How Should Contested Historical Sites be Presented?

[We’re pleased to welcome author Athinodoros Chronis of California State University, Stanislaus. He recently published an article in Journal of Service Research entitled “The Staging of Contested Servicescapes,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, he reflects on the motivations and influences on this research:]

What motivated you to pursue this research?

For many decades, debates in the United States about the removal of the Confederate flag, monuments, and memorials were both reflective of and constantly feeding major divisions among groups with divergent political views. Noticing similar conflicting perspectives during my fieldwork at Gettysburg National Military Park about the “correct” way in which the painful civil war era should be represented and remembered, inspired and motivated my research into the role that service providers should play in staging contested servicescapes.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

Marketing researchers and other scholars have identified and reflected upon a large number of service environments where oppositional interpretations become the basis for contestation and, as a result, create a problem for service organizers on the way in which the site should be presented to the public. While the above scholarship identifies the presence of contestation and the struggle among opposing parties, it does not provide a focused theorization on the way in which service providers understand and work out a solution to place contestation. To this end, the present research is innovative by highlighting the politicized nature of certain servicescapes and paying attention to the performative practices of frontline employees as they guide customers through the servicescape and as they stage the place and its representation in a particular way in order to avoid contestation. The major impact of this study is the provision of a framework that can be used by the management of contested servicescapes to analyze the contestation terrain and evade marketplace controversies that can be detrimental to a positive customer experience. It also provides three groups of strategic practices that help to accomplish this goal.

What is the most important/ influential piece of scholarship you’ve read in the last year

There is a body of literature that is very relevant and influential to my current research. This scholarship is couched in humanist perspectives that highlight the politicized character of certain places and see their construction as a struggle among interest groups. Place is considered a social construction and its emergence is seen as a process through which the material environment is invested with a variety of meanings by different groups or individuals. As a result, place identities can be multiple and the dominant character of place is subject to debate and contestation. Within this unstable terrain, a number of scholars have theorized the production of “official stages” by dominant social forces in order to inculcate particular ideological positions and craft their own version of social reality and place identity (Adams et al. 2001; Ateljevic and Doorne 2002; Bender 1993, 2002; Bosco 2004; Bruce and Creighton 2006; Forest et al. 2004; Frost 2007; Gillen 2014; Goulding and Domic 2009; Hale 2001; Jeong and Santos 2004; Kong and Law 2002; Leitner and Kang 1999; Osborne 1998, 2001; Patil 2011; Sarmento 2009; Stokowski 2002; Tilley 2006; Wight 2016; Worden 1996; Yea 2002; Zhang et al. 2015).

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Short- and Long-Term Effects of Nonconsciously Processed Ambient Scents in a Servicescape

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Anna Girard of Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, Marcel Lichters of Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg, Marko Sarstedt of
Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg, and Dipayan Biswas of the University of South Florida. They recently published an article in Journal of Service Research entitled “Short- and Long-Term Effects of Nonconsciously Processed Ambient Scents in a Servicescape: Findings From Two Field Experiments,” which is currently free to read. Below, they reflect on this research:]

Have you ever walked past, or entered, a Victoria’s Secret or an Abercrombie & Fitch store? If so, you might have noticed a distinctive ambient scent. One can speculate that possible goals for having ambient scents might be to create a pleasant atmosphere, improve their customers’ service experience, or simply mask bad smells in their retail stores. Importantly, Victoria’s Secret or Abercrombie & Fitch are not alone in its efforts to leverage ambient scents. With an annual growth rate of 10% and a volume of over USD 200 million in 2017, the market for ambient scents is growing rapidly.

It is therefore not surprising that ambient scents have also received considerable attention in academic research. Prior research in this domain has revealed that pleasant ambient scents have a positive influence on consumers’ perceptions, of for example, the physical servicescape and on their brand evaluations. We extend this research stream and examine whether the positive effects also hold when consumers are repeatedly exposed to ambient scents without being aware of it. And do the positive effects prevail in a service environment, characterized by many different olfactory influences (e.g., malodors) – as it is often the case in real-world service settings? How do consumers react to the discontinuation of a scent campaign?

