Structuring the Service Encounter: A Test of Alternatives

Structuring the Service Encounter: A Test of Alternatives

Maria da Graça Batista (Azores University, Portugal), Miguel Pina e Cunha (New University of Lisbon, Portugal) and Armenio Rego (Aveiro University, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0077-5.ch006
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Abstract

This chapter presents an analysis of the influence of three forms of structuring the service encounter (standardization, spontaneity, minimal structure) on the perception of service quality and job satisfaction. The authors performed two studies (experimental and correlational). The results point to the existence of higher levels of job satisfaction and service quality under the use of minimal structures. There is an element of originality in this study since it empirically explores the application of minimal structures to the service encounter and the findings help practitioners to make more informed choices about the structures they adopt for the management of service encounters.
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Structuring The Service Encounter

A service encounter may be structured in several ways. We consider three possibilities: spontaneous/informal, standardized, and minimally structured. In the case of standardized service, the front-line employee has to perform all the service requirements which are pre-defined in manuals. The front-line employee evaluation is done by an analysis of the gaps in relation to established behaviors. This type of structure creates great stress for the employee (Schneider & Bowen, 1995), but encourages customers to expect a certain stable level of service (Lashley, 1997). This structure has been discussed by Levitt (1972), who adapted an industrial logic of production to service management.

In the spontaneous approach, the front-line employee has no explicit instruction about the behavior that (s)he should exhibit in the service encounter. (S)he performs according to her/his a priori abilities, on-the-job learning and discernment. The use of this type of (absence of) structure is related to one of two situations: (1) it can be the result of poor management of service encounters, or (2) the attempt to accomplish participative management and employee empowerment. This second situation is more likely when the organization provides completely customized solutions for idiosyncratic customer needs.

The third approach, the minimally structured service, defines some of the “big” rules which establish the fundamental rules of service (Cunha & Cunha, 2006; Kamoche & Cunha, 2001), but simultaneously allows some creativity and adjustment in response to each situation. The definition of behavior guidelines allows front-line employees to adjust the service interaction while it is taking place (Cunha, Rego & Kamoche, 2009; John, Grove & Fisk, 2006), to customer-specific needs while remaining within known parameters (e.g., deadlines, individual responsibilities, goals). Many customers search for an approach that recognizes them as individuals with distinct needs and that stimulates flexible behavior (Lovelock & Wirtz, 2011), although within “professional” parameters defined by a trustworthy organization. In this case, the front-line employee has information about basic rules, but has the freedom to adjust her/his behavior to each particular case and to perform autonomously in matters such as discounts, orders, and offers. The front-line employee is also aware that with authority comes responsibility. Her/his decisions are her/his responsibility and (s)he is encouraged to use common knowledge to decide and to use her/his authority for taking judicious, responsible and effective decisions with regard to the customers’ needs and wishes.

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