self-service technology (SST) and its effect on customer service. The essay reviews six articles, the results of their SST research, and talks about what the findings mean for companies and their relationships with consumers.
Self-service technology, which allows consumers to produce services for themselves without help from a company's employees, is becoming more and more important to companies. Beatson, Lee & Coote (2007) studied how consumers feel about SST. Their research tried to explain how SST affects consumer satisfaction and consumer commitment.
One of the challenges for companies considering SST is to understand its affect on customer retention. Companies cannot survive without repeat business, so they need to be sure that SST does not affect the loyalty of their customers. They need to be sure that the advantages of SST outweigh the disadvantages (Beatson et al., 2007).
The possible advantages of using SST include faster service, reduced labor costs, increased productivity, competitiveness, and differentiating themselves. Possible disadvantages include having backup service options in case the SST fails, loss of customer relationships, missed up-selling opportunities, and employees feeling threatened with losing their jobs (Beatson et al., 2007).
For the consumer, possible advantages of using SST include saving time and money, feeling more in control, and enjoying greater convenience of longer hours or more locations. Other advantages include less wait time for service, more customized service, and fun using the technology, efficiency, and flexibility. However, even with these advantages, customers may feel intimidated by technology, be concerned that help from an employee may not be available, as well as be concerned about losing the personal interaction with service employees. Businesses want to know if the benefits of SST exceed the disadvantages (Beatson et al., 2007).
Based on previous research, the Beatson et al. identified service attributes of each service delivery mode for further study. Personal service attributes included friendliness, responsiveness, trustworthiness, courtesy and professionalism. Self-service attributes included the reliability of the technology, the convenience of using it, customization of the technology and enjoyment of using it. Beatson et al. reasoned that a direct relationship would exist between the service attributes and the service delivery mode, and that these individual elements would affect the overall service experience (2007).
Beatson et al. also studied how consumer commitment affected consumer satisfaction, looking to understand consumer commitment from a multidimensional point-of-view. Their in-depth interviews with hotel customers led to several observations. If a consumer was satisfied with the overall service experience with a company, the consumer was more likely to have a positive attitude towards the company. Likewise, a positive service experience overall meant that a consumer is more likely to return to that company in the future. And finally, if a consumer invested time and effort to find a company that gave them a positive service experience, the consumer would want to stay with that company (2007).
Beatson et al. also found that both personal service and SST interactions improved with frequent use because of the learning curve effect. Their research suggested other areas for investigation using surveys or experimental research. They recommended that service organizations stay aware of consumer acceptance of SST and its effect on the service encounter, and that companies should learn more about the impact of technology on the marketplace (2007).
Another earlier study on SST options explored consumer decision-making. Dabholkar based her research on five attributes of service quality: speed of delivery, ease of use, reliability, enjoyment and control. From these attributes, Dabholkar (1996) developed hypotheses to test with her research. She also identified dispositions which are important to potential customers of SST options: attitude toward using technological products, the need for interaction with the company's service employees, the link between service quality and intention to use a given option, and the effect of situational factors.
Dabholkar's research used questionnaires to study customers' use of a touch screen or verbal ordering. Her research produced findings with strategic implications for service companies. The study results suggest that companies can design and promote attributes of service delivery that will lead to better evaluations of service quality. Her findings showed that service firms need to promote favorable attitudes toward using technology. The study also showed that companies should advertise self-service options in such a way as to distinguish between customers with low and high needs for interaction with service employees (Dabholkar, 1996).
Researchers also studied how external factors such as crowding and wait time affect SST. Dabholkar and Bagozzi (2002) identified three factors, ease of use, usefulness and enjoyment, which led to hypotheses for further study of consumer traits and situational factors. Their research, involving college students using touch screens, suggested ways for marketers to promote the use of SSTs. Findings showed that it is important to promote ease of use if the target market is likely to be low in self-efficacy or to have a high need for interaction with a service employee. Companies should also emphasize reliability if the target market is low in inherent novelty seeking or high in self-consciousness, that is, reluctant to use SST. Companies should promote the fun aspect of using their SST if the target market is likely to be high in inherent novelty seeking, high in self-efficacy, highly self-conscious, or has a high need for interaction with a service employee.
Other studies investigated consumer reasons for preferring and avoiding self-scanning checkouts. Given the cost of such technology, it is important for retailers to understand consumer evaluation and use of SST. Dabholkar, Bobbitt, and Lee (2003) interviewed supermarket shoppers who used self-scanners and traditional checkout options. Studies showed that the most important reason for consumers to choose self-scanning was that shoppers believed this to be the fastest option. The most important reason for shoppers avoiding the use of self-scanning was that they liked to interact with employees.
Dabholkar et al. (2003) also studied other shopping preferences for SST options which produced similar findings. Their analysis also showed that demographics such as age, gender, and education had no influence on the use of self-scanning; only Internet access showed a correlation with the use of self-scanning. Their analysis found only one situational factor that was relevant for evaluating the use of self-scanning checkouts, crowded conditions.
Their findings had a number of managerial implications for SST preferences. Situational factors include the store setting a maximum number of products that can be bought through the self-scanning checkout, availability of assistance to show customers how to use self-scanners and flexible payment methods. Regardless of their self-scanning preference, most consumers in the study preferred shopping at the store to shopping at home, and most consumers preferred talking to a person when telephone shopping to using touch-tone dialing. Also, analysis showed that consumers who preferred the traditional checkout saw it as performing better on the same attributes that were important for using self-scanning checkouts. This finding suggests that managers need to offer both options for the foreseeable future (Dabholkar et al., 2003).
Researchers also performed studies to better understand consumer intentions to use SSTs. Curren, Meuter and Surprenant proposed an attitude-intention model based on the integration of research from services marketing, management science, and psychology. A key finding was that multiple attitudes may drive customer intentions to use an SST. Their research showed that global attitudes based on experiences with a wide range of related technologies may complement direct knowledge of a specific SST. If customers have negative attitudes toward related SSTs, then they will have a negative attitude toward service technologies in general that must be overcome to increase their usage of a new SST. Marketing managers must recognize that their SST offerings are intertwined and cannot be managed totally independently of each other (2003).
Curren et al. also point to the potential loss of brand identification as a possible challenge of increasing use of technology in the service encounter. Because companies spend so much time and effort to build a brand identity which separates them from their competitors, it is important to understand how SST use affects branding efforts. Similarly, it is important to understand how increasing technology use affects customer loyalty, that is, whether customers that have diminished close personal contact with a service firm also have diminished loyalty. If SST tools lead to less customer loyalty or lower switching costs, then companies need to consider the trade-offs when implementing SSTs (Curren et al., 2003).
Meuter, Bitner, Ostrom, and Brown also studied SST, looking at how customers choose between service delivery modes. Companies have found that with the growing availability of SSTs there are still barriers to customer adoption. The most significant barrier is getting customers to try new SSTs for the first time. This process involves customers having to change their behavior and become coproducers of their own service. Meuter et al. studied which factors affected adoption of innovation, the role of technology in providing service, and consumer behavior as coproducers.
Their study focused on consumer readiness to try SST. They studied the effect of consumers understanding how to use SST, whether were motivated to use it,…