We quickly realized that answering these research questions is very challenging in a laboratory setting, where consumers (typically students) are exposed to an ambient scent under highly controlled conditions – as commonly done in prior scent research. Evaluating the long-term effects in an olfactory-rich environment requires collaborating with an industry partner who would grant us access to its servicescape over several weeks, ideally months. Finding such a partner was very challenging, but the study’s first author, Anna Girard, managed to convince a regional subsidiary of Germany’s major railway company to support the project as well as to involve a professional fragrance manufacturer who designed two different scents that fit its servicescape. Our first task was to identify the most appropriate scent and the optimal level of intensity, which we did by running a series of pretests. We found that even in the highest intensity levels, most customers did not notice the scent – that is, they processed the scent nonconsciously.

Next, we exposed the customers to the ambient scent diffused via the train’s air conditioning system over a period of four months. Our results not only confirm ambient scent’s positive short-term effect, but show that the use of a nonconsciously processed long-term ambient scent has an enduring, positive impact on consumers’ evaluations of service quality, service experience, and service value. Furthermore, our results indicate that ambient scents’ positive effect on service evaluations persists for at least two weeks after the ambient scent has been withdrawn.

Our research produced some further striking findings, which we couldn’t report in the published paper. Most notably, we also queried consumers’ satisfaction with the service provider and brand attitude and found no notable improvements in these constructs over time. We also ran a series of qualitative interviews with several of the participants. These interviews confirmed that most participants did not notice any special scent and that they were generally in favor of introducing a pleasant ambient scent into the train compartments.

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Balancing Frontliners’ Customer- and Coworker-Directed Behaviors When Serving Business Customers

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Michel van der Borgh of Copenhagen Business School, Ad de Jong of Copenhagen Business School, and Edwin J. Nijssen of Eindhoven University of Technology. They recently published an article in Journal of Service Research entitled “Balancing Frontliners’ Customer- and Coworker-Directed Behaviors When Serving Business Customers,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on this research:]

What motivated you to pursue this research?

The motivation for our research emerged from observations that prior literature mainly considered frontline employee (FLE) behaviors in isolation. This stands in sharp contrast with day-to-day practice where FLE’s constantly have to juggle between different tasks for different stakeholders. It is analogous to scholars who constantly have to balance time between research and teaching, among other things. Before this study we did some research on ambidexterity, which focusses more on paradoxical situations where FLE’s seem to be making trade-offs. Although the idea of ambidexterity also fits our research on customer-coworker balance, we felt that the theoretical underpinning was weak. When looking for other theoretical framework we realized that our situation of salespeople trying to balance multiple duties was very similar to something that many people can relate to; work-life balance. Looking into this stream of literature we found some articles pointing to role balance theory, which is rooted in role theory. The ideas of this theoretical framework matched very much with our observations of employees in the frontline. So, our motivation was borne out of personal observations, our knowledge of extant research, and new insights from related fields.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

In our study we employ a novel approach to study balance. While previous studies on ambidexterity and work-life balance often used difference scores or multiplicative measures of both roles, we employ surface response modeling to tease out the interrelationship between customer and coworker-directed behaviors on performance. We were inspired by a 2014 study by Mullins et al. in the Journal of Marketing who employed the same analytical approach to investigate salesperson perceptional accuracy of customer relationship quality. All in all, our work demonstrates that the surface response modeling approach using polynomial regression techniques is better in capturing true effects. We urge future research to apply a similar approach.

What did not make it into your published manuscript that you would like to share with us?

In our paper we decided not to explicitly link our research with the research on ambidexterity since it complicated the already complex story. This is a pity as ambidexterity research also would benefit handsomely from applying these more advanced analytical approaches to examine the true effects of, for instance exploration and exploitation on performance outcomes.

How important is it for customers to have a positive experience when dealing with a company? The evidence from all manner of research disciplines (Psychology, Management, and Marketing) and reports from the field by consultants and managers is that this encounter is absolutely critical. In the field of services marketing the place where this encounter happens is called the “organizational frontlines.” The frontlines refers to everything that occurs when the customer is in contact with the company: the people, the technology, the facilities and the processes. Research on organizational frontlines has focused in on the immediate contact of the customer with the company, especially contact with employees who serve them and the technology that serves them. This research reveals that knowledgeable and skilled service employees and technology that is accurate, speedy and easy to use play important roles in meeting customer expectations and producing customer satisfaction and loyalty.

