He used a table (figure 1) and suggests that it provides ways of incidents which can be used to identify improvement points. He adapted the critical incident technique developed by Flanagan (1954) to gather service incidents. The technique is used to find critical requirements in job performance. In this theory, four main steps should be used for the service incident approach and should be a continuous process (see figure 1). This involves collecting, analysing, prioritizing incidents, and actioning the improvements. Figure 1: Using Service Incidents to Identify Quality Improvement (Lockwood, 1994) mmmfvf11995)Points Figure 1: Using Service Incidents to Identify Quality Improvement (Lockwood, 1994) mmmfvf11995)
Collecting includes gathering and recording series of incidents from service encounters with negative and positive feedbacks through three methods; self-completion, interview and group interview. Second stage, analysing involves two processes; “the first is to develop and describe a series of categories into which the incidents fall and the second is to classify all the incidents collected to establish the relative frequency of incidents occurring in each category.” (Lockwood, 1994:77). Prioritising is the third stage which involves ranking incidents base on priority. Lockwood suggested three approaches to take this stage. He stated that this is the stage where the procedure shifts from identifying problems to problem solving. All available strategies should be used to improve the existing situations. The last step (actioning improvements) suggests ways to action the improvements which includes:
* Creating measures that will result to improvements.
* Create a comprehensive execution plan with periods and tasks for action.
* All concerned bodies should be communicated before starting.
* Implement the improvement.
* Ensure that all actions taken have a desired effect.
3.1.2ROBERT JOHNSTON SERVICE QUALITY MODEL (1995)
The whole idea of Johnston article/research was to identify the determinants of service quality and the relationship between the determinants and outcomes of either sides of tolerance zone; the satisfiers and dissatisfiers. Johnston (1995, pg. 53) argued that it is essential to identify service quality determinants so as to “specify measure, control and improve customer perceived service quality” and also suggested that service management academics and practitioners should take this measure as essential. The research divided the determinants into two; satisfiers and dissatisfiers and collected large number of sample from customers of a bank. Johnston and Silvestro (1990) 17 determinants of service quality were used as the base for the grouping. (Refer to appendix, figure 5 and 6 for the explanation of the 17 determinants). Johnston concluded that some determinants of quality predominate over others and that the reasons for satisfaction might not essentially be the opposite of the reason for dissatisfaction.
Also, “The intangible aspects of the staff-customer interface” have major impact on service quality. Lastly, the result shows that responsiveness is an important determinant of quality due to its key role in providing satisfaction while reliability is a major source of dissatisfaction. These two models of Lockwood (1994) and Johnston (1995) are of great importance to BA. They provide them with the idea to identify service quality improvement and at the same time explain the measures to undertake when backing on quality improvement. Furthermore, BA can choose to focus on one model to improve service quality but combining the two models into practice will yield better result.
Johnston (1995) model is significant because it was specific and provides operations managers with the determinants to consider when managing service quality. Moreover, it provides the ideas that not all those determinants are applicable and crucial to organisations. For example, comfort, cleanliness may not be crucial to banks and telecommunications but very crucial to hotels and airlines. This means that BA service managers need to focus on those determinants that have a major effect to the service(s) they offer. On the other hand, Lockwood (1994) explains from the scratch right to action.
He explains step by step on how to collect, analyse, prioritize data and even went further to provide measures to take when taking action to attain the desired result. Secondly, his model may be used by BA as a base for Johnston idea. Additionally, a setback for Johnston model was it did not work on price which is a very important determinant of satisfaction. Refer to the appendix section to view a designed questionnaire to measure the level of satisfaction from customers who used BA services before. The responses should be used to improve on service quality and customer satisfaction.
4.0THE SERVICE PROCESS MODEL
According to Silvestro (1999), “service process model integrated and unified what was previously a desperate set of classification scheme.” She further stated that in the service process model volume denotes the number of customers processed per business unit per time. In addition, she claimed that it also can be used as a tool to assess the tactical coherence of service operations. Figure 2: The Service Process Model (cited by Silvestro, 1999) Figure 2 above explained the service process model in three archetypes: professional service, service shops and mass services. Silvestro further hinted that the model can be used in three different ways to evaluate and analyse service operations strategy, this will be discussed later in this report. Figure 3 shows that Airline industries fall under mass services according Silvestro et al (1992).
Therefore, this report will be concern with mass services. Mass service provisions are resolved before the customer’s involvement in the service process. (Murdick Render and Russell, 1990). In mass services, the relationship is usually characterised between the organisation and the customer. (Fitzgerald et al, 1991). There are opportunities as claimed by Silvestro (1999) for the replacement of service by technology because mass services are usually equipment-based. Collier (1990, cited in Silvestro 1999) argues that in mass services, quality control can be done through the use of standard operating measures, with comparatively firm, hierarchical company structures.
However, it is impossible in mass services to ascertain the cost of providing individual service because variety and choice are given to customers to choose. (Brignall et al, 1991; Silvestro, 1999). Also, a key challenge to mass services is development of approaches to incentivise clients to complain and hence offer ways for improvements. Thus, Hart (1988) hinted that explicit service guarantees can be used to achieve this. Figure 3: Clustering of services according to volume and other attributes (cited by Tinnilä and Vepsäläinen, 1995) Figure 3: Clustering of services according to volume and other attributes (cited by Tinnilä and Vepsäläinen, 1995)
First, the service process model is used to evaluate the position of a service offering with an aim to improving volume and variety. BA applied this process by offering variety of services to their customers such as first class, business and economic seats. This shows that BA moved their offering from mass services to professional services. Secondly, service process model is used to analyse the competitive arena. BA took this opportunity to link their network to different locations around the world. Domestically, it used the gabs in the market to provide variety of services unlike the Easy-Jet that provides less and cheap services. Finally, service process model can be used to evaluate the service process in a single firm. For BA, we may understand that their website can be categorised as a mass service because it serves customers simultaneously while their offices and agent offices can be linked to professional service as customers are served individually.
4.1THE SERVICE PROCESS MATRIX
Service process matrix considers the consistency between service concept and service system delivery. Schmenner (1986, 1993). To imply the tactical positions in operations management, the matrix has four categories which include professional service, mass service, service shop and service factory. (See figure 5) The consistency between the service concept and service delivery system is considered in the service process matrix by Schmenner ( 1986, 1993). “Airlines seem to follow the direction to service factories by offering no-frills services.” (Tinnilä and Vepsäläinen, 1995, pg. 71). In contrast to this idea, BA cannot be considered as a no-frills airline. The airline provides luxurious services which earns them more income and cut down cost. Figure 4: Changes and trends of selected service operations represented in the service process matrix (cited in Tinnilä and Vepsäläinen, 1995, pg. 70) Figure 4: Changes and trends of selected service operations represented in the service process matrix (cited in Tinnilä and Vepsäläinen, 1995, pg. 70)
A Service is difficult to manage unlike the management of products. Managers need to be focus and cautious in operating services. Due to the intangibility of the service offered, it is difficult to measure the level of satisfaction from customers which makes it very difficult for operations managers to take all the necessary strategies to improve the quality of their services. However, much effort had been placed to provide service operations managers with ideas, method and tactics that will ensure they provide the best service to their customers. BA service operations managers have been working tirelessly to provide the best services to their clients and be consistent in it. This has resulted in taking different measures that not only benefit the customers but also their employees as well. For example, training of their staffs is beneficial as staff will have more knowledge and experience in dealing with clients. Also, being flexible by providing different services (such as website for internet and counter for other user) to their different customers is a great measure that will give them an edge not only in the domestic market but internationally.
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