The effects of the customer switching to another service provider are always negative, both revenue-reducing and cost-incurring. Consequently, the service providers are interested in preserving the continuing customers, attracting new audiences and making the name of the service provider a brand, indicating the high quality service. In order to prevent the customer switching, the providers policy is to be focused on the quality of the service, fairness with the customers, meeting their expectations, using the experience of the customers’ complaints and implementation of the innovations.
Researching the main reasons for the customers’ switching to the other service providers and ways to prevent it I decided to have several encounters with the service providers and assess them.
The diary of the service encounters
The first example of the service encounter is connected with the visit to Sony supermarket of electronics. I consulted the shop-assistant as to the price range, functions and availability of the CD players and must admit that the worker was well-informed about the characteristics of the goods and was able to choose his words carefully in order to make the terms understandable to me as uninformed customer.
The visitors could listen to the relaxing in the sale zone and all the goods looked attractive as they were brightly lit and well-arranged. The shop-assistant did not demonstrate his indignation when I admitted that I was not going to purchase the player that day, but gathered the necessary information for the purchase in the future. The credit cards are acceptable in the supermarket and it demonstrates the company care for the customers. The impression from the visit was positive; the level of service is maintained at a proper level and combined with the high quality of the goods helps to acquire the customers.
The next encounter was my visit to the veterinary clinic with my pet. It was one of the clinics of the VetWorld. First time that I came I was not able to consult a specialist, because only appointments are acceptable in the clinic and I was to make an appointment for the next day. It appeared to be convenient, because when I came next time, there was no queue, it is very important; as the ill animals become irritated easily and there may be conflicts between them if there were a queue.
The veterinarian was friendly, notwithstanding the fact that the animal was healthy, he agreed that it is easier to prevent the diseases than to treat them. The vet was focused on the patient and gave me a piece of useful advice. It turned out that veterinarians spoke several languages and it is an important issue when the staff is hired.
The third encounter was connected with the mobile operator Vodafone service center. I intentionally entered the wrong PIN-code three times, my phone was locked and consequently I needed to contact Vodafone in order to get my PUK code. I was connected with the operator in several minutes having listened to the pleasant music and the computer voice asking to wait for the connection. The operator was friendly and qualified; the whole procedure did not take me much time. It is valuable that I had to answer several questions in order to identify my personality before providing the information concerning my number. It means that the questions of confidence are considered by the company. The operator offered to call again if the questions occur.
The next encounter was connected with the online-banking service for my Wells Fargo ATM card. I visited Wells Fargo site and filling in several forms I got free access to online banking and was able to manage my account online. The forms were understandable, the notes concerning online security guarantee ensured me in safety of this method of managing my account.
The next encounter concerned the international crisis hotline of psychological support Samaritans. The operator of the hotline sounded friendly and tried to be helpful. I must admit that the volunteer speaking to me was attentive and qualified. This non-profit project is valuable for lonely people and those with serious psychological problems.
Then I decided to visit a public library, it was an interesting encounter, as nowadays the libraries do not enjoy wide popularity while most of the materials are available online and there is no need to go to the public places. When I came, the librarian was absent at the working place and I had to wait. When the worker came, she tried to be helpful and helped me to search the necessary materials but admitted that the library cut the employees and now there is no specialist who has been working in the archive of the library. It meant that I was to look through the numerous catalogues myself. I did not manage to find the necessary information as the catalogues were disorganized and nobody put them in order. The librarian had no time to help me as the next visitors came and I left without getting the necessary information.
Not finding the book in the library I decided to look for it on the web. I visited the site of one of the world largest online retailers Amazon.com. Finding the book, I noticed that there was the option of looking inside of the book for free. When I started reading the book some of the pages were omitted and there was a note, saying that the pages are not available because I have no personal account on the site and it was offered to register. I decided to register on the site and it took me several minutes to fill in all the forms, including the date of my birth, though it is difficult to understand for what purposes Amazon.com could use this personal information.
After I logged in and worked with the same book as a registered user, nothing happened, the note was changed and then it repeated that not all pages were available and the administration of the site offered me to purchase the book, but after the unfairness with the registration procedure I preferred to switch the service provider.
Then I decided to try to book the tickets online and visited the site of the International airlines. It was convenient to choose the airports, as all the world airports were available in the list. But having chosen the airports, the date of the flight, the point of destination and pressing the search button I got to know, that there were no flights corresponding my criteria. I tried to alter the dates, to look for the nearby airports and to press the button of the advanced search, but nothing helped, every time there was an error in processing my request, there was the message offering me to contact the United Airlines Reservations and its number, but it was senseless, as my aim was to book the tickets online and the service failed.
The next encounter concerns McDonald’s and its McDelivery 24/7. I filled numerous forms, provided all the necessary information, became a registered user of the service and at last could choose the menu. The problems occurred when I wanted to add some special order requests, but this service was not available online. Then I completed the order and was looking forward to McDelivery, the estimated time of delivery was an hour and a half. Then I thought that actually in this time I could get to the nearest McDonalds and bring a take-away menu myself, but the order was completed and I had to wait for it. There was a delay in the delivery and the worker explained that he had to wait before at least one more order from the nearby location was made and only then could deliver the order.
The last encounter was connected with the Ecco Shoes discounts. Getting the voucher, I checked thoroughly all the attached information concerning the place and time when I can use it. Arriving at the shop I was eager to buy the shoes with the discount, but it appeared to be, that only the goods from the last year collection could be bought with the discount, though it was not mentioned in the voucher and the choice of the items was not wide. I did not manage to find anything worthy in the remains of the last year’s collection. Perhaps, the marketers expected the visitors to buy at least something as they already arrived, but being disappointed at the unfairness of the company I decided to switch the provider of the services. This encounter was the worst failure.
