Servicescape: Employee and Customer Responses


Servicescape is a model that puts its onus on understanding and explaining how customers and employees interact with the environment where the service takes place. The model argues that the environment of a service has a powerful impact on both the client and the employee: it shapes and transforms the ways they perceive, assess, and approach spaces (Tombs, & McColl-Kennedy, 2003). Naturally, from an employee’s standpoint, environments need to be constructed in a way that ensure the operational ease and efficacy.

Customers, on the other hand, want a wholesome, integrated experience that both entertains them and allows them to reach their goals. Clients seek pleasure and arousal and may avoid environments that bore them or make them feel subordinated and subjugated (Hightower Jr, 2010). This paper seeks to resolve the issue of servicescape and the different wants and likes of clients and employees. It describes the various elements of the servicescape model and customers’ and employees’ responses to them in the process of value co-creation.

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Value Co-Creation

The value co-creation model is one of the newest frames of reference used for business. As defined by Ranjan and Reed (2016), value co-creation is an active process involving, the producer, the employee, and the client with the end goal of designing a perfect product. The premise of the value co-creation model hinges on the notion of a producer no longer being the sole arbiter of the value. Previously, each producer defined on their own what functions their product was supposed to have, how it could make the customer’s life better, and what importance it bore for the market. Surely, claiming that the producer could make these decisions single-handedly is not exactly correct. Punjaisri and Balmer (2016) show that companies considered customers and their needs. Yet, it was still far from being open to make the customer an equal participant of the creation process.

Today, companies can no longer afford to be disengaged from the world in which their customers live and from the pain points that they have. It suffices not to speculate about what a client might find pleasant and satisfying. The value co-creation model prescribes companies to maintain ongoing communication with clients to find out about their preferences. According to recent statistics, 58% of businesses are attempting to introduce value co-creation in their business processes (Hitachi, 2018).

Successful examples include the market’s giants such as Unilever, Ikea, Nike, and other companies. For instance, Ikea has long been open to external sources of ideas – the Swedish company made it possible to submit product ideas on its platform (Koniorczyk, 2015). Besides, it collaborated with entrepreneurs and innovation labs across the world to make sure that their product line reflects global trends and serves customers’ interests.

Now even though the majority of examples on value co-creation concern the product itself, upholding the model through servicescape is also possible. From its description, it is obvious that the model pays regard to the customer’s interests and sees them as an equal actor in the process. Hence, it is only reasonable to presume that by providing a response to the environment of a service, in whatever form, the customer partakes in the value co-creation process (Rosenbaum, & Massiah, 2011). In order to understand exactly how the concepts of servicescape and value co-creation overlap and “cohabitate,” it is essential to analyze the key elements of servicescape.

Responses, Approach, and Interaction

As Chang K.-C. (2016) puts it, the process of purchasing a product or a service cannot be simplified to only denote the action itself. In reality, what a customer often seeks is an experience consisting of a plethora of elements. To think, the very decision-making process does not happen in an instant. After the first stage, once the customer has recognised their needs or interests, they spend some time brooding. They consult people that they see as possessing certain expertise, compare and contrast alternatives (Radojevic, Stanisic, & Stanic, 2015). One may presume that during this particular stage that comes before the actual purchase, people are especially malleable. They use verbal and non-verbal information as hints toward whether they want to buy something.

It should be noted that in order to incorporate servicescape in a marketing strategy appropriately, one should reject the notion of absolute rationality of buyers (Saad & Metawie, 2015). As Saad and Metawie (2015) state, there are always rational and irrational motives to making a purchase. Rational motives include a person’s actual needs and wants: by buying a product or a service, they address a certain pain point in their life, thus, increasing the quality of their life.

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Irrational motives, on the other hand, stem from the realm of human emotions and beliefs. Bitner (1992) outlines two categories in his classification of customer responses – emotional and cognitive. Putting the two frameworks together, one may conclude the following.

