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Services marketing is difficult to define

Services marketing is difficult to define. Grove & Fisk (1983, 1992) produced work based upon the metaphor of services as theatre. How appropriate do you feel this metaphor is in defining services and how may it help or hinder the services marketer?

“A service is an act or performance offered by one party “A service is an act or performance offered by one party to another. Although the process may be tied to a physical product, the performance is essentially intangible and does not normally result in the ownership of any of the factors of production” (Gronroos, 2000 )

It can be difficult to define just what is meant by a service because most products we buy

contain a mixture of both goods and service elements.

A meal in a restaurant contains a combination of goods elements (the food) and service elements (the manner in which the food is served). Even pure goods such as coal often contain service elements, such as the service required in transporting it from where it was produced to where a customer requires it.

A contemporary definition is provided by Kotler, Armstrong, Saunders and Wong (1996); “A service is any activity or benefit that one party can offer to another which is essentially intangible and does not result in the ownership of anything. Its production may or may not be tied to a physical product”.

A major contribution to an understanding of services has been made by Gershuny and Miles who made a distinction between four conceptions of the term ‘service’.

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While these distinctions are useful there are other equally valid arguments by various authors, Levitt for instance distinguishes between tangibles and intangibles, Christopher suggests that the distinction is that ‘service products are those which produce a series of benefits which cannot be stored’. Wyckham however maintains that ‘services are not different from products’ as does Levitt ” there is no such thing as service industries. There are only industries where service components are greater or less than those of other industries” (Levitt 1972). Others have pointed to the distinctiveness of services which makes the application of traditional marketing principles inappropriate.

The nature of marketing is different due to the basic characteristics of services and there are implications for the way in which they are marketed. While there may be little agreement on the definition of a service there is some common ground regarding the basic differences between a service industry and a product based industry. There are distinguishing characteristics of services that differentiate them from goods; these characteristics are often described as intangibility, inseparability, variability, perishability and the inability to own a service.

Intangibility means the service cannot be touched or viewed, so it is difficult for clients to tell in advance what they will be getting. The components of the service product cannot be analyzed as easily as a manufactured good.

The inseparability of production and consumption means that a service is produced and consumed at the same time for example during an online search, or a legal consultation.

This particular aspect of services places a great deal of emphasis upon the individual member of staff dealing with the customer. TGI Friday provide financial incentives as a way of encouraging staff to sell and establish a rapport with the customer.

Customers want a specific type of service and they expect the service to be provided in a specific way by a specific individual and to be of a specific quality. Service quality is not homogenous and hence there is variation between service providers, this is most evident in services that are people-based. There is a strong possibility that the same enquiry would be answered slightly differently by different people or even by the same person at different times. Services are usually designed around the specific requirements of the customer.

Service providers can not store unused capacity for future use so the service is perishable, for example, spare seats on an aeroplane cannot be transferred to the next flight, and query-free times at the reference desk cannot be saved up until there is a busy period. This creates massive problems when demand fluctuates, as expensive capital asset and staff costs must still be met.

The inability to own a service is related to the characteristics of intangibility and perishability. When a service is performed, no ownership is transferred from the seller to the buyer. The buyer is merely buying the right to a service process such as the use of a car park.

Customer contact comprises the necessary interaction between the service provider and the customer, consequently this varies depending on the service. The characteristics of services require that marketers consider additional issues when it comes to the four major marketing mix variables product, distribution, promotion, and price. There has been the extension of the marketing mix from the classical product, price, place (channel) and promotion “4Ps” to include at least people, physical evidence (ambience) and process.(Booms and Bitner 1981)

Marketing is not a science hence there is no single correct definition or approach to undertaking marketing. The definition of services marketing is especially complicated mainly due to the input of intangibility, inseparability, variability, perishability and the inability to own a service. As discussed these factors complicate the services marketing process and making it difficult to define as each service, customer and service experience can be unique and individual.

In addition in order to define services marketing the service would have to be defined as pure and in reality most products which we buy are a combination of goods and services. (Johns 1999) claims that ‘the traditional division between services and goods is long outdated’. His reasons being that customers do not differentiate between the two, but rather, they buy an offering, the value of which may be composed of different elements, some being activities, or services, and others being tangible things, or goods. For instance cars have traditionally been considered examples of pure goods, however today most cars are sold with considerable service benefits, such as an extended warranty, a maintenance contract or a finance option. A package holiday may seem like a pure service, but it includes tangible elements in the form of the aeroplane, the room and transfer vehicle.

Many models have been produced to try to depict services marketing, these include Booms and Bitner’s (1982) ‘7 P’s Model’ extended marketing mix and the “servuction system” which combines services and production.(Langeard et al. 1981). The use of metaphors to describe the basis of services marketing reflects its complexity. A metaphor can ‘suggest a reality beyond ordinary, descriptive thought’ and ‘in a word or two lift our understanding beyond anything attainable by reams of prosaic speech’ (Clancy, 1989: 13).

