Interpersonal and Hedonic Aspects of Service Encounters


Kent Grayson and William Glynn (1995) ,"Interpersonal and Hedonic Aspects of Service Encounters", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, eds. Flemming Hansen, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 327-328.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1995      Pages 327-328


Kent Grayson, London Business School

William Glynn (discussant), University College Dublin

"Two cabin crews can go through the same motions, do the same tasks, and yet the service given can be worlds apart. So much depends on how they do the things they doCwhat mood they're in. . . ."

CAn airline manager, as quoted by Rushton & Carson (1989)

This session brings together researchers whose work examines the intangibility of service encounters. When differentiating between services and products, researchers often point to tangibility as a key distinguishing characteristic (e.g., Lovelock 1991). Product attributes tend to be more concrete, while service attributes are more abstract. For instance, the colour, the horsepower and even the styling of an automobile are far more tangible than the expertise, reliability and empathy of a doctor.

Service intangibility stems primarily from the fact that the "human element" is prominent in service delivery and consumption (Rushton & Carson 1989, p. 34). Service customers pay for the performance of specific human behaviours (Hochschild 1983), which are often difficult to evaluate systematically. For example, consider the purchase of a weekend package at an expensive hotel. Rather than buying an object that can be held or manipulated, hotel guests purchase the actions of desk clerks, kitchen staffers, cleaning personnel, and conciergesCnot to mention behind-the-scenes work by interior designers, operations managers, and maintenance staff.

After the weekend, a customer might ask: How nice were the hotel employees with whom I interacted? How did I feel about the computerised television check-out (as opposed to a live desk clerk)? Did the experience really give me an "escape" from my everyday life? The researchers participating in this session pay particular attention to questions relating to such intangible elements of services marketing, and arrive at some conclusions about its role in service encounters.



Kent Grayson, London Business School

Grayson's paper, "Emotional Labour in Services Marketing: The Effects of Relationship Marketing and Feigned Affect," tests the potential impact of interpersonal nuances at the services front line. When customers interact with company representatives, part of what is being purchased is the interpersonal manner exhibited by the employee. To satisfy customers in these interactions, company representatives are often encouraged to be "genuinely nice." What this means in practice is unclear. It is also uncertain whether or not customers actually value "genuine" interpersonal behaviour.

Drawing from social and social-psychological theories of the self, Grayson defines genuine interpersonal behaviour as that which reflects a congruence between the "inner self" (or "back stage") and the "performed self" (or "front stage"). A company representative performs more or less "emotional labour" (Hochschild 1983) when the performed self is more or less divergent from the inner self. For this study, it is hypothesised that perceived congruence between inner and outer self (i.e., less emotional labour) is valued more highly by consumers than is perceived divergence.

Two laboratory studies were implemented to test this hypothesis. In both studies, consumers were presented with audio tapes developed to simulate actual recordings of hotel staff interactions. The first depicted a hotel employee describing the reasons he likes (or dislikes) his job. The second depicted the same employee interacting with consumers. Perceived emotional labour was manipulated by creating matches or mismatches between what the employee "really" feels about the job and how he acts with consumers.

It was found that the level of emotional labour (or lack thereof) is important to customers only in relatively continuous (as opposed to discrete) marketing relationships. This suggests that genuine interactions are more important for relationship marketing situations than for more short-term marketing interactions.



Mark Gabbott, University of Stirling

Feigning affect is just one way in which the interpersonal element of services can be commidified. A second approach is to use technology to systematise service interactions. This is the focus of Gabbott's paper, "The Importance of Interpersonal Orientation in Assessing the Human v. Technology Interaction in Services." Increasingly, the human element of services is being replaced by technology. Gabbott's research examines whether or not particular services or consumer groups are more receptive to the replacement of the human element by technology.

There has been a recognition in services marketing that technical developments in computing and telecommunications have a direct impact upon the nature of the service offering, service delivery and relationships between service providers and consumers. Observation of the impact of technology on the service experience would suggest that the dynamic of technical innovation in services is the 'distancing' of the human provider from the service consumer in certain marginal and routine activities. This 'distancing' of human provider from consumer has been justified on the grounds of increasing efficiency, increased functionality and convenience.

However, technology may have an undesirable impact upon competitive positioning. The integration of automatic telling machines in banks, remote ticketing systems at airports and self checkout systems at supermarkets into the service experience has not been without controversy. Many consumers have been dismissive of these technical innovations due to the transfer in task responsibility, perceived complexity, or simply the removal of human interaction.

Gabbott's study used the CAD scale of interpersonal orientation (Cohen 1967; Tyagi 1983) to investigate the importance of the human interaction dimension in services. Specifically the research addresses whether the importance attached to human interaction is service (product) or individually determined, i.e., whether there are individuals who will always look for human (over non-human) interaction or whether there are services where human interaction is sought regardless of individual characteristics. Approximately 500 consumers were surveyed regarding three specific technical innovations.

Results suggest that the scope for 'human distance' is greater in some services than in others. This has at least two implications. First, technical innovation may be more appropriate for some services than for others. Second, markets can be segmented according to their interaction orientation, thus allowing for more effective use of staff and technology in both consumer and organisational settings.



Richard Elliott, Lancaster University

Part of a customer's interaction orientation may be related to the kinds of intangible benefits he or she wishes to gain from the service experience. Elliott's paper, "Therapeutic Self-Gifts, Service Encounters, and Escape from the Symbolic to the Imaginary," examines customers who use service encounters as a way of rewarding themselves. The ways in which services can be hedonically rewarding sheds light on how services in general can be made more interpersonally rewarding.

Self-gifts are an ubiquitous form of consumption that occur in two major contexts: personal reward and therapy (Mick and DeMoss 1990). One therapeutic goal of self-gifts is the management of negative moods (Kacen 1994; Mick and DeMoss 1990). To achieve this goal, consumers have been shown to rely heavily on the self-giving of services, e.g., restaurants, personal care services and entertainment (Mick and DeMoss 1992). Why are services particularly useful as therapeutic self-gifts? Two complementary explanations are suggested.

First, affect-charged experiential consumption (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982) has been shown to effect an improvement in negative mood states primarily by distraction from the negative feelings and by providing a happier, more positive focus on pleasant, engaging stimuli (Kacen 1994). This heightened emotional experience of treating oneself in order to "repair mood" (Elliott 1994) is similar to the "flow experience" where, in a state of total involvement, people "flow" holistically from one moment to the next without conscious intervention (Csikszentmihalyi 1990). A flow experience may be more likely in service encounters (see, e.g., Arnould and Price 1993) because services are temporally dynamic; they unfold and change via a mutual interpersonal exchange process.

Second, the use of self-gifts can be viewed as symbolic communication with the self (Pandya and Venkatesh 1992), where symbols are seen as metaphors for imaginary, private meanings (Leach 1976). Lacan (1977) has described two orders of meaning which together construct the self: the imaginary and the symbolic. He associates the development of language with a move from the unconscious world of the imaginary to the rational world of the symbolic order. There is potential for "slippage" between the two orders of meaning, with a regression to the unconscious order of the imaginary where desire for the unobtainable comfort of the perfect mother holds sway. While this slippage can certainly occur in any consumption arena, services may allow greater slippage because of their inherently intangible benefits.

These concepts of "flow experience," self-symbolism, and potential slippage to the imaginary are explored through an interpretative analysis of 5 depth interviews with women who describe a "critical incident" when they have purchased a service experience as a means of repairing their mood. Implications for understanding the linkage between therapeutic self-gifts and the service experience are discussed.


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Kent Grayson, London Business School
William Glynn, (discussant), University College Dublin


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2 | 1995

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