This commentary on a special issue of the Journal of Service Research that was about organizational frontlines asks the following question: What kind of company context produces the employees and the technology that meets customers’ expectations and satisfies them? That is, given the importance of what happens at the frontlines the commentary considers what companies can do to ensure that what happens there is maximally positive. So, what can companies do?

We propose that companies must have the following mind-sets to create a context in which customers’ experience at the frontlines is optimal:

1. They must have a socio-technical systems mind-set. Socio-technical systems understand that there is no such thing as technology that stands alone. A socio-technical mind-set ensures that those who design and implement technology have those who use it (employees) and those who are served by it (customers) as there focus.

2. They must have a service climate mind set. A service climate mind-set is created in companies when HR, Marketing and Operations all work together to ensure that the people, the products/services, and the technology of a company all focus in on producing a positive customer experience. These functions can’t be silos because they all impact customers. These functions work together well when there is an internal service mind-set as well: “We help each other produce for our customers.”

3. They must have a strong service HR systems mind-set. Employees who deal immediately with customers must be only one focus of HR; as noted earlier, a service mind-set is critical also in those who design and implement technology and, we would add, those who design products and services.

4. They must have a multi-level mind-set. Companies must see themselves as containing three important levels: A managerial level, an employee level and a customer level. Thus, companies can’t divorce the customer from the company and executives can’t divorce employees from their strategies. In service organizations these different levels are in continuous interaction—at least in the best such companies.

Our proposal is that, while it is very important to focus on what happens in the immediate encounter at the company frontlines, there must also be focus on the context that produces what happens there. Our commentary addresses critical elements of that context and the mind-sets management must have if they wish to deliver excellent service.

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What Kind of Mindset Must Companies have to Create Great Customer Service?

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Benjamin Schneider of the University of Maryland and David E. Bowen of the Thunderbird School of Global Management . They recently published an article in Journal of Service Research entitled “Perspectives on the Organizational Context of Frontlines: A Commentary,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on this research:]

How important is it for customers to have a positive experience when dealing with a company? The evidence from all manner of research disciplines (Psychology, Management, and Marketing) and reports from the field by consultants and managers is that this encounter is absolutely critical. In the field of services marketing the place where this encounter happens is called the “organizational frontlines.” The frontlines refers to everything that occurs when the customer is in contact with the company: the people, the technology, the facilities and the processes. Research on organizational frontlines has focused in on the immediate contact of the customer with the company, especially contact with employees who serve them and the technology that serves them. This research reveals that knowledgeable and skilled service employees and technology that is accurate, speedy and easy to use play important roles in meeting customer expectations and producing customer satisfaction and loyalty.

This commentary on a special issue of the Journal of Service Research that was about organizational frontlines asks the following question: What kind of company context produces the employees and the technology that meets customers’ expectations and satisfies them? That is, given the importance of what happens at the frontlines the commentary considers what companies can do to ensure that what happens there is maximally positive. So, what can companies do?

We propose that companies must have the following mind-sets to create a context in which customers’ experience at the frontlines is optimal:

1. They must have a socio-technical systems mind-set. Socio-technical systems understand that there is no such thing as technology that stands alone. A socio-technical mind-set ensures that those who design and implement technology have those who use it (employees) and those who are served by it (customers) as there focus.

2. They must have a service climate mind set. A service climate mind-set is created in companies when HR, Marketing and Operations all work together to ensure that the people, the products/services, and the technology of a company all focus in on producing a positive customer experience. These functions can’t be silos because they all impact customers. These functions work together well when there is an internal service mind-set as well: “We help each other produce for our customers.”

3. They must have a strong service HR systems mind-set. Employees who deal immediately with customers must be only one focus of HR; as noted earlier, a service mind-set is critical also in those who design and implement technology and, we would add, those who design products and services.

4. They must have a multi-level mind-set. Companies must see themselves as containing three important levels: A managerial level, an employee level and a customer level. Thus, companies can’t divorce the customer from the company and executives can’t divorce employees from their strategies. In service organizations these different levels are in continuous interaction—at least in the best such companies.

Our proposal is that, while it is very important to focus on what happens in the immediate encounter at the company frontlines, there must also be focus on the context that produces what happens there. Our commentary addresses critical elements of that context and the mind-sets management must have if they wish to deliver excellent service.