Goodwin (1996) explained further why there is such a use of metaphors in services marketing, they suggest that metaphors suggest attributes for an unknown phenomenon that belong by convention to something else (Leary, 1990) and describe that phenomenon in rich and emotional detail that bypasses logic (Pondy, 1983). As discussed earlier services marketing does not have a definite definition hence there are unknown factors and implications, the use of metaphors allows for these unknowns.

Grove and Fisk presented the dominant idea that the theatre metaphor is a useful framework for describing and analysing service performances. The service personnel’s role in a service performance is as necessary as that of actors in a theatrical production. The play that an audience sees is formed and fashioned by actors’ actions and appearance, a service performance is created and portrayed through the organizations’ workers. Goffman’s interpretation of dramaturgy with the concept of structure of social interaction is applied to services as a theatre. They argue that similar tools can be used to create service experiences to satisfy customers.

The service theatre framework depicts contact personnel as on-stage performers that are responsible for creating and service delivery systems are often marked by a high degree of interaction between managing the customer experience. There will be a stage, a performance, a script and an audience reaction. During the service encounter there will also be a mood or ambiance in order to create the drama. The dramaturgical approach depicts social behaviour as a theatrical performance in which actors perform to certain roles to an audience. In this perspective, the action (service encounter) takes place within a theatre (servicescape) and the performance of the service requires actors, audience, script, setting, rehearsal, appearances, and importantly, authenticity. (Gabbott & Hogg 2000).

The servicescape is defined as ‘the total configuration of environmental dimensions’ (Bitner 1992). This definition is supported by Lovelock, Patterson and Walker (2001), who maintain that as part of the marketing mix for services the servicescape, or physical evidence, serves to present tangible cues in the absence of any tangible good. The consumer’s internal responses to the service environment have been found to influence behaviour and affect social interactions between and among customers and employees (Bitner. 1992; Aubert-Gamet. 1997). The servicescape offers the consumer tangible cues of the quality and value of the service. Hogg and Gabbott (1998) support this theory to say that the use of symbols, logos, and tangible cues all contribute to defining a corporate image or brand. Marketers need to be aware of the power of the servicescape to influence the consumer’s perception of the type, quality and manner of the service offering.

The servicescape is essentially the stage, in theatre the use of props to create the scene and atmosphere the audience receive and will therefore create authenticity. This is very important for companies who depend on their brand as a gimmick or as a way of differentiation, for example The Hard Rock Caf� uses memorabilia to decorate the restaurants in order to create the necessary surroundings and atmosphere for their particular service.

The use of front and back stage is evident in services; the staff’s performance is given and received out front whilst the supporting back stage staff are not seen by the customers. Customers are not allowed to wonder freely into the kitchens or staff only areas, the same is true at the theatre. The division of the servicescape into front and back stage is not applicable to all service sectors and hence more relevant in some than others.

When used in the theatre the script is defined as a “blueprint for theatrical production” (Aston and Savona, 1991). In a services marketing situation the use of a script inform the service staff what should be done in certain situations. Lord and Kernam (1987) suggest that scripts create conformity and hence procedures so the staff can be sure of what exactly which actions to take. The problem with the use of scripts become apparent when there is an element of ambiguity and the service staff are not empowered to be able to deal with the situation which has occurred outside the script. Front of house staff, in particular, will need to be able to improvise and its at this point they will be judged by the customer ( Carlzon, 1987).

The use of a script would work well in a service which is uncomplicated with little variation but it will only work well in a complex situation where the staff are well trained and can deal with the unexpected. The ability to improvise when needed can be a critical factor in service delivery (Daly 2003; Fisk, Grove and John 2003). The use of scripts may lead to the staff being ignorant of anything not laid out in the script and they become almost like robots, not attentive staff. Harris (2003) discussed that the script gives a simple structure but has no reflection of the actual situation in reality, especially emotions. A play can be dictated by script however this is not always true for services.

Different service situations will require different types of performance. Baron and Harris discussed four theatrical movements which reflected a wide range of theoretical ideas extended into practice. These include theatrical realism where the audience is the distanced observer where the environment needs to be realistic; political realism where the audience is a participator and reviewer; surrealism where the senses are attacked creating a subconscious experience and absurd theatre to challenging the mind where the emphasis in the staging is on minimalism. They argue that the important characteristic of the four movements is that they offer innovative insights about how to manage and develop the performance of frontline employees within retail environments.

An example of theatrical realism are theme parks such as Alton Towers and on a larger scale Disney World, in which the emphasis is on detail and accuracy in the creation of a realistic environment. The audience become voyeurs, looking into a realistic world in which the costumes, properties, and backdrops capture the exact detail of the environment. The characters are dressed in costumes and are a way of bringing the theme of the parks into reality.

Bentley (1968) concludes that the theatre is merely a simulation of the basic components of social interaction. Gabbott proposed that a key part in the maintaining “truth” of the performance and the illusion of the reality of the role lies in the non-verbal presentation of the actor (Jones, 1996). There are two elements, body language as illustrated by mime, and the use of vocal tones or pitch to convey meaning.

