Face –to-Face Encounters Versus Technological Service Delivery; An Analysis _______________________________________ Introduction There are many benefits as well as possible drawbacks to service delivery that rely solely on technology. With today’s advances in technology almost any customer service option that is offered through a face-to-face service encounter, can also be offered through a technology based service encounter.The only aspect of customer service that isn’t available through technology is the tangible aspects that are experienced inside a store, including face-to-face contact with service personnel. There are pros and cons as well as risks associated with both service models, and given a certain situation, one model might be more appropriate to meet a customers needs. In this paper, I will be analyzing service delivery through technology, and comparing it to the face-to-face service delivery model, and showing how and why both can be effective depending on the needs of the customer. Customer NeedsWhen identifying which model of service delivery is a better choice for customers, it is necessary to define the dimensions of service quality that are most important to the customer. There are often times that one or two are the most important, and a few others that fall in rank order. If a customer places convenience at the top of the list, then doing business with technology might be the better option for that customer.
However, if the customer isn’t pressed for time and tangible aspects are more important to a customer, they might choose to go to the store to have a face-to-face encounter.Any type of self service technology requires the customer to take on some of the work that was previously conducted by store employees, for this reason, the service must provide ease of access, cost savings, or some other benefit to ensure customer satisfaction with the service. Benefits of Technological Service Delivery for Service Providers Technological service encounters (TSE) have benefits for customers, but they also have benefits for the service provider. The first would be cost savings. For example, if there is no physical location, then the space that is used to sell and interact with the customer is all “virtual space.
In this case, there wouldn’t be facilities costs such as rent and heating, ect. You could also cut the costs required to pay a staff for all hours of operation, or facilities maintenance. Instead, these people could be replaced by well designed technology, and a person to do any technology maintenance when it is needed. In face-to-face encounters, the satisfaction of the customer is dependant on employee ability. Aspects that could affect the encounter could be the competence, courtesy, approachability, responsiveness, and communication skills of the employee. TSE eliminate the risk of depending on a person to do all of these things well.
There is also no pressure, time wasted, and no extra cost that is experienced when hiring and training new personnel. If the TSE is designed well, then a company can rely on the technology to do a perfect job of these things. The company would just have to keep in mind that if anything goes wrong with the technology, they would need to hire someone for technology maintenance or customer support. Offering online services enables a company to reach customers nationally or internationally.
In the case of face-to-face service encounters, it isn’t possible to sell to customers that are far away from the physical store.Having a national or global customer base means more sales. This is another benefit of the TSE model to Service providers.
Benefits of TSE to Customers The biggest benefit of TSE to customers is the fact that is easily accessible, and convenient. These days a person can shop, do their banking, rent online books and movies, and entertain themselves, all in the comfort of their home. TSE allows a person to save time, by eliminating the time it takes to get there, and other time it takes to finish the encounter. As a customer of many TSEs, it saves me time because I don’t even have to change out of my pajamas to get my errands done.
The fact that you don’t have to see anyone or be social can also be a benefit, and save you time. Some technological service models have lower prices because they cut costs. This would be another benefit. A good example of this would be Redbox Movie rentals compared to Blockbuster. Redbox has a much lower price, and many more locations, that are conveniently placed. Along with core products, supplementary services that can be offered through a TSE are quite extensive, offering the same kind of services that could be offered through a face-to-face encounter.
These services include receiving information, placing orders, making reservations or payments, and even receiving consultation or advice. For example, when buying clothes or shoes online, you may not be able to physical touch or see the boot, but some websites such as Zappos offer a video of a person wearing the boot to mimic an experience of trying the boot on and looking in the mirror to see how the material moves and looks as it is moving. They also offer many viewing angles, including the sole, top, bottom, side, back, and front views of the product. Information on the product as well as real other customer reviews are available.These are a couple things that may not be available through a face-to-face shopping experience. To get more information on the product, you would have to rely on the store personnel, in which case may not always be trustworthy or able to provide as much information as a website. Customers are often times blown away by advanced technology. If the technology blows them away this will ensure that the service goes above and beyond their expectations, ensuring customer satisfaction.