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Assessing Value from Business-to-Business Services Relationships

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Paul Lyons and Louis Brennan of Trinity Business School. They recently published an article in Journal of Service Research entitled “Assessing Value From Business-to-Business Services Relationships: Temporality, Tangibility, Temperament, and Trade-Offs,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on this research:]

The word value permeates through academic literature and practitioner vocabulary alike, and references to concepts such as value realization, value-add, and value proposition are commonplace. Although the widespread usage of such terms implies that their meaning is intuitive, studies have repeatedly found that our understanding of what constitutes value is limited. B2B relationships are formed with the specific objective of developing sources of value that cannot be achieved when acting alone. However, understanding value from B2B relationships is particularly complicated given the complexities of the intra- and inter-organizational governance processes that apply, and the numbers of managers whose perceptions influence these processes. Drawing on 30 years of experience as a practitioner working with customers and suppliers of services, Dr. Paul Lyons (corresponding author) observes: “The most effective B2B relationships are those where both parties collaborate to achieve shared benefits. The challenge is often in achieving a consistent appreciation of these benefits across complex organizational structures.”

Based on the premise that value “is in the eye of the beholder”, this study explores the assessment of value by managers closely engaged in B2B services relationships. It analyzes these assessments to develop new insights into how value is assessed, and how these assessments may be influenced. The study longitudinally explores three services outsourcing relationships through in-depth interviews with 38 managers representing both the customer and supplier organizations. The findings enable the development of a framework, detailing four concurrent dimensions of assessments of Relationship Value:

– Temporality: Value assessments consider past, present, and future sources of value, but vary between assessments that are made on an ongoing basis (continuously), and those that are more periodic (intermittent).

– Tangibility: Assessments of Relationship Value consider quantifiable outputs such as financial benefits (tangible), and these which are more subjective (intangible).

– Temperament: Some assessments were found to be logical and structured (systematic), whereas others were based on feelings and senses (emotional).

– Tradeoffs: Assessments varied between those comparing returns achieved relative to costs incurred (benefits vs sacrifices) and those comparing experiences to what was anticipated (perceptions vs expectations).

The study also revealed that each of the above dimensions was evident to varying degrees across different constituencies that formed value assessments. The customer and supplier organizations as Institutions were identified as key constituencies, but the study also revealed the importance of value assessments formed by informal Collectives in both organizations. A central finding reveals the critical role of Relationship Leaders in influencing assessments. The study makes five recommendations to partnering firms seeking to better understand and optimize assessments of value by stakeholders in their B2B services relationships.

Prof. Louis Brennan (co-author) summarizes the contribution of this study, saying “To optimize the value of B2B services relationships we need to better understand how it is assessed by those most closely involved. This study provides new insights into how these assessments are formed and provides recommendations to managers on how to monitor and influence these assessments.”

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Gaining Customer Experience Insights That Matter

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Janet R. McColl-Kennedy the University of Queensland Business School, Mohamed Zaki of the University of Cambridge, Katherine N. Lemon of the Carroll School of Management, Florian Urmetzer of the University of Cambridge, and Andy Neely of the University of Cambridge. They recently published an article in Journal of Service Research entitled “Gaining Customer Experience Insights That Matter,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on the motivation and impact of this research:]

What motivated you to pursue this research?

Customer experience is central to marketing. Providing a meaningful customer experience is viewed as essential to achieving competitive advantage and satisfied customers.
Customer experience management is listed in the top ten priorities of CEOs around the globe.
Organizations that carefully manage the customer experience reap rewards such as increased customer satisfaction, revenue growth, increased customer loyalty and greater employee satisfaction.

But to date knowing what to measure and how to gain rich insights that matter through multiple data sources, especially what to do with open-ended feedback has not been clear. Often open-ended feedback that firms receive is ignored, or simply categorized broadly as a complaint or a compliment.
We show that this rich feedback can be used to identify previously unrecognized, critical touchpoints in the customer experience and to take specific actions to strengthen the customer experience, thereby enhancing revenue growth, customer loyalty and employee and customer satisfaction.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

This is the first empirical study of customer experience.
Large amounts of data, including textual data such as verbatim comments from customers, are now generated at many touchpoints in the customer journey. Text mining is well suited to extract customer insights from unstructured comments and customer satisfaction data. However, text mining is not yet mainstream in marketing. Text mining and other emerging technologies offer potentially better ways to measure and manage customer experience. In our model, we connect qualitative data and quantitative data with a text analytics approach. We show that customer experience analytics that apply big data techniques to the customer experience can offer significant insights that matter.