The customer’s emotional response may entail how they feel about a place, a product, or service. At that, responses may be highly differentiated based on each person’s subjective experiences. For instance, if a person has particular memories about a place. Cognitive beliefs are not exactly opposed to emotional states, and in the context of making a purchase, they do not necessarily make a person rational (de Farias, Aguiar, & Melo, 2014). For instance, the ambiance of a place, the interior design, and the layout might communicate the status of buying this particular service or product. If a client has a categorical belief regarding prestige, social standing, and other related concepts, the message sent by the servicescape will compel him or her to take action.

Physical response is the third category outlined by Bitner (1992). It describes how a person reacts to the ambiance of an environment. He or she may like the smell, the sound, and the visuals insofar as they might find them repelling. It should be noted that all the categories of responses are relevant for both employees and customers even though they employ slightly different mechanisms. The similarity is the irrationality of reactions – people often react to stimuli subconsciously. After they take action or express a preference, they might not even be able to understand what compelled them to do so (Subramanian, Gunasekaran, Yu, Cheng, & Ning, 2014). However, there are significant differences in what derives responses from customers and employees and what they find pleasant and unpleasant.

As one may readily imagine, all kinds of responses – emotional, physical, and cognitive – are the impetus behind taking action. As Bitner (1992) puts it, there are two opposite courses of action – approaching and avoidance. Both customers and employees may feel attraction toward an environment. At the same time, by entering it, they are trying to carry out a plan – if for an employee, it is stable employment with all the benefits, then for a customer, it is purchasing a product or a service. In respect to these plans, there are two kinds of respective intentions – stay longer and spend more money. However, there are also certain differences in terms of how customers and employees respond to an attractive environment – the former want entertainment while the latter desire commitment and affiliation.

The two groups of people end up interacting with each other within the environment of their choice. Interaction is a crucial element of the business process because the employee serves as a mediator between the producer and the client (Nguyen, 2006). The employee presents a product or a service in a way that would compel the client to make a purchase – ideally. Surely, the perfect situation would be if they both demonstrated positive responses to the servicescape, namely, ambient conditions, space functions, and artifacts (Delcourt, Gremler, van Riel, & van Birgelen, 2016). This would allow for a good interaction resulting in an action favorable for the business.

Ambient Conditions

Ambient conditions are physical surroundings of a space, which includes but is not limited to elements such as sound (music), smell, color, air quality, temperature, and others. According to Bitner (1992), in marketing, the ambiance has not always been recognised as a tangible organisational resource. Ambient conditions had been long dismissed in favor of other factors seen as influential for retaining employees and customers.

In particular, the physical setting was seen as negligible compared to such methods of engaging employees as scales, promotions, benefits, and good corporate relationships. On the consumer side, marketologists presumed that the other party in the equation would be more interested in prices, advertisements, promotions, and other additional benefits (Berry, Davis, & Wilmet, 2015). The general premise was that as long as the customer is attracted to a company’s services, they will remain loyal; the same went for employees. Now that there is an ample body of evidence on the impact of physical surroundings, it has become clear that they cannot and should not be dismissed.

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Perhaps, the most extensive body of research is found on the effects of music in marketing, and namely, in stores. As Andersson, Kristensson, Wastlund, and Gustafsson (2012) argue, the infamous “elevator” music is there for a reason. Even though it would sound out of place or even annoying at any other locations, at stores such as Target, it seems to be effective in stimulating the desired behaviour in customers. Payne, Korczynski, and Cluley (2017) ponder the role that music plays in service environments.

The researchers conclude that music helps a company build an emotional connection between customers and the product. Namely, as Payne et al. (2017) suggest, that music reflects a kind of person that a company wishes to see in their customer. When it comes to grocery stores, the music is typically optimistic and upbeat. It stimulates a person and helps them make decisions faster (Andersson et al., 2012). Interestingly enough, customers are not the only ones who are susceptible to the effects of music. Payne et al. (2017) show that employees also demonstrate a response to aural stimuli. In particular, the same optimistic, upbeat music helps them pace their work. Music in the workplace helps them stay more productive and engaged in the work processes.