Service personnel are an integral component of most service organizations’ effort. Their significant impact upon service quality has been recognized in various models of the service encounter; whether they operate behind the scenes in areas not visible to the customers’ view or in a front region where their every move is open to public inspection, a service’s employees are largely responsible for the excellence of the service product. This is particularly true for those who come in contact with the customer, since customers will often equate the quality of an organization’s service with its ‘contract personnel’. All other things being equal, what this suggests is that service organizations can achieve a competitive or differential advantage in the marketplace through their service employees.

Customisation of the service to meet individual needs is growing in importance, for example front line hotel staff will make a judgment on whether the customer is a business or leisure guest and match their delivery style accordingly. Mood can also be a major determining factor in the service encounter and can alter the everyday through process (Morris 1989). Customer contact personnel can influence the customers’ mood through their presence, message content, attractiveness, status and their interpersonal relationships with the customer. The staff have to be able to create a positive mood and to carryout a convincing performance. On the basis that the core exchange paradigm occurs between people, and specifically in the service context between a customer and a service provider, it follows that the selection and training of service employees is of paramount importance. (Gabbott et al 2000). The interaction during performance will be especially important where there is a great amount of interaction. If a member of the service staff was in a bad mood, a hairdresser for example, and this become clear to the customer it would create a negative mood for them and the customer would leave feeling they did not have a satisfactory experience even if the service, the hair cut, was of the expected quality. In this example the hair dresser would be expected to mask their bad mood and hence put on a performance.

One of the strengths of the theatre metaphor has been its “applicability to a wide range of service categories and its readily apparent implications for managers” (Goodwin 1996). It has also been argued that it is from metaphor that we get an introduction of creativity and innovation.

The use of the concept of services as theatre, as discussed, can be relevant and applicable in a vast array of service delivery systems. However due to the complexity and intangibility of services marketing as a whole, the degree of applicability depends on the exact service in question. The most appropriate examples are in the entertainment industry where putting on a show is an integral part of the service, Las Vegas, TGI Fridays and Butlins are examples of these.

The service delivery systems are not the only variable; the customers will also mean that using the theatre metaphor may not be applicable in some situations. No two consumers are identical and hence there may be two customers receiving an identical service encounter with varying levels of satisfaction or interaction. Research on customer participation in services, generally, highlights how consumers vary in terms of their willingness, motivation, and ability to participate in, and respond to, service provision ( Parker and Harris, 2000)

The idea that the internet can be defined by the theatre metaphor is supported by Fisk (2000). Fisk argues that the elements of actors (the Web site workers), setting (the venue for the Web experience), audience (the site’s customers) and performance (the service process itself) create the customer’s experience. However I feel that this is not entirely plausible, the internet can not communicate emotions and the interaction is impersonal. Due to the dynamic and rapid technological advances in this area, a metaphor which reflects this would be more appropriate.

Retail theatre is generally presented as a “fun” experience involving spectacle and excitement. Few retailers would readily admit to an absence of theatre in their offer in case they were to be accused of being dull or behind the times and very rarely do the retailers, or store designers, demonstrate that the metaphor is examined in greater depth. (Baron, 2001). Marketers and managers may describe their service as a theatre experience just to follow trends and not actually understand or implement the actual metaphorical description. Baron (2001) argues that the expression “retail theatre” seems to imply an intention to create a whole variety of customer reactions and responses not jus a very specific audience reaction as in theatre. The metaphor may be incomplete and to some degree misleading (Van den Bulte 1994), and is certainly not fulfilling its potential.

Pine and Gilmore (1999) discussed “the experience economy” in which companies ‘stage’ experiences whenever they engage customers, connecting with them in a personal, memorable way’. However they did not agree with the use of the metaphor services as theatre, they use theatre in the sense that he sense that “work is theatre” not “work as theatre”.

Lovelock and Young’s observation that customers are often in the factory describes the fact that the customers often participate in service production. (Appendix A). The factory metaphor in comparison with the theatre metaphor looks at the automated factory not the stage play; the process and structure not actors and interaction; inputs who contribute to production not the audience requiring cues from the actors; efficiency not rave reviews and design system and procedures and not scripts. (Goodwin, 1996) The application of the factory metaphor is most relevant in the fast food industry and rail travel.

The application of the idea of services as theatre creates opportunities and implications for service marketers. When this metaphor is used in the correct service delivery system, the idea of applying the same theory to services as to theatre may be very advantageous for the marketer and maybe able to gain them a competitive advantage. However, as discussed, each different aspect of the theatre experience has its own implications and weaknesses. A dominant theme in services is that the service staff, especially in a theatre setting, should be viewed as an important part of the service. The significance of service staff is tied to the inseparability of producer and consumer and intangibility characteristics of service products. These place greater emphasis upon the process of service delivery and those who are responsible for it. In many cases, the employees who delivery the service are viewed as the service from the customer’s perspective showing that service employees are vital to the pursuit of quality in service organizations. Therefore the service marketer should be focusing on hiring the right staff, constant training and intense motivation; in order to stay ahead of the competition.

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