We identify seven root causes for the complex B2B service. Each of these represent opportunities for improving the CX.
Our model is also able to uncover customers who are at risk of leaving the firm, even customers who give high satisfaction scores (or NPS scores). Customers with high satisfaction scores would be seen by the firm as “satisfied”, or those with high NPS scores would be deemed “very likely to recommend”, and therefore not identified by the firm as requiring attention; yet we find that these customers are clearly voicing their concerns in the comments, and may be at higher risk of churning than traditional measures may suggest.

We uncover an entire “hidden” segment of supposedly highly satisfied customers who voice significant concerns. 42% of customers who give scores of 9.5 and above (out of 10) actually complain, as do many who give scores between 7 and 9.4 (44%). Complaints made by customers who gave satisfaction scores of 7 or greater were often ignored, despite these customers being worth over $250,000 on average and accounting for a significant portion of sales. Sales figures shows that when these customers’ concerns were not addressed sales went down significantly. For instance, one such “satisfied” customer reduced its purchases from over $200,000 to less than $2000. The key insight? Ignoring the small details that can be identified through the authors’ text analytics model can mean big losses for firms.

Our approach enables firms to link customer-centric CX elements from the conceptual framework (identified as potential pain points) to specific firm functions and jobs (identified as root causes) to take specific actions to strengthen the customer experience. We provide a step-by-step guide for implementing the approach highlighting what really matters to customers and what actions are needed by managers

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

This is a very exciting time to be investigating customer experience with new data mining tools available. Learn new tools and apply them to make important contributions to theory and practice. Collaborating with a company that is interested in improving its performance through new approaches can yield innovative insights – both for the firm and for scholarship.

Contact:
Professor Janet R. McColl-Kennedy, PhD, FAMI, FANZMAC, CPM
Professor of Marketing I UQ Business School The University of Queensland l Brisbane QLD 4072 l AUSTRALIA
P: +617 3346 8178 | E: j.mccoll-kennedy@business.uq.edu.au
W: https://www.business.uq.edu.au/staff/janet-mccoll-kennedy
W: http://researchers.uq.edu.au/researcher/284
Google Scholar https://scholar.google.com.au/citations?user=VLX4hYgAAAAJ&hl=en

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Understanding Customer Forgiveness of Service Transgressions

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Yelena Tsarenko of Monash University, Yuliya Strizhakova of Rutgers University, and Cele C. Otnes University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They recently published an article in Journal of Service Research entitled “Reclaiming the Future: Understanding Customer Forgiveness of Service Transgressions,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on the motivation and impact of this research:]

When customers are wronged, a diverse array of emotional, cognitive, and behavioral responses can result. Noticeably absent in prior marketing research, however, is the study of customer forgiveness as a viable response to transgressions. Forgiveness, a moral concept with religious overtones, has not been perceived as relevant to the secular world of business and marketing. However, business transgressions are inevitable and, just like human transgressions, customers apply forgiveness to these transgressions. Business success further hinges on understanding customer forgiveness and its impact on subsequent customer-provider relationships. Grounding our investigation in interdisciplinary research on forgiveness and self-determination theory we analyze 34 in-depth interviews with customers who experienced transgressions in the healthcare, financial, and retailing sectors. Our findings show that forgiveness is both internal and intrinsically driven process that releases the emotional burdens weighing on consumers after they experience a transgression by a service provider. Furthermore, businesses can foster forgiveness through service-recovery efforts, and seek to restore customers’ violated needs for autonomy, relatedness and competence.

We demonstrate that the interplay between customers’ motivation to forgive and their internal reconciliations of the transgression supports four pathways to forgiveness: transgressor’s atonement (driven by feelings of justice and the transgressor’s repentance and service-recovery efforts), disillusionment (driven by (in)equality and marketplace constraints), self-healing (driven by personal growth and the customer’s desire to heal), and grace (driven by humanity and empathy). Whereas some pathways of forgiveness offer the potential to restore damaged relationships and enable continued patronage, others require transgressor efforts that extend beyond compensation, to open an avenue for relational repair. However, other cases of forgiveness may never result in relationship restoration, but nonetheless can improve customer well-being, and even positively impact consumers’ mental, physical, and relational states. We further encourage future research on this transformative concept of customer forgiveness.

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