Regarding the negative stimuli though, one may readily imagine how physical conditions may be repelling to both customers and employees. For instance, inappropriate temperature, bad odor, distracting colors, and lack of order may be discouraging for both groups of people (Jalil, Fikry, & Zainuddin, 2016). However, there should be certain discernment in customers’ and employees’ responses to ambient conditions.

It is only reasonable to expect an instant avoidance from a client who entered an environment and reacted badly to how everything was kept. An employee, on the other hand, has work obligations that they cannot abandon. Surely, depending on the company’s vision for development and innovation, both customers and employees may impact the value creation by providing their feedback on the physical surroundings of a service.

Space / Functions

In business, space itself does not exist for the sake of existing. According to Bitner (2019), space should be interpreted as something greater than a random combination of physical objects. In the modern frame of reference, space can and should serve as a valid means of communication. Customers and the environment interact with each other in a variety of ways. In a way, the environment of a service speaks an “object language” and transfers a certain message, whether the business owner wants it or not. Some of the basics of space and its functions include layout and interior design. Ideally, there should be a sense of both novelty and familiarity in how a space is designed and furnished (Kumar & Kim, 2014). For instance, it helps to think how a customer would react were he or she to enter a store for the very first time.

If one imagines that the customer has a certain agenda, i.e. buying a particular product, there needs to be an easy-to-follow roadmap to how to reach the desired destination. As much as a space needs to be engaging and entertaining, it should not be too confusing for the customer – after all, according to the theoretical framework by BItner (1992), he or she is there to carry out a plan. The same goes for employees working in the said environment. All they need is an operational, accessible space with the sole difference of being more indifferent to entertaining, colorful, and novel elements of it.

Ultimately, the store layout and consumer behaviour moderate each other. It is true that when designing a layout, one takes customers’ needs into consideration. However, at the same time, by seeing how customers react to the chosen design, the creator might want to readjust it to serve their needs better (Dagger & Danaher, 2014). This process may be rightfully associated with the value co-creation model described earlier.

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For grocery stores, there are two main types of remodeling that match different customer needs (Lin & Worthley, 2012). If aisles are located at random or in rows (as at the majority of grocery stores), it is easier for customers to access a single product by passing all the irrelevant aisles (Kearney, Coughlan & Kennedy, 2013). At the same time, if they want to, they can spend more time at the store, passing one aisle after another. The opposite of this layout is the so-called maze that is employed by companies such as IKEA. In a maze, the customer’s roadmap is predetermined – they have to go past the aisles in a particular order, and typically they cannot take shortcuts.

Signs and Symbols

The last category that applies to the former two is signs and symbols. This paper has discussed at length what it implies for a space to be a means of communication. It is true that in some cases, the so-called “object language” may be enough to transfer the message (Nguyen, DeWitt, & Russell-Bennett, 2012). However, more often than not, designers and marketologists need to go further when maintaining communication with customers and employees.

Signs and symbols include but are not limited to labels, directions, written rules, pointers, and others. They help customers explore and navigate the environment of a service by eliminating ambiguity and confusion. Signs and symbols may also be useful for helping employees attune their work process. For instance, the system of signs and symbols for the staff may include instructions and reminders.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the purpose of servicescape is to explain exactly how the elements of surroundings drive the decision process in customers and impact the productivity of the employees. As one may conclude from this description, the biggest conundrum that a company might have to deal with is how to balance the interests of employees and clients in building a safe and engaging environment (Nilsson & Ballantyne, 2014).

While servicescape mostly addresses the physical properties of an environment, in actuality, it speaks to people at a deep psychological level. Both customers and employees react to ambient conditions, space and its functions, and signs and symbols. Ideally, the two groups need to be at ease when entering and spending time in the environment to facilitate interactions and drive the decision-making process in customers.

Overall, customers and employees display somewhat similar needs in terms of servicescape: they need a space where they can carry out their agenda. However, it seems that clients might be more particular about the entertaining part of the process. The two groups can impact decisions regarding the physical space and its properties through their responses at all three levels – emotional, physical, and cognitive.

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