Discussant's Comments on Competitive Papers Presented Session 8.6 - Services

Michael A. Belch, San Diego State University
[ to cite ]:
Michael A. Belch (1992) ,"Discussant's Comments on Competitive Papers Presented Session 8.6 - Services", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, eds. John F. Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 642-643.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992      Pages 642-643

DISCUSSANT'S COMMENTS ON COMPETITIVE PAPERS PRESENTED SESSION 8.6 - SERVICES

Michael A. Belch, San Diego State University

The following review of papers in this section will involve a brief summary and discussion only. Methodological and other issues considered in the review process will not be commented upon.

COMMENTS ON CONSUMER AND EMPLOYEE ROLES IN SERVICE ENCOUNTERS

This is a very interesting research study which explores the personal interaction between consumers and employees in the sale of services. The research adds a new dimension to previous research by exploring the consumers' role in this process.

Prior to discussing the contribution of the research and some of the implications, it is necessary to discuss some of the limitations. While these limitations do not severely qualify the results and conclusions, future research that was designed to overcome these limitations would further our knowledge significantly. There are really three limiting factors:

1. The sample selection--the sample used in this research is limited both in size and demographic composition. Twenty-eight undergraduate students enrolled in an introductory marketing class, unfortunately, do not represent a very broad-based view of society and/or consumers. As one would expect, their limited backgrounds and consumption experiences narrow the perspectives that they bring to the research. This fact is reflected by the limited domain of experiences discussed--restaurants and retail stores.

2. The lack of some quantitative information--it would have been extremely helpful if at least some preliminary information -- hopefully of a quantitative variety -- was obtained prior to conducting the interviews. As will be seen, some of this information may have direct impact on the roles that the consumer assumes in the dyadic communication. This information might have included factors such as the situation in which the consumption took place, the level of involvement of the consumers and/or the relative competence (confidence) of the consumer in making the purchase decision.

3. The interpretative process--from the information available to me, it appears that interpretation of the interviews was the sole responsibility of the researcher. If this is true, the opportunity for bias and lost information is high. I would suggest a panel of judges/interpretors to be used in much the same way that cognitive responses are interpreted. This process would allow for a broader range of interpretations, as well as a measure of consistency.

Again, let me reiterate that these criticisms are meant in a constructive manner. As an academic, I am quite aware of the budgetary constraints imposed, and the difficulty in accessing respondents for conducting research. On the other hand, if advances are to be continued to be made, ways to improve the research studies should be considered.

As noted earlier, one of the contributions of this research is that it includes the perspective of the consumer in the service exchange process. A role-theoretical perspective is assumed, in which the consumer and the employee are perceived as actors in a consumer setting. Consumers are eventually classified as dependent, autonomous, and/or mutual.

Without rehashing each of these roles (they are well described in the paper), it can be seen that determinants of which of these three roles will be assumed include consumers' involvement, perceived self-competence and confidence. In addition, the situation in which the setting is taking place will have a significant impact. In respect to the first of these, dependents, the consumer is perceived as wanting assistance, seeking help, and somewhat uncomfortable in the purchase setting. In autonomous settings, the consumer "wants to be left alone," while mutuality lies in between.

I would suggest that the roles that the consumer wishes to assume will essentially be predetermined by the above factors. In fact, I think that these assessments of the self and the situation will determine even the context in which these interactions will occur. For example, envision a situation in which I know the part for the car that I am looking for. I will be more likely to choose a store in which I can get in quickly, find the part (hopefully at an affordable price) and get out. I have little or no use for the employee, and may never even have a service interaction. Now imagine that I am trying to fix the car, but have little knowledge of what is required. In this case I will select a different store, and a different service encounter is anticipated and sought. As can be seen, not only do the roles change, but so too does the entire decision process.