Lessons for services marketing
With the wide choice of the service providers available, the competitive ratio of the company must be high so that the customers would not think of switching to the other providers. Berry (1980) noted that “having customers, not merely acquiring customers, is crucial for service firms” (p. 72). It means that being satisfied with the quality of the service, the customers are expected to use the same service again, increasing the revenues of the company.
It is difficult to deceive the present day sophisticated customers, as the quality of the service is noticeable from the first moments of communication with the representative of the service provider or working with its tools in the case of self-service. Communicating with the shop-assistant in the Sony supermarket and contacting Vodafone operator from the first moments the customer can admit that the world names of the brands are not occasional.
Temporary discounts and innovative options are beneficial, but only perfect organization of the firm and constant high level of service may make an occasional customer stay with the provider and become a continuing customer. Besides, attracting new customers requires incurrence of the new costs spent on marketing. Only the high quality of the service, relationship will result in the overall satisfaction of the customers and will prevent them from switching to the other providers.
The level of the service is to be constantly high, because the customers are not going to consider the problems of the firm, such as cut financing, the employees absent due to their personal reasons or technical problems. The customer needs the service for which he/she pays, if the service is not provided or provided on not a proper level, the most frequent decision of the customer may be switching to another service provider.
Meliones (2000) noted that the service quality may be explained by the financing of the branch and discussing such important sphere as health care, he admitted that “we adopted the now-familiar mantra in health care: no margin, no mission” (p. 7). The cut financing inevitably influences the service quality, but on the other hand, the financing and the revenues are interconnected, it means that the cut financing is neither way out nor excuse for decreasing the service level. All factors generating the customers’ satisfaction must be taken into consideration and every element of the firm is to be aimed at increasing this satisfaction.
Goodman (2009) noted that “responsibility for no unpleasant surprises lies with everyone: product developers and production line workers, dispatchers and delivery people, marketing and sales professionals, installers and service technicians, billing and collection personnel – everyone who directly or indirectly touches the customer” (p. 25). Providing the constantly high quality of the service is the first lesson for services marketing, as occasional failures will result in customers’ dissatisfaction and switching to the other service providers.
Spin and public relations may appear to be very attractive for the marketers looking for the new customers, but fairness is a significant issue for the service providers. The customer’s perception and attitude towards the provided service is the most important issue. Seiders and Berry (1998) noted that “when customers believe they have been treated unfairly, their reactions tend to be immediate, emotional and enduring” (p. 8).
Breaking promises is even worse than providing constantly low-quality services, because the disappointed customers are sure to switch to the other providers. It was the case with the Ecco discount, the measure which was aimed at attracting the customers resulted in switching of at least one of them. It is advisable for Ecco marketers to mention more details in the vouchers or even not to take measures which will not result in the customers’ satisfaction. Smith and Wheeler (2002) noted that “the key to winning customer loyalty – and advocacy – with your brand promise is to meet or exceed the promise with every customer in every one of his or her interactions with your company” (p. 51). Smith and Wheeler use Disney policy as the example of exceeding the customers’ expectations.
Standing in the long queues in the parks the visitors can read that they are going to reach the ride in thirty minutes when in fact they are going to reach it in twenty-five minutes. McDelivery was delayed, though it was much better to exceed the customer’s expectations and say the later date, while the provider intention to economize on the service is not to be discussed with the customer at all. At the same time there is nothing perfect in the world, the reactions of some customers are unpredictable, failures and customers’ complaints may occur even at the best service providers. It is very important to use this experience for the future improvement of the service quality.
Tax and Brown (1998) noted that “customer complaints provide valuable insights into root causes of operations failures. Many quality-award winners, including Federal Express, Xerox, and Ritz-Carlton, use failure data when making decisions on process improvements” (p. 46). The second lesson for services marketing is fairness with the customers and meeting or exceeding their brand expectations and learning from the service failures for the future improvement.
The service provider must be always up to date and implement all the newest technologies in the work. Self-service for the customers, online access to the service became rather popular, working without the web site or self-service nowadays means to be out of date and deprived of some of the advantages, which could attract the new customers and prevent the continuing customers from switching to the other providers only by the reason of their better technical equipment.
Meuter et al. (2000) noted that “it is increasingly evident that these technological innovations and advances will continue to be a critical component of customer-firm interactions” (p. 127). But the firms must not only create the new tools, but to develop them and control their proper level. Leonard, Carbone, and Haeckel (2002) noted that “companies compete best when they combine functional and emotional benefits in their offerings” (p. 17). The innovations are aimed at increasing the quality of the service and result in the customers’ satisfaction. The third lesson is to implement the innovations in the work of the providers so that to go with the times.
Constantly high quality of the service, fairness with the customers, exceeding their expectations and implementing of the innovations in the work will prevent the continuing customers from switching to the other service providers and increase the firm benefits.
Goodman, J.A., 2009. Strategic customer service: managing the customer experience to increase positive word of mouth, build loyalty, and maximize profits. New York, NY: Amacom Books.
Keaveney, S. M., 1995. Customer switching behavior in service industries: an exploratory study, Journal of Marketing.
Leonard L.B., Carbone, L. and Haeckel, S., 2002. Managing the total customer experience. Sloan Management Review.
Meliones, J., 2000. Saving money, saving lives. Harvard Business Review.
Meuter, M., et.al., 2000. Self-service technologies: understanding customer satisfaction.
Seiders, K. and Berry, L., 1998. Service fairness: what it is and why it matters. The Academy of Management Executive.
Smith, S. and Wheeler, J., 2002. Managing customer experience: turning customers into advocates.Edinburgh: rearson Education Limited.
Tax, S. S. and Brown, S.W., 1998. Recovering and learning from service failure. Sloan Management Review.