One reason customers choose a face-to-face service model vs. a TSE is to get advice that might suit them personally.Customers want to be understood, so that individual needs might be noticed. Again this sort of advice that is offered by store personnel in a face-to-face encounter can also be offered in a TSE with the implementation of electronic recommendation agents.
These agents can track what products a customer has purchased or previously viewed, and make recommendations this way. They can also track consumer-making strategies, and can narrow down choices by asking what aspects are important to you, such as price, brand, or color. This makes it very simple for customers to find exactly what you are looking for.Some music websites, such as Pandora, will make recommendations based on very technical similarities in other music that you like. If you were shopping in a music store, the personnel might not have the knowledge to make such an accurate recommendation. Some risk is also eliminated here. For instance, a customer might feel misjudged or even discriminated against when another person makes recommendations. TSEs can be just as personal, and make recommendations that might be more accurate.
With face-to-face encounters there is always a possibility of a bad encounter based on the way the employee treats the customer.The employee could be caught in a bad mood, or make a mistake that totally ruins the experience for the customer. A TSE eliminates the chance of this happening. Consultation, which was previously thought to only be possible through the face-to-face model, is now being perused through TSEs as well. Most companies offer a help line, just in case a question can’t be answered on a website, or any problem occurs. Some companies, such as Nordstrom also offer an online chat service through their website, in which the customer can talk to a Nordstrom representative to receive any feedback they may need.This is another example of supplementary service that can be offered through a TSE.
Cons of a TSE The risk of relying on technology is that it can fail. This can make a customer completely unsatisfied by failing to offer service at all. If a website is down, or a machine breaks, the customer might not trust it to work in the future. If this happens, all areas of the service can fail in all dimensions that customers use to evaluate the service quality.
Another complaint of customers is that often times they have a heard time navigating their way around a website.If the technology is designed poorly, or visually unappealing, it can have a negative affect on customer satisfaction, making the service inaccessible by being difficult to use. Self-service typically implies that if a customer messes up it is their own fault, but the customer often argues that the technology should ensure that this never happens, and often times the customer still blames it on the service provider. Another con associated with the TSE model is the fact that customers cannot see, feel, or try on a product as you can in a physical store.Buying clothes without trying them on is always a risk, because you can never really see how it fits until you receive the product. If you need to return the product, it can be a hassle, and then you still don’t have what you wanted. Some people would rather shop in local stores so that they can see the product, and eliminate the risk associated with getting a product that doesn’t fit, or work the way they thought.
When shopping in a local store such as a bookstore, for instance, you can leave the store with the book you needed in hand, rather than waiting 4-5 business days for the product to be shipped.Shipping costs are also something to be considered. Even though a product might appear cheaper at an online store, the shipping and handling fees might make up the difference. Another con associated with the TSE model is the fact that you can’t have the in-store experience. A good example of this would be the Nordstrom store. Inside they have people you can talk to who are highly trained in fashion, and customer relations. They have little coffee shops, seating areas, and even restaurants inside.
You can physically browse through the store and touch the products.The modern interior design of the store itself is enough to arouse the senses of a customer. This sort of experience isn’t possible through a TSE, and if these tangible aspects are important to a customer, then they wouldn’t be satisfied with the TSE model. Conclusion When comparing a face-to-face service encounter with one that uses technology, there are pros and cons associated with both.
One model might be preferred over the other model depending on what aspects of customer service are the most important to the customer. If convenience is most important, then obviously the TSE would be a better service model.If tangible aspects, and the store experience is more important, then a customer might not want to use technology. Technology can be intimidating for people who aren’t technologically savvy, and in this case, they may be more comfortable with resorting to a more conventional face-to-face service model. Sometimes based on the mood the customer is in, one model might be favored over the other.
For example, sometimes I want to go to the library for the pure pleasure of going to the library to sort through books, and look at the pictures on a page, rather than on a screen.Other times, I am scrambling to get a research project done, and I prefer to use Net Library, which is an online library that offers millions of eBooks. The best scenario for a service provider is to offer both a physical location and an online option for service delivery, so that no matter what the customer needs are for that given moment, they can be satisfied through all the dimensions of customer service, including convenience, if they please, or the tangible aspects associated with the in-store experience. Bilbliography Dodds, Bill.
Services Marketing. Pearson Custom Business Resources, 2010. Print.