In respect to the roles assumed by the employee--indifference, dominance, and co-operation--again, a number of factors should be taken into consideration. The author cites some of these including competence, training, sales requirements, etc. In addition, I would argue (and hope) that the selection of the employee again is made with the needs and requirements of the consumer in mind. Restaurants with a variety of fine wines will typically have employees more knowledgeable about the choices. Parts stores for serious mechanics will have more informed employees that are able to answer difficult and involved questions.

The point that I am trying to get at here is that while the model presented in this paper is an excellent start, a number of additional factors must be considered. The role that the consumer assumes in the service situation, at least in part, has been predetermined by the aforementioned factors--that is, the situation, the level of competence, involvement, etc. Thus, the consumer has essentially "self-selected" the role that they will be in, and the role that they expect the employee to assume. The model, then needs to consider these antecedents, and should also attempt to incorporate some additional situational factors that may be taking place during the exchange as well. For example, what happens if role expectations are not met? How do role adaptations take place, and so on.

Finally, what takes place after the interaction takes place? It has been noted that the level of consumer satisfaction will be directly influenced by these interactions. If this is true, what impact will this have on attitudes toward the service provider, future shopping behaviors and the consumer's own preparations for future encounters?

COMMENTS ON ORGANIZATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS AND EMPLOYEE EXCUSE MAKING: PASSING THE BUCK FOR FAILED SERVICE ENCOUNTERS

As noted in the previous paper just reviewed, much of the research on service encounters has focused on the employee's role in this exchange. This paper follows along that line, using attribution theory and role theory to pose propositions as to when employee excuse making will be likely to occur. The paper goes on to discuss the importance of employee excuse making and suggests additional research that might be considered.

While this paper itself does not provide empirical support for the propositions, significant and plausible research from other sources is cited to lend credence to the propositions.

What the propositions seem to say in a nutshell is that the more involved the service being provided--involved as in time required to administer, complexity, number of persons involved, etc.--the greater the likelihood of employee deflection activity (excuse making). Other factors such as role conflict and ambiguity and the organization's span of control will also contribute to this process.

What appears to be missing from these propositions are factors similar to those that may have likewise improved the former paper just discussed. That is situational factors, employee involvement, and employee expertise. Most, if not all, of the factors presented here tend to be focused on the service provided, the number of employees, and other work factors. (Role ambiguity does mention the expertise, but needs to be developed in more detail).

Once again, I would argue that the employee's involvement in the service exchange is a critical determinant in their actions. For example, one might expect the service provider who takes pride in his/her work and/or who's income depends upon the customers' satisfaction to approach such deflection strategies differently than a college student that is using the job only as a part-time source of income. Further, the service provider that has both confidence and expertise in his/her abilities may be less likely to make excuses than one with less confidence or knowledge. In the latter instance, the employee may have little choice but to deflect to someone else with more knowledge and/or authority. Finally, the situational factors in operation will also come into play. One of the examples cited in the paper was that of the employee waiting on tables. The amount of time available to the employee, the number of customers waiting, the absence or presence of the boss are just a few of the many situational characteristics that will impact the employee's actions.

In sum, I think this paper offers a contribution in that it poses a number of tangible propositions about excuse making, and suggests a variety of topics for future research.

IMPLICATIONS

Both of these papers raise some interesting managerial issues. For example:

- hiring practices--at issue here is the question as to what type of employees should be hired. These reports would suggest that cordial, understanding, and communicative service providers should be sought. In addition, competence, confidence and interpersonal skills are obviously required. Given that everyone doesn't have such attributes, the issue that is raised is where do I find them? How do I keep them?

- training--again, both papers indicate the need for formalized training programs. These programs should involve indoctrination as to the channels of authority, how to handle complaint behaviors, etc., as well as instructions on improving interpersonal skills. (How many times have you been to a restaurant when a minor problem is not addressed, or goes unresolved?)

- establishment of rules and procedures--many of the problems that may arise in the service exchange process could be avoided or overcome by the establishment of definitive rules and procedures to be followed. While many organizations now have such guidelines, most do not. Developing such rules is not difficult, and would go a long way in providing employees direction.

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